Study skills 8# Memory techniques
Thanks to our previous articles, now you should know how your memory works and that there’s a thing called spaced repetition which makes retaining new information much easier and long-term. However, some complicated information still might seem impossible to remember because it just isn’t similar to anything you already know. The time comes to employ some handy memory techniques.
It has to be noted that while using various memory techniques is usually very easy, there’re two things you have to bear in mind. Firstly, if you look up some already existing memory helpers, they don’t have to work for you because everyone’s imagination is different. Secondly, in most cases you have to invent your own which seems like extra work but believe me—it actually saves time and energy in the end.
What are mnemonics?
You most probably know mnemonics, regardless which culture you come from, because a lot of them appear in children’s rhymes. Mnemonics use cues and imagery as a tool to encode information that would be otherwise very difficult to remember like a certain sequence of facts or a list of seemingly random things. By making such information more playful and meaningful, you find that it’s suddenly easy to memorise.
Maybe you know the famous knuckle mnemonic for remembering the number of days in each month which would be otherwise tricky to remember. There’s a high chance you still don’t know how many days each month has so don’t be shy and google it. It’ll change your life. (Kidding.)
An official Wikipedia definition of an acronym says that “an acronym is a word or name formed from the initial components of a longer name.” Sometimes they’re pronounced as proper words, sometimes as letters. Think of famous names such as EU (European Union), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).
While predominantly used to form shortened names of organisations, acronyms can be well used as a powerful mnemonic technique. For instance, imagine cramming all America’s Great Lakes and then forgetting to write down one on the test because you just couldn’t recall this random sequence even though you DO know all the names. Not a problem anymore if you use the acronym HOMES. H – Huron, O – Ontario, M – Michigan, E – Erie, S – Superior.
Similarly, you probably do know the names of all the planets in our solar system but many people might find it hard to recall their order from the Sun. Use a sentence acronym My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. My – Mercury, Very – Venus, Educated – Earth, Mother – Mars, Just – Jupiter, Served – Saturn, Us – Uranus, Nine – Neptune, Pizzas – Pluto. As we stated earlier, if this sentence doesn’t click with you, come up with your own.
Another technique you can use to boost your memory are playful associations. Again, there’re some very good ones already existing you might use right away like for remembering that a gram of fat contains nine calories (Even a fat cat has nine lives.) but in most cases you’ll have to come up with your own that suits the specific study material you’re cramming.
Do devote some time to create a good memory association because plain ones just won’t do. The aim is to make it as lively in your mind as possible so that it becomes literally impossible to forget. Use visualisation to connect otherwise dry information on the page in your textbook with some mental image. Just as you read fiction while imagining how the characters and situations look like, employ the power of your imagination.
The imagine you create shouldn’t be boring, make it extraordinary and even silly if it helps. Consider all those stupid adverts you just can’t get out of your head. Exactly like that! Funny, silly, unusual. The more over the top, the better. Think about which associations to other things that information can potentially have and make use of that. Play with words, don’t be afraid to use rhymes.
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There’re certainly more memory techniques that exist—some simple, others more complex—like creating mind palaces, now quite famous thanks the newest TV show adaptation of Sherlock Holmes (google it). Use what suits your learning style, experiment with various methods and don’t be afraid to be silly. After all, the memory helpers you create are just for you.