Whether we are studying for Friday’s spelling test, a doctoral dissertation or a company presentation, there are a number of reliable memory techniques and powerful memory aids that yield the best results:
1. Get plenty of rest. Lack of sleep will disrupt the consolidation of memory.
2. Reduce auditory and visual distractions. The brain can only accommodate one dominant sensory entry at a time.
3. Hydrate your body-brain system. A 2% decrease in hydration can lead to a 20% loss in energy.
4. Try to eliminate stress or any form of emotional trauma.
5. Do not attempt to memorize information while in pain, under medication, under the influence of recreational drugs or alcohol.
6. Distribute any practice across time rather than attempting to learn everything at once (distributed vs. massed practice or “cramming” the learning into a single session).
7. Minimize multitasking. We cannot perform two similar tasks simultaneously, unless one has reached “automaticity” (accomplished without conscious mental processing).
8. Rehearse information by visualizing with the mind’s eye (the visuospatial sketch pad) for
visual information, and rote rehearsal (repetition) for random verbal information (the phonological loop).
9. Avoid encoding and retrieval interference.
10. Add a social aspect to the learning experience.
11. Use associations to prime the recall of specific information.
12. Pay attention to what is important (otherwise it will be discarded from working memory within 18-30 seconds); “download” that information in some way to preserve it (note-taking, audio recording, oral repetition or mind-maps).
13. Repeat important information within 10-22 minutes, again within 48 hours, and again at the end of a seven-day period.
14. Take short breaks or naps, during which the brain can reflect and connect.
15. Study or read prior to going to bed.
16. Prepare the body for learning/testing with proper nutrition.
17. Practice positive talk (focus on related prior successes).
18. Play non-lyrical music (performed at approximately 60 beats per minute).
19. Process the information as if you are preparing it to teach it to another individual. (“To teach is to learn twice.” —Joseph Joubert.)
20. Use a scent or fragrance during learning (lecture or studying). Bring that same fragrance with you during testing.
21. Use mnemonic devices (acrostics, mind-maps and graphic organizers) for memorizing multiple pieces of information. For example, memorizing the animal kingdom “FARM-B” = fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds.
22. Relax. It is difficult to identify pertinent information when tense or nervous.
23. Make as many correlations and connections to previously learned information as you can.
24. Review old information before reading new information.
25. Build bridges from what is known to what is new by using the “10-80-10” rule. Devote 10% of teaching time to activating prior knowledge, 80% to new information, and 10% to a preview of what is to come next.
26. Review and connect new content while walking and discussing that content with another person.
27. Study in your most favored and most comfortable environment.
28. Replicate the testing environment while studying. (Some state bar associations allow students to prepare for the bar exam in the examination room).
29. Pay attention to diet, nutrition and memory-boosting vitamins. Consume salmon, folic acid, natural sugars and vitamin B12.
30. Spend time with mentally stimulating individuals, particularly mentors and spouses.