Memory is a tricky subject. People forget just about everything, yet they have the uncanny ability to remember the smallest detail about useless stuff. Like the boy who could remember the lyrics of all the latest songs but not his lessons. The name of the memory game is reason and interest. Do you have a reason to remember something and if you do are you interested in doing it.
Why do we memorize?
You have many reasons to remember anything. You want to remind someone of something like borrowed money or a birthday. Depending on your interests you try to remember what could be a good topic to discuss with your friends or a common interest like India’s cricketing history. You usually do it to impress. But the reason is that you want to do it. So I will repeat what I said a couple of blogs ago. Interest is very important to remember.
How about the things we have to remember especially for exams. Names, dates, places etc. Sometimes remembering them can be tricky. In which case you use methods that have been tried and tested by memory experts.
Let me bring in another reminder from an earlier blog. The forgetting curve.
Let’s get on to the techniques to memorize.
Mnemonics is a system of using whatever memory triggers you have to help you remember stuff. We have memorized using mnemonics since our childhood, when we were just kinder garten students. Remember the ‘one, two buckle my shoe’ poem? We were taught the poem to remember numbers.
This also works with lists. For example VIBGYOR or the colours of the rainbow. Violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. The colours are in sequence too. Similarly, ‘my very enthusiastic mother just served us noodles’ is a good sentence to remember the planets in our solar system and in order. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. This is just word play. You can bring in images.
You can also use phrases to remember other lists. Like say pi. The sequence of numbers in pi can be remembered by memorizing the phrase ‘Now I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics’.
Image mnemonics relies heavily on associating new stuff to the stuff you already know.
If you want to remember hard words or unpronounceable names then you could make visual images of them in your mind or draw them out on paper. For example the two types of complexities of cell structures Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic, that you study in Std. 8 can be visualized by their phonetic syllables. So Pro can be a professional player, kary will be the the professional player carrying (something) and otic can be attic. The complete image is a professional (basketball) player carrying an attic. Pro-carry-otic. Similarly, Eu is you, kary is carry and otic can be attic which will make the image – You carrying an attic. You could visualize both you and your favourite professional player carrying attics on your backs.
To remember lists with images, you should try to get all the images into one frame. For example you want to remember your list of time in the ancient India. Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, neolithic, chalcolithic. You have to remember lithic that is the suffix to all the names. Then picture your pal sitting in a mess with his new charcoal. Remember to make images, whether in your head or on paper very specific. In this process don’t worry if your images look ridiculous. This exercise is for you to remember and not for everyone to criticize. So be your most creative so that you remember your images.
Flash cards are a great way to make notes and remember concepts. They are another good way to remember things. When you make flash cards remember to make them in such a way they are self explanatory. There is no prohibition on using mnemonic devices like acronyms or phrases and images, drawings or symbols. Whatever makes it easy for you to remember. The first advice I would like to start with is that : Always make your own flash cards. Remember to use one concept or question per flash card and break complex questions down to simpler concepts. Say the answers out loud. One side of the card can be used to write the question and the other for the answer. So when you read the question you say the answer out loud – out loud and not in your mind. Then you turn the card to check your answer. The answer can be text, or an image or a mix of both (a mnemonic) that helps to memorize the answer. If you want to remember the names and symbols of elements you will have to memorize both sides of the card so that you can name the element that represents the symbol and vice versa.
Flash cards is used by many speakers during the speech for quick reference.
Using flash cards to to label and remember items
This is specifically used by learners of language. I encourage my students to put up labels on various furniture to learn their English names. Many people use flash cards to remember other things which they draw on the cards. Like the names of things you do not find in the house including vehicles or animals. You will remember the picture books you used to learn from while in primary school.
Letting imagination go wild with mind palace
When we were kids we had the ability to imagine situations and environments around us. We could become pilots and the corridors and grounds of our apartments became airports and skies filled with clouds or highways that ran forever if we imagined ourselves as truck drivers. Many of us played teacher or hosts having an imaginary party. The mind has the ability to imagine anything and we can use this ability to remember things and lists. In a classroom the green board can be the forest, the duster – the grasslands, the cabinet in the class can be the desert, the glass of water on the teacher’s desk can be water or aquatic, the desk itself can be coastal and the chair marine. That could the different types of ecosystems that appear in the natural resources chapter.
Sometimes you have to remember stuff in sequence and there is a system that you can practice inside your house. As you enter the door of your house you could label each furniture with the items on the list you want to remember. Walk through the room as many times as you have to so that you can remember the list in sequence. The furniture of the room is embedded deep in your memory anyway and the association with the item on the list becomes strong to memorize the list in sequence. When you are taking the test or exam you can imagine yourself walking through the room and each furniture item you see can help you remember the item on the list.
Flash cards can be used along with the technique of spaced learning. In case you do not know about spaced learning visit my page spaced learning and the forgetting curve.
Flash in the box
This is a nice trick I read someplace. Make boxes, envelopes or stacks to store flash cards (concepts/answers) you want to remember. This system of using storage of flash cards is called the Leitner System. Name the first box as ‘Urgent’ or ‘Everyday’. The second can be named ‘One Day’ or ‘Every Other Day’. You read and study the ‘Everyday’ flash card till you remember the concept or answer written on it. Once you are confident that you remember the answer, you can move that card to ‘Every Other Day’. The cards in this box can be referred to in a couple of days. Once you are confident that you have memorized the answer, the card can be moved to a third box called ‘Once a Week’. Refer to this card on one pre-decided day of the week. By this time you should have memorized the answer or concept pretty thoroughly and can answer the question if someone asks it to you randomly. At this time you move this card to the “Once in 2 weeks” box and then after that to “Once in a month”. In this procedure if you forget the concept or are not able to answer the question on the card then that card goes back into the ‘Urgent’ or ‘Everyday Card’ and you start over again with that card.
Music, Flavour and Fragrance to Remember
Another way scholars usually use to remember concepts is playing a certain music or song when they study something. For each concept there is a different song or piece of music. It can help you remember the concept when you hear the same song. Similarly, some students use differently abled chewing gum while studying certain concepts and when they taste flavour they remember the concept clearly. Fragrance or smell too triggers memory in similar ways. Unfortunately, most institutions do not allow you to eat, drink and hear music during examinations. And at the same time if you have keep smelling for different cans of fragrances the supervisor is going to have his suspicions about you.