Making it stick
You already have a good memory. Without it you wouldn't be able to live your life. You can help your memory work even more effectively, however, by understanding a little of how it works. There are seven key principles that will help you.
1 You remember the first and last items in a list best
Take frequent, short breaks when you are learning to create more opportunities for your brain to remember the 'first' and 'last' item.
2 Creating patterns and making connections between the things you want to remember improves the memory
A useful tool is to create a mini-story from the first letters of the list you are learning. 'My very energetic mother just served us nine pizzas' is a useful way of rememberingthe planets in their correct order from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.
3 Things that are surprising or odd are easier to remember
Advertisers use this principle to make us remember their products. Remember the 'You've been Tangoed' adverts? The odd situations were easy to remember. Jamil, who is studying an Engineering course, was surprised to see his tutor bring her son's building bricks into the lesson one day. "She used the bricks to demonstrate the principles of cantilevers, and I've never forgotten it as it looked so strange to see her playing with plastic bricks during our class."
4 Regular review of what you are learning is essential to remember
As much as 70 per cent of what you learn in one day will be forgotten by the next - unless you go over it again. Reviewing within 24 hours of learning has an enormous impact on what you remember. And if you have to take a test, two more reviews over the following week, followed by monthly reviews until the test, will make sure the learning sticks in your memory.
5 Emotions create strong memories
How we feel when we are learning has a critical effect on how well we remember. Think about your most memorable learning experience. Perhaps it was very funny or dramatic. You probably felt strongly about some aspect of the learning. Emotions can work both positively and negatively. If you are angry or distressed, you are unlikely to learn well. If you are happy, the opposite is true.
6 Sleep is essential to create enduring memories
During our waking hours we receive literally thousands of pieces of information, even more when we are learning. The brain doesn't absorb all
this information properly until we are asleep. During sleep the brain appears to file away all this new information and make sense of it. Our dreams are part of that process, which is why they often relate to things that happened to us that day. A good night's sleep is essential to embed the memory of what we have learnt during the day.
7 Making mistakes
If you're not making mistakes, you're not learning. So don't let a mistake knock your confidence. Often people who effortlessly get things right straight away don't really understand why. They can also be very discouraged if they get something slightly wrong. Learn from your mistakes and don't let them stop you getting on.