How to get the best from your memory
By Elizabeth Holtom
11 Apr
Elizabeth Holtom works as a study skills consultant, offering workshops, lectures and Inset to prep schools. Elizabeth is the author of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond 

Which is your favourite subject at school? Which is your least favourite? You are very likely to find it much easier to remember facts to do with your favourite subject. If you are fascinated by something, you will pay complete attention to it. Remembering becomes easy.
Is everything you need to know for examinations fascinating? Unfortunately the answer is probably no. So, what can you do to motivate yourself for all that vital revising?

Link your learning to your goals. Keep the three Ms in mind: 

  1. Mission: What is my big goal?

  2. Milestones: What is my progress towards that goal?

  3. Move: What do I have to do next to help me on the way?

Use the Set yourself goals exercise on pages 19 and 20 of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond  to start you off.  If you have already used this exercise, write out a new set of goals on an index card and pin it up where you can see it before you start revising. Use one index card per goal and tick every time you achieve one of your milestones. You will feel a sense of satisfaction which will also help keep you motivated.
Why not discuss your goals with a member of your backup team. Your subject teacher may be the best person to start with. Goal setting as a group activity would help you and your classmates.
The great news is that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. 
Maximise your memory capacity
Get the best out of your memory by finding out about how it works.

  1. For reasons to do with survival, the brain works hard to prevent us being overloaded by too many new things. For example, early man needed to know where that sabre toothed tiger was lurking! We filter out a lot – some unimportant things but also facts we would love to remember. So how are you going to overcome this problem and get as much knowledge as possible into long term memory storage? One way is by establishing an effective learning routine. More on this in a moment.

  2. The brain carries on processing facts we have been learning for about 10 minutes, during that time our knowledge can even improve. Then we start to forget, over the next 24 hours it is possible to forget up to 80% of what we have learnt! I call this the memory slide. You can stop this happening with regular reviewing or recapping.

Check out this free downloadable resource on memory and try out the memory exercise with your family or classmates and you will find out how your brain likes to remember.   

  • We work best at the beginning and end of a period of study. This is known as the primacy and recency effect. Our ability to learn effectively dips in the middle of that time.  I call this the memory dip. We can make lots of beginnings and endings to a period of study by including short breaks. Study for about 20 minutes, take a short break and then continue studying. On page 14 of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond you will find out about the good and bad things to do during a short break.

  • Our brains are best suited to learning in small chunks reinforced by regular reviewing. This helps us build up a strong memory and good recall. Keep to the golden rule of ‘little and often’ rather than last minute cramming. It’s worth aiming for three reviewing sessions: after that short break, a week later and the night before a before the test or exam. If need be you can review at additional regular intervals. Find out more on page15 of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond

  • The brain finds it much easier to learn something new when it is connected to something familiar in an unusual way. The more personal and amusing the associations are the better. Read the Memory tricks section of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond on pages 51 – 54, you will find a selection of ways to make your learning unusual. Creating your own memory tricks is great fun, your brain will love remembering them. 

Simply converting your learning into a mind map, a box and bubble flowchart or set of index cards is a process which helps remembering. You have to think about your topic, choose the key points and decide how you are going to present them – as pictures or bullet points. All these learning strategies are explained in detail in chapter 4 of Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond 

Memory and the 3 Ms

Let’s agree that your mission is to achieve confident recall in tests and examinations, whatever the subject. What are the milestones you aim to reach along the way? Here are some questions you could ask yourself. Your answers will help you decide on the steps you need to take.
  • How do I rate my ability to recall my learning when in a test or exam? 
  • Does my ability vary from subject to subject? 
  • Which subject would I like to improve in? 
Choose a tip or two from this blog as you move towards achieving confident recall whatever the subject.  

Study Skills: Building the study skills needed for 13+ and beyond  is a guide to smart learning and suitable for all pupils at Key Stage 3, but is particulary focused on preparation for 13+ entrance exams. It offers a holistic approach to study to give pupils the essential skills and tools they need to learn and revise efficiently.

Study Skills

Tags: 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13+ Revision, 13 plus, 13plus, blog, Common Entrance, Elizabeth Holtom, Entrance exams, exam, Exam Preparation, Exam tips, exams, Reading, revision, Revision Tips, Skills, Study Skills

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