Through research, scientists have discovered that our brains are neuroplastic – which means that memory capacity can be increased through specialised activities. What exactly are the scientifically proven techniques that can help you prepare for an exam or learn a new language faster and more efficiently? A psychologist tells us.
1. MAKE UP STORIES
Our brains love stories. You probably still remember the plot of “Little Red Riding Hood” that your mum used to read to you before bedtime, but you can hardly remember at least one topic from your 10th grade geography textbook as well.
The secret to remembering stories is that you can visualise them. When you read a story, you visualise not the words, but the story, which plays out like a film, so it is easier for you to process and remember the information.
Whenever you need to remember information, turn it into a story. Try to make it interesting: it can be unique, unrealistic, vague, but still simple.
2. MAKE MENTAL CONNECTIONS
The authors of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, psychology professors Peter K. Brown and Henry L. Rediger, and professional storyteller Mark A. McDaniel have compiled the lessons of scientific research and turned them into a set of practical tips on how to remember information more effectively.
One principle is to build connections between new information and what you already know. Research shows that when we have context for new information, we are able to make more connections to what we already know. This makes it easier to encode new information and strengthens neural pathways for later retrieval. In this way, new information is not perceived as a collection of random facts, but as an addition to an already existing mental network.
When studying course material or reading a research paper, stop to think about how this new information relates to what you already know. If you can find intersections between new material and familiar material, it will make memorisation much easier and faster.
3. USE MIND MAPS
Research scientists have found that studying information using mind maps can increase memorisation efficiency by 10-15%.
A mind map is a visual diagram with data radially distributed around a central theme. Mind maps help connect many ideas and concepts about a topic on one page. It’s similar to a knowledge tree where there are branches for each major branch. The only difference is the centrifugal approach rather than a linear structure.
The secret to the effectiveness of mind maps (mind maps) is that our brain stores information not in the form of words, sentences or paragraphs, but in the form of key points, diagrams and pictures. Mind maps are useful because they work in a similar way to our brain – making it easier to process and assimilate information.
Creating a mind map is not difficult. You will need a pen, paper and 10-15 minutes for three simple steps:
- Turn the page horizontally and write the title of the topic in the centre of the page.
- Identify the key branches from the central topic. It is suggested that you use different colours for the different branches – this will help make the diagram easier to read.
- Draw branches of the key branches and label them. To give your mind map more depth, use branch level diagrams and drawings.
4. CREATE MEMORY PALACES
Remember when Sherlock Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, used to dive into the mental attics to find facts about crimes? It turns out that this technique was invented not by the creators of the TV series, but by the ancient Greeks, and it was discovered for a large audience by the U.S. champion in memorisation, Josh Foer. A study by the American Physiological Society found that 92.9 per cent of students improved their recall of information after just three 60-minute memory palace sessions.
The method involves visualising a familiar place – such as the layout of your home or dorm room – and using it as a visual space where you can place the conceptual images you want to remember.
This technique can help with remembering unrelated items, such as a shopping list. To use the memory palace technique, visualise your place and then imagine the items on your shopping list in different places around that place. For example, imagine a broken egg dripping off the edge of a table, or a bag of apples lying on the couch. This technique may take some time to get used to, but the better you get at it, the more effective it will become.
5. OBSERVE REPETITION INTERVALS
Hermann Ebbinghaus coined the term “forgetting curve” to describe how people forget information over time – you can change the natural tendency to forget by repeating information. Especially since repetitive memorisation is passive learning of the same thing, while periodic repetition is an active process of retrieving information.
If there is only one day to study the information, then the most effective intervals for repetition are:
- 15-20 minutes after memorisation;
- 6-8 hours later;
- after 24 hours.
If you have more time, then it is recommended to repeat the information at the following intervals:
- after 3 days;
- after 7 days;
- after two weeks;
- one month later.
When it comes to training, every minute spent learning effective techniques becomes a valuable investment in personal and professional growth. But it’s important to remember that every person is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. Experiment, and you are sure to find a methodology that suits your way of thinking, needs and rhythm of life.