Tips for remembering material

We’re coming up to the time of the year when students are asking their teachers, sometimes in an increasingly frantic
manner, “How do I remember all of this?”  Teachers’ responses don’t always help calm them, as they often involve something in the nature of  “You must also focus on how to use it.”  The result can be panic – so here are some tips for students (and teachers) concerning how to remember material in a meaningful way.

Teach it to someone else – or at least learn it as if you are going to have to teach it to someone else.  Nestojko et al (2014) found that students who believed that they were going to have to teach the material learnt it more effectively than those who were just learning it for themselves.  This ties in with semantic organising of material resulting in better recall.

Draw it – Schmeck et al (2014)  showed that drawing each paragraph of a piece of scientific text led to superior test performance (63 per cent correct on multiple choice, on average), even when compared to a condition in which pupils were instead provided with drawings produced by the author of the scientific text  (53 per cent correct). The better the pupils’ drawings, the more successful they were in the tests afterwards. They suggest that drawing the material helps in organising it logically and also in integrating it with previous knowledge.

Involve as many senses as possible – as well as drawing and paraphrasing the material, try singing it or saying it aloud. Picture where you are, and what smells there are around you.  Some people find chewing gum helps their concentration. Record it and play it back.  Associate the material with colours and sounds. Anything that allows you to retrieve it.  Move around while studying.

Finally, when revising, target what you don’t know, not what you do know.  It is so tempting for all of us to reassure ourselves by focusing on what we know.  If you know it, there is no need to revise it!


A fascinating video on the “art of memory”.

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