For most of our lives, most people are continually learning new things .

By having new information we can be able to better adapt to the environment and the constant changes of today’s society. Although this learning process is continuous throughout the life cycle, it is especially visible during training processes, where we acquire most of the general knowledge and attitudes that we will later apply, deepening, contrasting and modifying throughout life.

In such training it is common to have to memorize a lot of information in relatively short periods of time. For this reason, in this article will provide some tricks to better remember when studying .

Articles that may interest you:

  • 5 tricks to avoid nerves before an exam
  • 10 methods of studying before an exam
  • 5 tricks for passing a multiple choice exam (without knowing the lesson)

Studying, a strenuous activity

There are many different types of learning, but they are all based on the acquisition, whether voluntary or involuntary, of information from one source (whether external or internal, experiential, vicarious or even imaginary) and its subsequent retention.

Anyone who has had to study in depth knows that this is an activity that can be strenuous . Learning and memorizing especially technical or complicated material can be a real headache for those who have to learn it. Although it does not always require a great effort (whether due to personal preferences, the way in which the information arrives, attitude or ability, some people retain certain information more easily), in general it usually requires the repetition of a series of behaviours or information until achieving habituation or mastery of the subject matter.

In any case, if we want to keep the knowledge acquired in the memory we must be able to give it a meaning for the learner, so that he or she is able to generalize and apply it to other contexts. Without giving meaning to a learning process it will become mechanical, not being so useful for adapting to the environment .

However, many times what is learned is forgotten with great speed, applied a few times at most and then disappearing from our lives. Why do we forget this material?

The Oblivion Curve

Memory and the loss of information retained in it over time have been studied. Over time, memory traces deteriorate, causing information to be lost. This may be due, among other possible explanations, to the fact that the new information being acquired is superimposed on the old, so that the old information suffers progressive deterioration due to the interference produced by the new material.

Herman Ebbinghaus is famous for his studies related to memory . From his research he outlined what is now known as the forgetting curve, to the loss of retentive information over time. According to this graph, which describes the process of forgetting information in the absence of a consistent review of it, the amount of material retained decreases exponentially.

If on the first day 100% of the material is retained, the second day, if not reworked, this percentage could be reduced by half , and after several more days the amount of material retained is close to zero. However, it is important to emphasize that the review of the information to be learned allows us to retrieve the memorized information more quickly than if we start from scratch. The closer in time the moment of learning and the review of it is, the less time will be needed to recover the stored material.

In order to retain information and help speed up and maintain the retention process, a number of tricks and mnemonic strategies are recommended, such as some of those explained below.

Some useful mnemonic techniques

Next we will contemplate some mnemonic techniques useful to retain the information and to facilitate the study and review .

Construction of a story

This mnemonic technique is based on elaborating a small story that links all the elements to be memorized . It can be used to remember dates, names and elements of a list.

The story itself should be short and meaningful, as it is a matter of facilitating the memorization of some data, and not of presenting too complex a stimulus that involves extra learning. In this way, a narrative is woven that keeps the elements to be remembered connected.

This is one of the most effective memory tricks , as each part of the story contains elements that anticipate the next. However, its main disadvantage is that it requires some effort and creativity.

2. Use acronyms

Very useful to remember formulas and lists, this mnemonic technique basically is based on using the initials of the words to form another one that allows the memory of all of them . It is based on using very specific clues to remember the information.

In this way, the sound of an acronym gives us clues that lead us more easily to the words and concepts we are trying to remember.

3. Creating an imaginary route

This is a well-known mnemonic trick, although it can be complex if the associations are not made well. Its operation is simple, it is about creating an imaginary route in which we link the different reference points to the names or elements to be studied. To make it effective we have to be able to remember the association (for example, that it is the place where we buy, have a similar colour, etc.).

4. Use of rhymes, words or similar phrases

Using words that rhyme with those of the elements we want to learn can allow us to remember a particular material better. Dividing it into smaller and easier to memorize fragments can also be useful . Basically, it is a matter of being able to associate the word, number or knowledge to be learned with another element that is more accessible to us.

This trick to remember, by the way, can be used in combination with the creation of acronyms.

5. Use your sense of humor and imagination

Positive emotional states facilitate memorization . For this reason, trying to link humour and study, as long as it is done in the right way and with sufficient prior knowledge, can be very useful to remember better what has been studied. The use of small games, as well as riddles, can be useful.

6. Using your tastes and hobbies

Another mnemonic technique that facilitates the consolidation of the material in our memory is to splash the study process with things that you like. For example, try to link the material to be studied to your favourite series, films or books , or try to imagine a relationship with the things you are passionate about, your hobbies.

7. Link new to old

In order to learn easily and effectively it is necessary to be able to make sense of the information we are given . The best way to do this is to relate the material to be learned or retained to previous knowledge or lived experiences. In this way, new information should not be created from scratch, but becomes a deepening of things we have already seen or experienced before, requiring less effort to code the material and memorize it. We are talking about meaningful learning.

Following this same logic, if what one wants to remember best is a text with relatively complex ideas, reviewing is indispensable and, even if it seems untrue, very effective. Reading a text a second or third time not only serves to see again what we have to remember; it also allows us to see relationships between the ideas that appear at the beginning and the end of the text. This allows us to understand much better what we are reading, and understanding is the key to remembering, because it means integrating all the data into a coherent information system where there are no “loose pieces”.

Strategies for learning

Apart from the techniques mentioned above, it is essential to apply some of the following strategies to achieve good memory retention of the material to be remembered.

8. Reviews what was learned

It may not seem like an elaborate mnemonic technique , but considering that over time we are losing much of the material learned, this is one of the main recommendations if you want to remember the material. Every time we go over a content, this memory becomes more consolidated in our brain.

9. Make summaries and outlines

The fact of making outlines and summaries of a specific subject helps to exercise the mind and forces to focus the attention with what is a good trick or strategy to remember better when studying. In this way we establish categories with the information to be memorized, having to prioritize some contents over others, establish hierarchies and in general work with the information at a cognitive level.

10. Uses different ways to process information

We often think of studying as an activity in which we basically sit around reading a particular content until it is recorded in our memory. While this is a method of learning, different types of help can also be used. The visualization of videos, the use of audios and exercises through which to put into practice the knowledge acquired are of great help.

11. Explain material to others/ Study in group

As in the two previous cases, the fact of having to expose the material to be memorized to others forces you to work with the information , so that its retention is greater. In addition, working collaboratively allows the vision of the subject to be enriched by the perspectives of others and helps to adopt other points of view.

It also facilitates taking the study in a more relaxed or serious way, according to the type of person who accompanies us, being able to motivate the study or to lower the level of tension. However, there is also the risk of deviating too much or of maintaining too opposite positions on a specific topic, so the time available and the type of relationship with the other person should be assessed.

Bibliographic references:

  • González, R. (2004). Study strategies and techniques. Editorial Pearson Prentice Hall, Madrid, Spain.
  • Hernández, F. (1990). Aprendiendo a aprender. Study methods and techniques for E.G.B.-B.U.P.-F.P. students. Murcia:Grupo Distribuidor Editorial.
  • Manzanero, A.L. (2008): Oblivion. In A.L. Manzanero, Psicología del Testimonio (p. 83-90). Madrid: Ed. Pirámide.