Improving Memory

Organizing and adding meaning to information can significantly improve memory.  Think how difficult it would be to remember a random list of 68 letters. On the other hand, it would not be difficult to memorize the first sentence in this paragraph...also 68 letters. 

The following methods can help with your memory.  

The Funnel Approach

This approach is learning bigger, general concepts before specific details.  Your studying focuses on a framework first.  Then you fill in the details (big ideas funnel down to smaller ones).  

Think of your textbook: a "chapter preview" is a funnel approach.  It gives you the scaffolding to be able to understand the details when you read the chapter. Other examples of a funnel approach are outlines, matrices, or concept maps. 


In order to learn, we continually make associations. We make them between the information and our environment, our state of mind, and even our stream of thoughts. 

When things are associated in memory, thinking of one helps recall the other. If you have ever tried to retrace your path when you forgot where you put something, you've used association.  

You can create associations intentionally:

a) Relate the material to you.  Think about how the material could be personally meaningful. How does it relate to your life, your experience, or even a daily routine? If you can link new information to memories already stored, you'll have more cues to recall the new information.

b) Grouping. This is best explained with an example. Try the following exercise:

Read the following list of sports once. Then write down as many of them as you can without looking back at the list:

Snow Skiing     Basketball    Tennis     Long Jump    Bobsledding    100-Meter Dash     Hockey    Baseball   Luge   

Ice Skating     Discus      Golf      High Jump    Volleyball   Javelin   Soccer   Curling   Cricket    Decathlon   Hurdles

Now, try to organize them by grouping similar ones.  You could group them into: a) Winter, b) Track and Field, and c) Ball sports.  Try the exercise again. Chances are, you were able to remember more.

Sometimes, when you try to associate items, they may not have a natural connection.  So, be creative.  The more creative the association, the more likely you'll actually recall more!

Vivid Associations

When learning something unfamiliar, try associating it with something you know well, such as a place, song, or person. It does not have to make logical sense. The more vivid or silly, the better. Some people remember names this way. For example, they may picture "Robert Green" by golfing on a putting green or wearing a green jacket. 


1. Pick a name of a classmate with whom you are unfamiliar.

2. For their name, brainstorm ideas that you can associate with it. For example, for a student named "Teresa Martinez" you might think of Mother Teresa and a Martin guitar.

3. Now think of ways you can combine these. For example, you could create a visual association by picturing Mother Teresa playing a Martin guitar.

4. Do this for each classmate, and you have a great way to remember all their names!


Visual Memory

Draw out how ideas relate to each other in a graph, chart, picture, or diagram.  Converting difficult text or material into a some kind of visual will help you remember it. 

Using your visual memory can be as simple as writing out vocabulary words, theories, or formulas. This allows you to not only practice, but also see how it looks on the page.  When you draw your ideas on paper, you are already starting to think about the information more deeply.

Talk it Out

When trying to memorize something, it can help to say the information out loud.  If you practice reciting information aloud (answering questions, defining vocabulary, or using flash cards), it is often clear how well you know it. If you hesitate, have to look up answers, or give a vague response, then you know you need to study more.

If you are not comfortable talking out loud by yourself, study with a friend.  That way, they can let you know when you are missing important concepts. 

Teach It

A great way to enhance recall from memory is to teach it to an imaginary audience.  This forces you to organize the material in a way that makes sense to you.  Also, by teaching, you can actually "hear" gaps in your knowledge. After you have mastered a particular topic, try delivering a lecture on that information