Improving Your Memory   back

The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
124 Osband

Poor Memory is a Myth

You do not have a weak memory, even though you think so. In fact, did you know you donít even have a "memory" or "place" in your brain where you store pictures or information? Memory is actually a mental activity by which information is "impressed" either faintly or strongly in your nervous system. Be encouraged! You can organize and direct your mental activity, or remembering, to make strong information "impressions" (neural traces). In other words, you can remember--lots better than you do now. "How?" you ask. Follow these principles:

The Four Rís of Remembering

RESOLVE: Have a serious intention to remember the lecture or textbook material. This differs from trying to concentrate. When you try to concentrate, you focus on your own emotions and mental condition. Donít do this. Simply try to remember the information--your focus is then on the subject instead of yourself. This way, you will remember the information better. Research claims that one of the most important factors in a memory task is the "predisposition to remember."

REACT: Actively respond to the things you want to remember. Becoming a more highly reactive person has the side benefit of raising your level of mental activity in general. When you get involved in a subject by reacting several ways, it wonít "pass in one ear and out the other." Ways you can react: Think about it, making a picture of it mentally, write it down, generate a feeling (emotional research) to it, talk it over (to self or others), or apply it practically to daily life activities.

REFLECT: Think deeply about the information you want to remember. Associate the new idea or fact with something you already know about and are interested in. Make an analogy (comparison of similar aspects) between your subject and what you already knew. For example, when presented with the fact that a tomato is really a fruit, connect the information with all that you know about the category "fruits." Asking yourself questions helps you associate facts and ideas. For example, ask what the qualities of a tomato are that cause it to be categorized as a fruit. The more interested you become, and the more you learn about this fact, the better you will remember it.

REFRESH: Brush up your memories as soon as you learn the new information. Review immediately to make stronger "neural traces" or "information impressions" in your brain. To make sure you donít start forgetting the information, go over it (preferably from notes, so you donít recall it inaccurately) right after class or study session, once again at bedtime, and then a few times in the following two weeks. If you wait till the semester ends, youíll have to relearn the material by cramming. By refreshing right away, youíll really learn and remember the material.

How to Put the Four Rís of Remembering to Work for You

The following two exercises are models for you to follow in using principles of remembering in daily life. We assume youíre already applying the first principle of resolving (intending) to remember.

EXERCISE 1: Memorizing a List of Non-Related Items in Sequence
Sample List: 100491884
First, break the items into three groups of 2-4 parts. Say them (react) aloud with pauses between the groups, as you would if repeating your social security number. Like this - "100, 49, 1884." (This is using a rhythmic device to retain sequential order). Now, relate each group to something you know or enjoy (reflect). For example, if you were interested in the history of the California Gold Rush, you could make a little story to attach "significance" to the numbers. Like this: "There were only a hundred (100) forty-niners (49-big gold rush year) left in California in 1884." Next, refresh this memory (100-49íers-in 1884) several times the day you learn it, and a couple of times within the following two weeks.

EXERCISE 2: Memorizing an Idea, Theory, or Abstract Statement
Sample conceptual statement: Sigmund Freud introduced the importance of the unconscious mind in relation to human behavior.
First, be sure you understand what the professor means by "introduced", "importance", "unconscious mind", and "human behavior". You canít remember what you donít know (havenít learned). If the information has significance (meaning) for you, it will be more easily remembered, so try to find a reason that you would like to remember this concept. Like this: "I would like to know if my problems with anger have anything to do with my unconscious fears". (This is reaction). Now, relate this concept to a body of knowledge that already exists in your mind. Like this: "Freudís theory of the unconscious is related to what I used to call the Ďhidden motives of my heartí, which they talk about in novels and in church. (You are practicing reflection). Now refresh your memory of this concept by thinking about it, or reviewing notes on it, or better yet, by explaining it to someone else. Refresh the day you learn the information, and again a couple of times in the following two weeks.