Eight Ways to Improve Your Memory
Eight techniques for college students to help kick your reading and memory of your reading into high gear, such as visualizing, flash cards, study guides.
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
To truly remember what you read and save yourself time when studying, here's how to kick your reading and memory of your reading into high gear:
1. Re-read: The more you read your assignments, the more you will remember them. Some experts suggest reading a chapter twice and then reading it again before a test. While this technique is definitely effective, it is time-consuming, especially if you read slowly. It's more efficient to re-read chapter sub-headings and key passages (such as passages you've highlighted or annotated) or re-read the notes you've taken outside the text, such as on note cards.
2. Make your own study guide: This technique involves creating a set of possible test questions and answers and studying from those. Determine what your professor is likely to ask, compose questions, and write the answers under them. Study from your study guide until you feel you know it well. Then create a version that omits the answers and see how well you do answering the questions. Those you miss are the one you need to study more.
3. Use note cards as flash cards: If you chose to take notes on cards, you can now use those as flash cards to test your memory of the reading.
4. Use Cornell Notes: This technique is more commonly used for taking lecture notes but can also be used to take reading notes. You can learn more about the system at The Cornell Notetaking System Diagramed and Explained and see a sample setup for a page of notes.
5. Recite and teach material to others: Many experts swear by the effectiveness of reciting important parts of the reading orally -- not reading aloud, but reciting section summaries you've composed yourself or questions and answers you've posed about the reading. Since you might find it awkward to recite aloud with people around, you may want to find a private place. In the same vein, teaching the material to others can dramatically boost your memory of it. Study groups are an excellent setting for doing so. If all else fails, consider teaching concepts to your dog or one of your stuffed animals.
6. Consider improving your reading speed: While it may seem strange to discuss increasing reading speed in this section, studies show that reading faster actually boosts comprehension and memory. You'd think that the opposite would be true -- that you'd comprehend more if you slow down and take your time -- but it's not because you tend to lose concentration when you read slowly. Not everyone is comfortable with a faster reading speed. It takes getting used to, but if you find that slow reading is making it impossible for you to complete all your reading assignments, you should be able to find a speed-reading course at your college, nearby, or even through the Internet. You can find a good resource on the basics of faster reading from the Tutoring Services Office at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Check out an interesting narrative of English professor Richard Jewell's experience with learning to read faster in graduate school.
7. Visualize: As you come across a concept in your reading, make a mental picture of it. For example, if you will be tested on human digestion, visualize the digestive process in your mind. Everyone visualizes to a certain extent, but to commit a concept to memory, really concentrate and create a detailed mental picture.
8. Draw concepts: The next step beyond visualizing is to draw pictures of concepts. This technique will especially help you if you are a visual learner.
Final Thoughts on Improving Your Memory
Finally, a method that doesn't work: Think you can remember aspects of your reading by repeating them over and over again? Sure you can -- for a brief period. Repeating information may get you through a test, but you won't retain the information. You'll have to relearn it, which especially wastes time if you have a cumulative final exam. You also defeat the purpose of learning if you don't retain the material beyond the test.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key academic terms by going to our College Success Glossary.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for MyCollegeSuccessStory.com. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). She is also Creative Director and Associate Publisher at Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.