Do you feel like you always forget what you’ve studied? You’re sure you have reviewed your notes as thoroughly as you could have, yet your mind still goes blank on the day of your chemistry or biology test. You search your brain in an attempt to sieve out that keyword or concept, but it doesn’t come to you.
If you are curious about how to convert what you’ve studied into long-term memory, read on to find out the secret hack of long-term memory!
How good is your short-term memory?
You’ve probably heard the terms “short-term” and “long-term” used in relation to how well you can remember information. Short-term memories are things that we instantly recollect, like a phone number or a series of directions. Short term memories typically last around 20 seconds before it needs to be transferred into long-term memory for permanent storage or discarded. A crucial difference between short-term and long-term memory is that while short term memory has limited storage, long-term memory has unlimited storage. Now, we aim to convert those short-term memories of the content we have revised into long-term memories!
Long Term Memory Storage Explained
Working from the short-term memory, items are either transferred to long-term or eliminated. These are the three stages of long-term memory storage: sensory register, short-term storehouse and the permanent storehouse for memories that have been consolidated over time.
What is the sensory register, short-term storehouse, and permanent storehouse?
Sensory register is your immediate sense, for example, when you listen to a song and it plays in your head. The short-term storehouse is the gap between sensory memory and long-term storage, where information may be held momentarily before being transferred into long-term storage. When new memories form, they need time to unify with older ones that have been previously stored in the permanent storage area.
Why We Forget, According to the Forgetting Curve
In the 1880s, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus hypothesized the forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus found that unless we attempt to retain information, we forget more of the information stored in our memory as time passes. Thus, memory techniques like spaced repetition and active recall, which we will discuss in greater detail, are so important for circumventing the natural process of forgetting.
The Secret Hack of Long-Term Memory Storage
Here are some little-known secrets to help you remember more.
1. Spaced Repetition
The first rule of thumb for remembering information that needs to be transferred from short-term storehouse into long-term storage is spaced repetition. Allow the material time to settle and create a schedule to repeat it in intervals until there are no gaps in your memory’s recall. Your schedule could go like this: Revise this chapter for the first time today, review it tomorrow, review it again next week, and then once more next month. Now that you have not only revisited the material but also created a set time to review it again and again, this information will be filed away in your long-term memory.
2. Active Recall
Active recall is the next step. Active recall is a process through which you actively stimulate your memory whilst you are learning. This is where you set your textbooks and notes aside, and recollect what you have learned without referring to your notes. Prepare beforehand a list of questions about the chapter you’ve studied, sit in your thoughts and answer these questions on your own. Another way is to simply write down everything you can recall on a piece of paper. This process forces you to extract information from your memory.
Many students choose to write out their notes as a form of revision because they believe that it helps them remember what they have studied. If you have been employing this study method all this while, be honest with yourself—can you actually recall more than 50% of what you have written? A definition here, a main concept there—and that’s about it. In contrast to passive study methods such as reading and rewriting your notes, active recall is an active and stimulating process, making it even more effective in memory retrieval and retention.
Spaced Repetition & Active Recall Saves You Time
Even though spaced repetition and active recall may appear time-consuming given the amount of time required to set aside for these methods to work, it actually saves you time in the long haul: if it takes an hour to learn something, it normally takes less than ten minutes to recall it. With this knowledge, you can be certain that the amount of time you take to revisit content with every subsequent spaced repetition will only get shorter and shorter as you remember more information.
3. Elaborative Rehearsal
Inject fun into your studying to help motivate yourself to study with a memory technique called elaborative rehearsal—this method forces your brain to process information in a more in-depth manner, thus encoding information into long-term memory. This technique can work in several ways.
- For instance, when studying the term of a cell, associate its name with a colour. Every time you think about that colour, you will be reminded of the name of the cell.
- You can categorise things into groups to help you remember more easily, such as grouping the parts of the respiratory system in one group and the body parts of the muscular system in another.
- Mnemonic strategies are equally helpful in the learning of terms.
To further cement the information you have studied, verbalize what you have memorized to someone else. Teaching is a proven method of retaining information. Research has shown that when you explain a concept to someone else, you are more likely to remember what it is and why it’s important. Think about a time when you were enlisted to tutor another student or teach your sibling something. You might not realize it, but you had put in additional effort to fully understand the concept in order to impart the knowledge accurately. Not only do you enlighten others, but you re-learn the information as well. Try to incorporate teaching as part of your study plan if you can—this can be as simple as asking a friend who is studying for the same subject to listen to you explain a concept.
5. Studying with friends and Doing Practice Papers
This brings me to a secondary point on study methods that aid memory retention. When you discuss content with friends, they may be able to point out gaps in your knowledge that you may not even realized were there. Furthermore, studying with friends allows you a glimpse into the study methods that they have been practicing.
This introduces you to other effective methods that you may not have previously considered, such as doing practice papers, which trains you to apply your knowledge. In doing so, you effectively ready yourself for the actual exam.
The last step to fully grasp and recall information is comprehension. The textbook you are studying was written by someone else in their own words. When you process and write out information in your own words, you will find it easier to remember things, since the words are uniquely yours, in an expression that you are comfortable with.
Long-term memory is a complicated process that takes time and effort, but the more you work on it, the less difficult it will be to remember things. Research has shown that the above methods have aided memory retention, and we hope you try them out for yourself to experience the results!