There are a few important things you can do in order for you to retain the stuff you have learned.
I have come to the conclusion that, to remember what we have learned for a long time is to consistently adhere to ten brain friendly memory strategies.
Herea re the necessary steps to take:
In order to remember something thoroughly, we must be interested in it.
We must have a reason to learn it.
According to well-known information architect and author of ‘Information Anxiety’, Richard Saul Wurman:
“… Learning is remembering what you’re interested in…
Learning can be seen as the acquisition of information, but before it can take place, there must be interest; interest permeates all endeavors and precedes learning. In order to acquire and remember new knowledge, it must stimulate your curiosity in some way… ”
ii) Intent to Remember
We must be positive about wanting to remember what we are learning, and also positively knowing that we will remember well.
iii) Basic Background
Our understanding of new materials depends to a great degree on how much we already know about the subject.
The more we increase our basic knowledge, the easier it is to build new knowledge on this background.
That’s why I always propose students to do a preview of the new lesson the night before class. This is to facilitate what learning psychologists call, “schema activation”.
We must determine what is most important and select those parts to study and learn.
This is basically applying Pareto’s Law to learning.
v) Meaningful Organization
We can learn and remember better if we can group ideas into some sort of meaningful categories or groups.
At the macrocosmic level, I often encourage students to understand that most academic subjects can be classified into 3 categories, even though a few subjects may straddle more than one category:
a) problem solving;
c) interpretation- and/or prediction-based;
At the microcosmic level, for each academic subject, we can segregate “core material” from “elaborative material”.
My ‘Divide and Conquer” study strategy for test prep, which I have often put forward in my Quora posts, is based on this initiative.
Compiling global consolidated and summarised study notes for test prep, as I have often proposed, is also part of this initiative.
Saying ideas aloud in our own words is probably the most powerful tool we have to transfer information from short-term to long-term memory.
That’s why I always suggest to students to do a simple 3 R’s strategy upon exit from class before going to the next one: Recap, Review and Reinforce, the key ideas and salient points of the class lecture.
vii) Mental Visualization
Another powerful memory principle is making a mental picture of what needs to be remembered. By visualizing, you use an entirely different part of the brain than you did by reading or listening.
Most of us remember what we see much larger (and better) than what we read or hear.
We, therefore, need to make an effort to visualize everything we learn.
To me, the graphic methods of taking notes and making notes, like idea mapping, cluster diagramming, graphic organising or using visual tools with pictures, images, lines, colours, etc. facilitate this initiative.
Memory is increased when facts to be learned are associated with something familiar to us.
By recalling something we already know and making a link to the “brain file” that contains that information, we should be able to remember new information more efficiently.
To me, this initiative is part of the acid test of understanding.
In fact, the graphic methods of taking notes and making notes help tremendously in this area.
Our brain must have time for new information to soak in.
When we make a list or review our notes right after class, we are using the principle of consolidation.
New information takes time to soak in.
Most people agree that short term memory will only hold 7 plus/minus 2 chunks of information. We are usually bombarded with much more information than we can remember. We must, therefore, allow time for consolidation to take place. In fact, we must cause consolidation to take place.
To me, going to bed early and avoiding “cramming” (or “burning the midnight oil” as it is known in Singapore) is the best bet to allow our brain to take its natural consolidation cycle.
x) Distributed Practice
A series of shorter study sessions distributed over several days is preferable to fewer but longer study sessions.
We tend to remember things at the beginning of a list or study session and things at the end, what learning psychologists call, “Primacy Effect” and “Recency Effect”.
By using distributed practice, we can optimise our learning pursuit.
Distributed practice allows time for information and ideas to consolidate and for us to build a basic background. It also uses what we know about the nature of short-term memory.
That’s why I always suggest to students to do the 3 R’s strategy upon exit from class, if not, at home within 24 hours of class lecture, and then followed by a spaced and distributed revision practice of within next 7 days/ next 30 days/ next 60 days/next 90 days/ next 180 days till the final test/exam time.
Even the index card strategy for remembering core material which I have often proposed falls under this initiative, as students can make ready use of what I call “learning-on-the-go”: while commuting and/or waiting in queue.
As an overarching reading/studying/information-gathering/note-taking/note-making strategy, and tactical execution, my proposed use of proven efficient and effective study tools like SQ5R and Cornell Notes is aptly ideal.
With all the foregoing tactical initiatives, memory retention and recall of learned material becomes a real breeze!… “
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