Memory Skills   back

The University of Alabama
Center for Academic Success
124 Osband

Have you found on occasion that you were unable to recall something learned but actually were trying to recall something "NOT LEARNED" in the first place? Unless the material was learned thoroughly at the time you read or heard it, you, in fact, never had it in your memory. This might be the case in any situation, whether it involves remembering names upon introduction or remembering facts or ideas from classroom lectures. Whenever the recall of information is important to you, the following principles should help you learn to remember:

1. Intend to Remember: We tend to learn in accordance with how much interest, incentive, and intention we have in learning. By the same token, we remember those things that we are motivated to remember, whether we are naturally interested or have created an interest and enthusiasm in learning the subject matter because we realize the ultimate benefits. Intending to remember is, perhaps, the most vital learning task.

2. Selectively Choose Memory Tasks: Attempting to remember everything one sees or hears is an exercise in futility! Selecting the important topics, facts, and ideas and disregarding the least essential elements allows maximum memory to occur. Therefore, when studying, first skim the chapter outline to identify key concepts to be remembered.

3. Understand the Material: A poorly understood concept is difficult to remember because it has little meaning. For long-term recall, it is necessary to understand what you are trying to remember.

4. Review: Immediate review (after class lectures or textbook reading), even if for a few minutes, reinforces learning and remembering of material. The greatest amount of forgetting occurs directly after finishing the learning task (psychologists say within 20 minutes). Try reviewing notes immediately before and after class period to enhance recall.

5. Use All of Your Senses: Sight and hearing are the most important senses in acquiring information. Although both senses should be used, decide whether you are primarily a visual or an auditory learner. A visual learner should take copious notes. Visual learners tend to deal directly with the subject matter, and by taking notes, the material is presented more often and in different forms. Auditory learners should spend more time in reciting orally. For both learning styles, however, mental recitation is important in transferring material from short-term memory. Experts suggest 80 percent of textbook study should be involved in reciting and 20 percent in reading.

6. Associate New Material with Prior Knowledge: Learn new material by associating the new idea with something you already know about and are interested in. As new learning occurs with your later courses, this material will provide additional background with which to associate future learning. An important fact to remember is that the more you learn, the easier it is to learn more because you have a broader base for anchoring new information.

7. Use Short Study Periods Rather Than Cramming: As a general rule, short study periods interspersed with rest intervals are to be preferred over massed practice or cram sessions. The exception to this rule would involve the writing of a paper where organizational tasks would require longer work periods and more intense concentration on the project without break.

8. Organize Material Meaningfully: Large masses of material are less threatening and more easily committed to memory when broken into smaller sections or categories. Envision each fact or idea as a part of that category or section, and then relate the sections to each other. It is also helpful when remembering a list of items to give extra attention and practice to those items in the middle of the list. Those items at the first and last of a list are recalled with greater accuracy than those within the list.

9. Learning by Association: In most cases, understanding the material is paramount in learning. However, there are times when it is necessary to remember facts that seemingly defy organization, in which case mnemonic devices can be helpful. (Example: "Thirty days has September"). This might include phrases or combinations or words which could be associated and adapted to material to be remembered, but mnemonic devices should be used only until you know the material so well that you no longer need them.

The application of these principles should help you to improve your memory during study periods. If you would like additional assistance in this or other study skills areas, call or visit the Center for Academic Success, 124 Osband Hall, 348-5175.