If you (or your child) are trying to learn a subject, taking the information in is only half the battle. The important thing is to be able to remember it — either for an exam or when you need to put the information to use. Most of us forget the great majority of what we learn during any given day, which is essentially the brain's way of saving storage space for what we really need to retain. When we're actively trying to learn, though, we need to make sure it's the right information that gets safely stored in our long-term memory.
Fortunately, there's no need to learn any extraordinary methods. A number of simple techniques will help you retain more. Here are some of the most important.
1. Pay Attention to What You're Learning
This may seem obvious, but it's easy to become distracted when you're learning and not give the material your full attention. That's why it's vital to make sure you arrange your study in times and places that you can give it your full attention.It can also be of great benefit to occasionally vary your study routine — but still make sure the different time and place is suitable.
2. Pace Your Study
If you've ever tried to cram the evening before an exam, you'll probably know how difficult it is to retain information in that situation. Overloading your brain tends to result inmuch of the information getting lost. In order to retain it, you're much better off studying a little and often on a regular basis.
3. Structure Your Information
It's much easier for your brain to take in and retain information that's structured into clumps of related material than if you try to learn it piecemeal. Try making an outline of your notes, so that you're grouping similar concepts or terms together in related clusters, which will be easier to learn.
4. Relate the New to the Familiar
As part of your structuring, try to relate the new information to something you already know. This could be something you've previously learnt in the same course of study, or it could be information from a completely different source. This will mean your brain will have fewer new neural pathways to build in order to retain the new information.
5. Use Mnemonics
Your brain is more likely to retain information if it can be related to something more easily remembered. For example, anything in rhymed verse is easier to learn than unstructured material, while humour also sticks in the brain. You can also use phrases that encode information, such as the well-known "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain", which shares its initials with the colours of the rainbow.
6. Use Elaborative Rehearsal
Elaborative Rehearsal is a technique that can be used to encode information in your long-term memory. For example, if you come across a term you need to learn, you first read through the definition several times. Then, when you're fairly sure of that, you read a fuller, more detailed explanation of what the term means and its context.
7. Read Material Aloud
In general, we remember more information we read aloud than when we read silently. This makes it important to study somewhere it's possible to read out loud without being stared at. Even more effective can be to teach the information to someone else. If you have a "study buddy", then take turns to teach each other what you're learning.
8. Use Visual Cues
Using visual cues is especially important if you have a visual learning style, but it can help most people to some extent. Pay attention to charts and diagrams, or create them for yourself if none are provided. If nothing else, making up flashcards can help you retain more information.
9. Pay Attention to Difficult Information
Some information is harder than others to take in, either because it's more complex or because of the order in which it's presented. Pay extra attention to anything you find difficult to remember, and if it comes in the middle of the block, which can make learning harder, rearrange the order so that you're studying it at the beginning or end.
10. Sleep Helps Your Memory
It should be obvious that getting enough sleep is vital for memory, since your brain isn't working at full power if you're tired, but it goes further. Research has suggested that sleeping straight after learning something makes it more likely that you'll retain the information. So try to schedule a nap after your study session. These are just a few of the ways you can increase the amount of information you retain and have available for recall when needed. Register with TutorExtra to find more advice and resources.