Making Memory Work: Tips to Improve Memory
It is difficult to imagine what life would be like without memory. The mearnings of thousands of everyday perceptions, the bases for the decisions we make, and the roots of our habits and skills are to be found in our past experiences, which are brought into the present by memory.
Memory can be defined as the capacity to keep information available for later use. It includes not only remembering things like arithmetic or historical facts, but also involves any change in the way an animal typically behaves. Memory is involved when a rat gives up eating grain because he has sniffed something suspicious in the grain pile. Memory is also involved when a six-year-old child learns to swing a baseball bat.
There is no magical formula available yet for making everyone a wizard of memory. Many of the gimmicks that one hears about have proven to be mostly wishful thinking. For example, learning in sleep has never been shown to be effective. Indeed, one of the most important requirements for learning is to pay attention.
This also relates to the use of hypnosis, another potentially 'magic' learning aid. Under hypnotic suggestion people do learn a little faster, but the advantage is of just the magnitude expected if a person concentrates harder for any reason.
There are many variables that may make a difference in how well you learn and remember something. Spacing practice is one of these. It is usually better to study or practice a particular thing a little at a time rather than all at once, at least insofar as its meaning and logic are not impaired. Even the way in which flash cards deck of, say, French-English vocabulary is arranged for memorization can make a difference. If the same card is studied twice in a row, the second practice does almost no good. It is best to study one card for a while, and then put it away while you study at least six or eight others.
After something has been learned, the degree of retention may be greatly influenced by the manner in which practice was organized. If instead of learning just to master, the learner goes on to study more, his rate of forgetting is much less rapid. Tests are even more effective in preventing forgetfulness.
In some cases, less will be forgotten in a month with a properly arranged test than in a single day without one. Tests are probably most effective, as compared with just more studying, when the material is already fairly well learned.
Certain methods of organizing information as it is learned can make it easier to retain and retrieve. These 'tricks' are sometimes called mnemonic devices. For example, medical students often try to remember a sequence of nerves by memorizing a poem in which the first letter of each word stands for the first initial of a nerve. Junior high school students use the same trick to remember the order of planets.
Another technique is to create a vivid visual image – one full of bizarre and unusual features – incorporating the thing or things to be remembered. These memory aids work by organizing the materials to be learned and making them more meaningful. They thus take advantage of things the person already knows to help make new connections more varied, rich and salient. Under what conditions these various memory aids work and do not work has not yet been established.
Does memorizing make a person a better “memorizer”? The answer is complicated. The use of various aids, together with proper organization of practice time and other good study habits, will increase your ability to learn and retain information. But simply doing a lot of memorization will not strengthen your memory. Practice makes you good only at exactly what you have learned.