From when you first start school at four or five years old until you leave you’ll have to sit hundreds of tests and exams. How well you do in them will largely depend on your memory. Memory can best be defined as the way in which the brain stores and remembers information. The better your brain does this, the stronger your memory will be. It’s not only at school where having a good memory is important. Many jobs also require you to be able to store information and remember it accurately.
In 1886, a man called Herman Ebbinghaus did some research on his own memory. From this he created ‘The Forgetting Curve’. In just a month, he only remembered 21 percent of what he’d originally memorised. This is also called knowledge fade – knowledge fades over time.
As much as your teachers will try to help you by testing you and staggering all the things that you have to learn, you can help yourself too.
Want to learn how to have a better memory?
Are you interested in doing better in tests and exams?
Want to understand how to help your brain to work better?
If you’ve answered “Yes” to any of these questions this article will show you how.
TIP 1: Seek To Understand
The more you understand the information presented to you, the more you’ll remember it. One way you’ll understand better is to be fully clear about what each concept and term you’re trying to learn means. One way of achieving this is to have real-world examples for each of them.
When real-world examples are provided by teachers more tends to be remembered. This is because your brain loves to do something called pattern matching. The real-world examples help you link your pre-existing knowledge with new information.
So, if you’re unclear about something that’s being explained by a teacher, ask for examples. Here, it’s important to be assertive and not just pretend you understand.
Also, try this: Write out the term that has to be learned, it’s definition, a real-world example and an illustration of the term. Creating an image is a great way to help you remember the term and definition associated with it. Think of any road sign or information leaflet –they are a mix of text and pictures. Making notes that use illustrations and well as words is referred to as dual-coding. Here’s a few examples from the Geography topic of River Processes.
The better you make your notes, the more likely you will remember them. Good notes will include examples and a combination of text and images. So try to build up some notes like those above. Check with your teacher as soon as possible whether the example and illustration are correct.
TIP 2: Test Yourself Regularly
One of the best things you can do to help to improve your memory is to review your notes regularly. So what’s the best way to test yourself?
Step 1: Get organised. Without something to review from such as notes, a textbook, an article, a fact sheet or a Knowledge Organiser reviewing will be impossible. Ensure that these are easily accessible. Keep each subject separate and in different boxes or folders if you can.
Step 2: Set aside time to test yourself. You’ll need some blank paper or an exercise book.Set yourself the challenge of remembering something you need to learn. This could be the rules for a good answer, a labelled diagram, some facts, formulae, quotes. Whatever it is, write down as much as you can – either in summary form or try to reproduce your notes if you have already made some. Try 10-20 minutes at the first attempt (one or two blocks of time). As you get closer to major exams, build this time up (add more blocks).
Step 3:Check how well you’ve done. Go back to what you’re trying to recall. Particularly take note of what you’ve forgotten. Where necessary, make changes to your notes. Re-test yourself a few days later – hopefully with more success.
TIP 3: Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Perhaps the most famous quote about sleep comes from Benjamin Franklin:
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Although my favourite is from Wilson Mizener:
“The amount of sleep needed by the average person is five minutes more.”
Anyone sympathise with that? Do you hit the snooze button when it goes off? Just me?
Experts such as Dr Matthew Walker in his excellent book, Why We Sleep, suggest we use the term Sleep Hygiene to describe our sleep patterns. This is a really useful phrase. We all know that it’s unhygienic and therefore dangerous to eat a half-eaten sandwich off of the pavement or share a chewing gum with a stranger! But being ‘sleep-deprived’ it’s just as dangerous. It’s bad for all aspects of your health and it’s especially bad for your brain function. When you are sleep deprived your brain's neurons become over-connected and with so much electrical activity going on new memories can't be saved. When you get a good night’s sleep your brain effectively ‘resets’ and you awake feeling refreshed. So let’s look at how you can improve your sleep hygiene. The better it is, the better your memory will be.
Quantity of sleep – When it comes to sleep, we’re all different. The amount you need will not be the same as someone else. Teenagers tend to need more sleep than adults due to their body changing so much – about 8 to 10 hours on average. If you’re feeling constantly tired throughout the day or can’t really function without lots of caffeine then you either need more sleep or better quality sleep.
Quality of sleep – Here’s a few ideas to improve your sleep hygiene or in other words to get a better night’s sleep:
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Sleeping later on weekends won’t fully make up for a lack of sleep during the week. One good idea is to set an alarm for bedtime. Often we set an alarm for when it’s time to wake up but you can also set one for when it’s time to go to sleep. Sticking to a sleep schedule is regarded as the best thing you can do for sleep hygiene.
Relax before bed. The end of the day should be left for unwinding. Try to get into the habit of doing something relaxing just before sleep such as reading, meditating, praying or journaling (writing about your day). A hot bath or shower may also help.
Have a gadget-free bedroom. These days we have access to all sorts of gadgets and electronics. However, when used late in the evening they can overstimulate your brains just when you should be trying to wind down. As hard as it might be to put your phone aside, please try to. Your brain will take over an hour to ‘come down’ from using technology so factor this in when thinking about your sleep hygiene.
Create some bedtime rules. Many of us have to share a bedroom with another family member. Growing up, I had to share with a brother but thankfully he slept more than me. If you’re sharing you’ll often need to compromise on things like when the lights go off and noise levels from the other person. Failing that buy some ear plugs and a sleep mask!
Try some of the ideas to help to develop better sleep patterns. The Sleep Foundation has some other useful tips: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/teens-and-sleep
· Seek to Understand
· Test Yourself Regularly
· Get A Good Night’s Sleep
A final thought from the philosopher Socrates:
There is no learning without remembering.
If you are interested in more tips about studying away from school and developing your brain have a look at these other articles.
No.1: Time Management
No.3: Note Taking
No.4: Anxiety Management
This resource was created by Andy Griffith, director of Malit in the Community.