Memory Study

Dec 23, 2008 by

Memory StudyOf all the things for which we use memory study and learning may be the most important for our academic and professional success. Whether you’re studying facts for an important test, taking a practical exam, or retraining for a new job, the ability to absorb and reproduce new information can form the cornerstone of competing successfully in school and business.

For many students, studying often comes down to rote memorization. For them, to study is to remember, and it’s a process that often relies on the heavy repetition of lists and facts, of poring over the same paragraphs time and time again to vacuum out the useful information and store it in memory, hoping desperately that the information will still be there when it comes time to take the test.

Most of us learned to study by rote memorization in grade school; you may remember having to memorize things like state capitals, the multiplication table, or the order of American presidents in school. Educators often introduce mnemonic devices to help elementary students study more effectively with their memory. Likewise, grade schoolers who later decide to pursue hard sciences like chemistry or medicine will find themselves memorizing the names of organic chemical compounds, and different parts and functions of the human body. Memorization is also crucial for students learning a foreign language as part of a business or international relations degree, among others. Language students must memorize copious vocabulary terms and grammatical structures, and retain this information in an organized way.

Clearly, these are fields where memory plays a massive role in studying. For these students, and adults in similar professional situations, eating right, exercising, developing good study habits, and finding the right mixture of herbal supplements to aid memory is very important.

In other fields, studying is an entirely different beast— one that doesn’t adhere so closely to the study-equals-memory mold. In these fields, developing certain skills and ways of thinking is more important than memorizing facts. Take philosophy: the successful study of philosophy depends more on developing the ability to think critically and present logical arguments than on the rote memorization of facts. In professions based more on critical thinking than memorization, such as philosophy or law, studying is clearly more than encoding facts into your memory.

However, even in these areas of study, memory still has a role to play: being able to remember what philosophers in the past have said about a given subject enables you to use their views to strengthen your own arguments. Recalling what’s already been said is also important in law, a field where practitioners often base their arguments in court on past legal decisions, called precedents. So even in law and philosophy, two argument-based disciplines, the ability to recall information to mind is a valuable skill for success.
With that in mind, let’s examine a few ways you can study more effectively and retain the information you’ve learned. There are numerous online courses these days that promise to improve your academic success and grade point average in days. While some of these courses may indeed be effective, you can also improve your memorization skills immensely by tailoring your study style to the type of learner you are. The goal of memory study techniques is to quickly transfer information from your short-term to long-term memory: short-term memory is fast but only stores information temporarily, losing about 80% of what it stores after 24 hours. That is, unless you transfer that information to long-term memory. Long-term memory is larger and slower: it takes repetition and patience to encode information to long-term memory, but once you succeed it can stay there for years with only occasional conscious review. Knowing what type of learner you are can help you discover the study techniques that will work best to transfer whatever you’re studying from short to long-term memory.

There are three main kinds of learning (though most of us combine two or more of these styles). The first is visual learning: visual learners absorb and retain information best when it is presented graphically in the form of charts, illustrations, and diagrams. In class, visual learners often find it helpful to look at the professor as they’re speaking, take detailed notes, and participate in live class discussions. It’s often harder for visual learners to remember something they’ve only heard out loud, even if they’ve engaged in a two-way conversation on the subject. If this sounds like you, here’s an independent study tip: when going over your notes, transcribe the important points of what you read onto paper, adding diagrams and sketches wherever you have space to help your brain retain the information.

As the name suggests, auditory learners best remember material that they hear out loud. Attending oral lectures and discussions rather than reading notes or PowerPoint slides silently, and reading your notes and chapter summaries aloud to yourself are effective ways to maximize their memorization if you’re an auditory learner. Some auditory learners also auto-dictate a summary of what they just read into a tape recorder they can play back, or talk to willing friends about what they’re studying.

The third category, haptic learners, may get the short end of the stick in our quiet study culture. These are people who can’t seem to sit still, who can only study while chewing gum and listening to music and half a dozen other things. And that’s okay! If you’re a haptic learner, it’s more helpful to accept that you learn best when there’s something happening in the background. Working at a standing desk, playing music in your study space, or taking short breaks to do something else can all aid concentration, and thus memory retention, in haptic learners. No matter what kind of learner you are, discovering the study techniques that work best for you is the quickest way to maximize your learning and make the most of your memory for school and for life!

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