Memory Tips for Studying and Exams

July 4, 2012

Exams are certainly very important and even with continuous assessment, most courses finish with a series of exams. It is important to keep the level of study up throughout the year, as cramming in information at the last minute can be very counter-productive as it can cause panic and depression if you feel you don’t know enough. This state of mind will have a very bad effect on both your exam revision and your performance on the day, so it is best to structure your study in bite size pieces and leave yourself enough time.

With all of that said, it is still handy to have a few tricks up your sleeve to remember key facts which will then kick start the memory. The standard memory aid is called a mnemonic and works on the principle of one letter standing for a word or a word in an easily remembered rhyme standing for another word in a list you must remember. One which everyone knows is the one for the colors of the rainbow – Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain standing for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet – and although this isn’t likely to come up in an exam it is one of the clearest examples and also one of the ones which makes most sense. Most people would find the first ten elements in the Periodic Table – Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium etc – just as easy to remember as the mnemonic Happy Henry Like Beer But Could Not Obtain Four Nuts. It is a good idea to make up your own mnemonics, because in devising them, you are helping to imprint the facts in your mind even more.

There are some good systems around now which are described very well in books, most notably by people like Derren Brown, whose methods are easy to learn. He uses the linkage system whereby each fact leads on to another. In the early work you need to do, you start with one fact and give it an image, connected with it if you can manage it. Say that image is a bird. Then, instead of remembering your second image and its linked fact separately, you link the bird to it; for example, if your second item is an envelope, to remind you that something opened or a similar piece of imagery, you will imagine the bird opening an envelope with its wing. Then the envelope is sat on by your third image of, say, an elephant. In this way, once you remember the first thing, you will be able to remember them all.

Of course, depending on what kind of memory you have, you might prefer to just study and remember the facts themselves with no little tricks at all and of course this works well for many. But the human brain is not always able to work in logical order and this is where rhymes, mnemonics and little made up stories about birds and elephants can help. As long as the knowledge is there in the brain it can be extracted – so remember that the best tip of all is to make sure it is there in the first place!