Tips on Memory

Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November...
Doe a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun...
A pint's a pound, the world around.

Out of desperation and amusement, the human mind has discovered ingenious ways to remember vital information. Here are some methods that may be useful to you when you're nailing down the causes of the Civil War, trying to remember the steps in a physics problem, or absorbing a mathematical formula for tomorrow's quiz.

Use mnemonics. Create rhymes, jingles, sayings, or nonsense phrases that repeat or codify information. "Homes" is a mnemonic word for remembering the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. "Spring Forward, fall back" tells many Americans how to set their clocks. "Every Good Boy Does Fine" is a mnemonic sentence: The first Letter of each word is the letter of a line of the music staff bottom to top. Setting a rhyme to music is one of the most powerful ways to make words memorable.

Associate. Relate the idea to something you already know. Make the association as personal as possible. If you're reading a chapter on laws regarding free speech, pretend your right to speak out on a subject that's important to you may be affected by those laws. In remembering the spelling difference between through and threw, think of walking through something "rough," and that "threw" comes from "throw."

Peg. Visualize in order a number of locations or objects in your home. To remember a list of things, associate each item in the list with one of the locations or objects. For example, let's memorize three classic appeals of advertising (appetite, fear, and sexual attraction):

Appetite: The first peg is the corner countertop. Visualize some creature devouring your favorite chocolate cake.
Fear: The second peg is the coat rack. Visualize a menacing coat rack running after you.
Sexual attraction: The third peg is a sofa. Use your imagination.

Visualize. Make yourself see the things that you've associated with important concepts. Concentrate on the images so they'll become firmly planted in your memory.

Over learn. Even after you "know" the material, go over it again to make sure you'll retain it for a long time.

Use flashcards. Use index cards. Write the word of information to be learned on one side and the definition or explanation on the other. Review the cards often; carry them with you. Prepare them well in advance of the day of the test and spend more time on the hard ones.

Categorize. Even if the information seems to lack an inherent organization, try to impose one. Most information can be organized in some way, even if only by the look or sound of the words.

Draw a mind map. Some speakers claim they can prepare an hour-long talk simply by arranging the main topics on a singly sheet of paper and connecting the points in logical fashion by arrows, dots, and so forth. Large points are written in large boxes or circles, smaller points in smaller ones. Subgroups are placed under major headings. Drawing relationships on paper—even faces, objects, or stick figures—can help you visualize them later.

Last Updated: 6/7/12