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5 effective ways to improve memory retention

13th January 2018 Posted by: Mike Robertson

STRUGGLING to remember information? Don't panic! It's hard to internalise all your studying. These tips below will help you to improve your memory retention and allow you to succeed over your exam period. 



Review prior knowledge

Improving our ability to understand new information is equally as important as retaining and consolidating what has previously been learned. Not only will it help put your coursework into perspective, it will aid the development of a more comprehensive understanding of how each theme, idea, or fact relates to one another. This is certainly applicable to arts-based subjects, though the same idea could be applied to sciences or maths.

Open up a discourse with peers, mentors and lecturers, asking each other what you know about the topic, and what you want to learn about it. When you activate prior knowledge on a topic, you give yourself a hook or reference in which to place new information, effectively allowing you to retrieve it later.        



Perhaps one of the most common memory enhancement techniques around, chunking is a psychologically tested method that involves breaking down larger amounts of information into smaller, more manageable pieces. We perform this action subconsciously when performing some daily tasks and may have even incorporated it into our study routines without even realising. Chunking could involve organising vocabulary and information into bigger categories, or simply placing groups of it together so it’s easier to retrieve.  


Create mental associations

Making connections between ideas and information is at the heart of thinking creatively and intelligently. This could take the form of anything from mind maps and diagrams to retrieval cues or the ‘Method of Loci’. (This involves creating a visual plan of a room or space (either mentally or physically and grouping themes and information into each room.) Make sure you choose a method that works for you: visual learners will naturally enjoy anything they can look at, whereas practical learners might need to impart their knowledge onto others. Whichever method/s you implement, ensure that you are actually learning the material, rather than just rote-learning or memorising chunks of text.


Regular exercise and a balanced diet

It might sound obvious, but partaking in mild and frequent exercise will allow you to be capable of retaining more information. By simply moving around our body builds neural activity which can open up new pathways for ideas to develop. Research has proven that our executive functioning (cognitive abilities like focus, abstract thought and planning) is significantly increased when we perform physical activity, with effects being the greatest among those who exercise 30-45 minutes each session for longer than six months.



Various research studies have shown that previously inexperienced mindfulness meditators can improve their memory recall in about 8 weeks. It might seem a tad unrelated to spend time away from the books, but in this case it can be highly beneficial. Engaging in ‘awareness’ or ‘insight’ meditation on a regular basis helps thicken the cortex and allows concentration to improve. This occurs as it increases the size of blood vessels and the blood flow in the region.  



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