If I had to give just one tip for improving memory it would
be to find connections—make the material
(whatever it might be) relevant to your life.
This week in class, my students examined strategies for improving memory. I borrowed my opening activity from John Medina’s Brain Rules. I split the class into two groups. Each group got a list of words to work with. Unbeknownst to them, the lists for both groups were exactly the same. The difference was that each group got a different set of instructions. One group was told to count the number of words with diagonal lines as well as the number of words without diagonal lines. Group #2 (again, with the same list of words) was asked to rate the words based on their emotional connection to each word.
Two minutes later, they put the list of words out of sight and had to write as many words as they could remember from the list. After the initial groans, the students dutifully went about their task. Result: Group #2 smoked Group #1. In fact, every time I have done this activity I get the same result. When we debrief the activity in class, the students quickly understand that I set them up. Group #1 had a task that pretty much divorced them from the words and any meaning or emotion (they were merely counting lines). Group #2 made connections between the words and themselves.
Video recommendation for the week:
And thus begins our journey into memory strategies. If I had to give just one tip for improving memory it would be to find connections—make the material (whatever it might be) relevant to your life.
In the late 1800s psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus introduced the “forgetting curve.” He found that if you do not immediately use what you have learned during, for instance, a class lecture or demonstration, you will lose it—forget it. Most of what you will forget will happen within the first few hours of your leaving the classroom or lecture hall. And if you don’t work with the material within 30 days of receiving it, you will forget 90 percent of it. (From Medina, 2008, p. 100. Found in Piscitelli, 212)
Translation: A college student may not be tested on class material for up to four weeks (or more) after information was introduced in class. If she has not reviewed the material she received in class by time the exam rolls around—she has probably lost it. That is a very poor R.O.I (Return on Investment). She spent time in class but without notes review and connections to her textbook, she has remembered very little (content-wise) from the lessons. Sounds like a recipe for cramming the night before a test!
Video recommendation #2 for the week:
Medina is even more basic than that. His rule: Repeat to Remember. The video below demonstrates.
Consider these three simple steps for improved memory.
- Notice what needs to be remembered. At the simplest level, it becomes difficult to remember what you have not noticed—what has not registered with you. If you want to remember a name, for instance, you have to notice it. If you do not notice the emphasis the instructor makes in the classroom, it becomes that much more difficult to notice (and learn) what might be important for the upcoming test. If you don’t learn it in the first place you cannot forget it! Help yourself by listening and making connections to what you already know. Actively engage the material.
- Store what needs to be remembered. Let’s consider an analogy with a computer. Suppose you type an essay for your history professor—or a report for your supervisor. You spend a great deal of quality time polishing the draft and then “save” it on your computer. Later, when you go back to revise and print the document you cannot find it. You discover that you really did not pay a lot of attention to where you had stored the file on your computer. You did a lot of work on the essay (or report) but that does you very little good now as you cannot find it easily! You need to take care with how you store information. Notice it; relate it; connect it; remember it.
- Reclaim what needs to be remembered. This is what we generally refer to as “remembering.” Once you have noticed it and stored it (properly), you can easily go back (just like on your computer) and find the information in the appropriate file folder.
Class, here is your assignment!
One memory strategy known as the PEG system encourages you to make connections. You actually “peg” what you want to remember to another item. That item could be a number, a physical object, or an emotion. You may even create a story to remember the items. The idea is that the connection will help you remember the item. Practice this form of connection making by doing the following.
Suppose you had to remember the following list of words for a presentation: professor, beach, horse, teddy bear, cigar, palm tree, and pizza. Your task: Create a story that uses those words in that exact order. Have fun!
For more on memory, see my book Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff? 3rd edition (Pearson Education). Please visit my website (www.stevepiscitelli.com), contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Pearson Education, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B. as needed!
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© 2012. Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog.