How To Improve Your Memory

With finals coming up soon, I thought I would share some useful study tips to help you all improve your recall.  Since I’m in science, my courses are extremely heavy on memorization.  Often it’s hard to remember everything, especially when the information seems like a bunch of random facts and isolated details.  I’ve picked out a few strategies that have helped me succeed in my exams and I hope they will be of use to you too!


Focus on understanding the overall concepts… and yes, sometimes the details are important too.  Your primary goal should be to summarize the important concepts of the lectures into a few concise sentences.  I believe that we learn and process information the best when we make the effort to create our own notes.

All too often, we give up on trying to understand stuff and go straight to memorizing sentences from the textbook word for word.  This won’t stick in your brain! (unless you have photographic memory)  By processing the information and rewording it into your own summary, you are encoding the information deeper into your brain.  You will understand the concept and be able to apply the information better than if you were to just read and memorize text.

From there, you can add on examples or details that you or your professor think are important to remember.  Try to understand why these details are important to the main concept and that will help you remember them in the future.  Knowing the details can take your exam mark from an 80 to a 90.


Relate information to what you already know.  Your brain can recall information better if it can link it to something else it already has in storage.  This is especially true for when you are building new information onto your previous knowledge.

Involve as many senses as possible.  The more ways you encode the information, the more the brain will remember it.  Some of the different senses you can use include:

– physical: writing out the material

– auditory: listening to it

– visual: drawing picture, diagrams, flow charts, mind maps, tables (very useful!!)

My personal favourites are writing things out and using visual diagrams.  I love summary tables because they put all the important information in one place and minimize the number of pages that I have to flip through.  I am a highly visual learner and I like to be able to see everything all at once.  So, I usually create one big summary chart with lots of pictures.  This helps me integrate all the little stuff into one big picture.


Use mnemonics.  This is extremely useful for memorizing the stuff that appears to lack any context.  This tends to be stuff like cold hard facts, words, formulas and lists.  I use these to remember groups of atomic elements or chemicals, drug names, receptors, cytokines, etc. but of course you can use them to remember virtually anything.  Here are some common mnemonic devices:

Visual image – Associate a visual image with a word or name to help you remember them better. Positive, pleasant images that are vivid, colorful, and three-dimensional will be easier to remember. To remember the name Rosa Parks and what she’s known for, picture a woman sitting on a park bench surrounded by roses, waiting as her bus pulls up.
Acrostic (or sentence) – Make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. The sentence “Every good boy does fine” to memorize the lines of the treble clef, representing the notes E, G, B, D, and F.
Acronym – An acronym is a word that is made up by taking the first letters of all the key words or ideas you need to remember and creating a new word out of them. The word “HOMES” to remember the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
Rhymes and alliteration – Rhymes, alliteration (a repeating sound or syllable), and even jokes are a memorable way to remember more mundane facts and figures. The rhyme “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November” to remember the months of the year with only 30 days in them.
Chunking – Chunking breaks a long list of numbers or other types of information into smaller, more manageable chunks. Remembering a 10-digit phone number by breaking it down into three sets of numbers: 555-867-5309 (as opposed to5558675309).
Method of loci – Imagine placing the items you want to remember along a route you know well or in specific locations in a familiar room or building. For a shopping list, imagine bananas in the entryway to your home, a puddle of milk in the middle of the sofa, eggs going up the stairs, and bread on your bed.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  This is a big one for me.  I have realized that I typically cover the material upwards of five times before the exam: (2x) Listening to the lecture, (1) making a summary, (1 or 2) writing out key points from memory on my whiteboard, and (1) review right before the exam.  It’s always better to be over prepared than underprepared, so rehearse the information until you know it like the back of your hand!  Of course this takes time, which brings me to my next point.

Prepare early.  Yes, I know.  Procrastination is in our nature as students and sometimes we have no choice but to leave things to the last minute.  I am just as guilty of it most of the time.  But, it really does help to keep up with your work and prepare your notes early.  That way, close to exam time all you have to do is review your awesome notes and summaries to jog your memory.  So, if possible, make an effort to prepare early… there will always be time after exams to watch Breaking Bad, Dr. Who and Game of Thrones.


Test yourself.  The only way you can really tell that you know the information is to test yourself.  Don’t fall for the trap of blindly flipping through your notes thinking you understand everything and then end up blanking during the exam (I’ve done this!).   Do practice questions, textbook questions, old exams or questions you have made yourself.

Sometimes I will create about 5 to 10 questions per lecture to review the major points and any important details.  If I can answer the questions without cheating, then I am confident that I have a solid understanding of the material.

Also, check to see which questions you get wrong.  This will show you where your memory is weak.  Then, you can hone in your studying to review those concepts more.  You will save time by doing this and ensure your memory isn’t lacking in any areas.


I hope you find some of these tips useful and try to integrate them into your study habits for final exams.  Keep up all the good work in this last stretch of the term!  You’re almost done!  😀





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