If You Read A Lot Yet You Still Forget, Read This


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:

i) Interest:

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”.

iv)  Selectivity

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;
b) concept-driven/memory-dependent;
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.

vi) Recitation

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.

viii) Association

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.

ix) Consolidation

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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