Improve Your Recall — Part 1

Students often complain about the difficulty of retaining the immense amount of information that is necessary to know for AP Exams, standardized tests, and college prep exams. Contrary to common belief, the brain never loses anything. What we call “forgetting,” is the inability to recall stored information. This happens for a number of reasons. Having a great memory does not mean the ability to memorize the dictionary. Effective memorization is the ability to produce the right information at the right time. There are a few key techniques that can be easily employed to increase memory capacity and improve recall.

Get physical.More than ever, active learning is a critical skill in our information-intensive society. We are blasted with thousands of messages every day and because much of this information is trivial, we become passive receivers. Learning is a very active process, so it is essential to get all the senses involved. Creating a positive study atmosphere can help to counter boredom and increase recall. The following are simple techniques that can help when studying.

Gestures. Use gestures when studying and reciting material. Pace the room as you study and draw pictures of ideas and facts in the air. Visual information is associated with a different part of the brain than verbal information. By imagining a picture to go with a fact, you anchor the information in two separate parts of the brain, thus doubling your chances of remembering. Involving the entire body keeps you active and interested, and prevents boredom. Because after all, it is tough to remember anything when you are bored.

Posture. Sit up straight when studying or try sitting up in the edge of the chair as if you could spring out of the chair at any moment.

Burn calories. Try standing in short intervals when studying. It is impossible to fall asleep when on your feet and studies show that the people are the sharpest when standing.

Think out loud. Experiment with reciting and repeating facts aloud. Doing it aloud is key because you make deeper neural traces in your brain when multiple senses are used. Your brain can play tricks on you if you just recite things silently. When you review information in your head, a concept may only get inserted in the short-term memory since no other senses are being activated. Recitation works best when you put concepts into your own words. For example, if you want to remember, “The acceleration of a falling object due to gravity at sea level equals 32 feet per second per second,” you could reword it to say, “For every second an object falls, it picks up an additional 32 feet per second in velocity.”

In the next post we’ll introduce additional specific techniques to improve memory as well as general study tips.

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