Improving Your Memory

People forget so much of what they hear, as much as 70% - so if you rely on 'absorbing' information naturally (as you were probably able to do at Primary school where the pace was less hectic!) you will not absorb enough to do really well in exams.

Anyone can improve his/her ability to recall information. Building a strong memory is much like building strong muscles. It takes the right techniques and practice. There really is no such thing as a bad memory. There are, however, plenty of people who don't learn how to effectively develop their memory abilities - as a result, they think they have "bad" memories.

Action is the key to good memory

You take action to receive, store, remember, and use information you have learned.

On a computer system, information must be first be entered (usually via the keyboard or microphone or via the CD or Internet link). That entering of information is important - it must be done carefully and also verified, to make sure that what has been entered is correct! But entering alone is not enough! You must then store it by saving it in a file - this is often done at the time you verify it. Once stored, you must take some action to retrieve the information at a later date - you have to call up the file and open it again.

So, memory includes two kinds of action - action to store and action to remember or recall - to do that you have to know where you put the information.

In your case entering information is done through your senses - via your eyes, ears, sense of touch, taste and/or smell. Verification is checking the information - entering it more than once or via more than one route - to ensure it is correct. There are several ways of storing information. When you save a file on the computer the disc is coded with information - it is 'written' into the memory. How can we do this with our biological brains?

It is well known that some actions are very effective to store information in memory.

Practice matters:

Practice is a very effective action to store information. There are several ways to 'practice'. The most frequently used practice is repetition. That is, saying the material again and again. Rote learning has a hard press! It is unfashionable because people say to learn you must understand not recite! True! Deep understanding leads to learning at depth, but that cannot happen unless you can recall the dates, facts or vocabulary needed for expression of the 'deep' understanding. So many people want to 'learn' science without learning any terminology or units!

Many people learn phone numbers, names, dates, and other facts by repitition - saying a fact over and over until it is 'in' your memory! (Perhaps singing it - making a rhyme of it... whatever - but repeating it until it is known!)

Organization helps

Memory experts have demonstrated that organization is very important for memory. Organization means that you can relate ideas to each other rather than just knowing them as separate facts. Learning keyword lists so that a topic name sets off a list of terms that you should use when explaining that topic! It is like creating a file folder in which you put similar items. You organize your memory by paying attention to main ideas and active reading - making skeleton notes, mind maps or webs, word trees - and then practising them until they are fixed in your long term memory.


You will remember much more if you focus your attention only on the information you are studying. Memory can only accept one source of information at a time. If you have several "things" on your mind, you will have trouble getting them into your memory.

You can focus your attention by using PAT

Prepare - lists of key words and facts for recall - organized into mind maps or something similar - and a set of questions that you should be able to answer once the topic is learnt!You must also make sure you understand what you are learning. It is very difficult to remember something you don't understand. Regularly ask yourself,

"What does this mean?"
"How is this like something else I know?"

If you don't understand you must ask a member of Staff or a friend - do not hope to get by on recall alone!

Act - Practise the work you have prepared (see above)

Test - find out how much you can recall


Recalling is getting information out of your memory at a later date. Most of us have, at least one or two times, been taking a test and not been able to recall an answer to a question. When told the answer later, many say something like, "I knew that! Why couldn't I remember!" This is pretty frustrating; but, fortunately, there are ways to reduce this kind of forgetting.

Practice: This practice is different from the practice to get information in memory. You want to practice recalling information. You can do this by answering test questions from old tests and other questions that you or others make up. You can also discuss the material with others by asking and answering questions.
Finally, you can practice recalling by mentally asking yourself questions about the material. You can do this while studying at home and while going to school, riding in a car, or walking alone.

Regular review: One very effective way to improve memory is to review regularly. Review will also help you recall and learn the material well. You should review by reading your textbook and notes, asking yourself questions, checking to see if your memory is accurate and complete, and by reading and writing summaries. Regular review means that you review in some way all material at least once a month. After initial learning you should check that you remember - then make an appointment with yourself to review the work again in a couple of days - then a week, then a fortnight and then monthly - the better you remember it the greater the time interval between reviews will be advisible.

Memory improves through action you take to remember.

The more action you take, the better your memory will be.

Popular Memory Tools - Mnemonics!


You can make up an image about any information. The image does not have to be realistic; in fact, very unusual images are usually easier to remember.

To make up an image try to find a picture, pattern, or similarity to something you have seen. Then, let your imagination create a picture that includes the main points of the material.

For example, you might imagine a poster with a name or event printed on it and a picture illustrating the event or the person's deeds. You could think of a sequence of events as a comic strip. You could imagine a famous event as a painting.

The important actions to take when making an image are to identify the ideas, facts, and main points you want to remember. Then, include these ideas in your image. Some people actually draw their images while others just imagine them.


An acronym is a word or group of words made from a longer message. Acronyms are effective for memory because they are shorter and easier to remember. And, you must be active to create acronyms.

A well known acronym to help remember the great lakes is HOMES. The letters stand for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. Acronyms are easiest to remember when the letters make up a word or sentence.

Acronyms can be used to remember anything including names, places, main points, dates, events, formulas, ideas, and numbers.

To make up acronyms look at the information you must remember. See if you can make up words or sentences using letters from words or parts of words. An acronym will work for you if you think carefully when you make it up and practice remembering it. An acronym doesn't have to "work" or make sense to anyone else. If you improve your memory with an acronym, that's what counts.

Peg Words

A well known memory technique is to associate or think of two or more things together that you must remember. This action is called "Peg Words" because you create pegs like those on a coat rack to hang up the ideas you want to remember.

The first step is to develop your "pegs." Most people use numbers and pictures to create pegs.

To remember, you pair the ideas, main points, dates, names, etc. you want to recall with the pegs.


Rhymes have been used with small children to remember stories for centuries and are very good to improve memory. Rhymes can be used with any information.

A common rhyme is, "i before e, except after c, or when sounded like 'a' in neighbour and weigh." Because of the rhyme, an easily forgotten spelling rule can be recalled. The same idea can be used to remember any information including main ideas, dates, names, places, formulas, etc.

To make a rhyme, examine the ideas, names, dates, main points you must remember. Try to arrange the ideas so that they rhyme like a poem. You can add words and ideas to create a story poem if needed.


Recitation is a way of practicing information that must be memorized. Most often recitation is repeating the information from memory, usually in front of someone. Recitation can be done with family, parents, friends, classmates, and in study groups.

The action of recitation is telling the information you must remember to someone who can correct you. Many students use recitation to practice memorizing passages from literature such as a scene from a play or a poem. But, recitation is just as good to remember names, main points, dates, events, and ideas. It is most important to remember that, when you use recitation, you must also concentrate on the meaning and not just blankly repeat - after all a good actress doesn't just say the lines - though say them she must!