Practical Memory

Practical Memory Skills

The picture on the right shows a simple road – not very exciting – but it will get you where you need to go. Similarly, Practical Memory Skills are not really new and different. Most people know these methods but often don’t think to apply them. But, like the road in the picture, they will help you reach your goals.

When college students talk about having a terrible memory, they usually mean…A winding road leads through gently rolling green hills.

1. They can’t remember people’s names. When you’re trying to make friends, it’s very important to remember people’s names, especially people who you’re hoping to get to know better.

2. They can’t find their cell phone or their Biology notebook, or the stapler. Just as they are heading out to class, they have to go looking for where they put things.

3. They read an assignment and  can’t remember what it was about. 4. They spent an hour listening to a lecture, really trying to pay attention but, as they walk toward their next class, they realize they’ve already forgotten at least 90% of it… maybe more than that.

Or perhaps they stayed up until 3 AM cramming for a test. They get to the test the next morning thinking they’re well prepared… until they look at the test. Some of it looks vaguely familiar. Most of it doesn’t.

It is NOT their memory that’s poor. They use poor study methods. They don’t use their memory well.

Three secrets for improving your memory

1. Make a firm decision to remember. If you don’t decide to remember, you probably won’t.

2. Focus on what it is you want to remember.  Concentrate as hard as you can. Don’t let anything interfere.

3. Create a plan that will help you remember and follow through on your plan.

Remembering Names

All of us sometimes have difficulty remembering names. College students are most  likely to have trouble remembering the names of  people they met and spoke with briefly in class, in the cafeteria, or at a party. It’s hard to remember names when we meet a lot of people in a short period. It isn’t surprising that you have a problem. It’s normal.

You meet Kathy at a party and hope you won't forget her name.Imagine you just met this lovely woman at a party. She seems interested in you too, doesn’t she? She says “Hello. My name is Catherine. Aren’t you’re in my math class?

You’re thinking, “What math class? I’m not taking math. She told her name. I hope I don’t  forget it. I’m always forgetting names. I think she said Catherine. How can I remember?”

1.  First you make a decision to remember. If you want to remember her name, say to yourself. “I WILL remember her name. Her name is Catherine.”

2. Focus on her name, not her lovely smile, not the sound of her voice, but her name. Can you spell it?  If her name if Mary, you know how to spell it, but her name is Katherine, “Katherine with a K or a C?” you ask. This helps you see the spelling in you mind.

You’ve probably heard the advice to use a new name at least three times. Good advice. If you have a longer conversation, use her name four or five times. If you’ve forgotten her name already, go ahead and ask her. “My name is Joe Goodman. Please tell me your name again.” You might feel foolish doing this but it’s better to ask right away. Don’t wait until you want to ask her out.  Then, it really would be embarrassing.

3. Create a plan for how you will remember her name. Here are a few suggestions:

Do you know another Catherine? Can you picture the two of them together? You might say it out loud. “I have a cousin named Kathy. She’s my favorite cousin. She’s just thirteen, a cute kid with curly red hair.” This statement is an elaboration on the name, Catherine. You don’t have a cousin or Aunt or other relative named Kathy? Maybe there was a Kathy in your high school class. Maybe you know an actress or singer named Kathy.

Tie the name Catherine to an actual experience. Remember when your cousin, Kathy, beat you at ping-pong when she was only ten? Now, picture playing ping-pong with Catherine. You wouldn’t mind it if she beat you.

You will find other strategies for remembering names under  Relational MemoryAuditory Memory and Visual Memory. Learn and use four or five strategies that will work best for you.

A little brown notebook and pen can help you remember namesIf you still have problems, try the old-fashioned method: the little black book. It doesn’t have to be little or black. But get a small notebook and carry it with a pen in your pocket or purse. You can always take it out and write the name of your new friend. Ask how her to spell her name if you aren’t sure. You can always grin and say “I have an awful time remembering names, so when I really want to remember someone’s name I write it in my book, and I really want to remember you.” If the conversation has gone far enough, you might even ask for a phone number.

If it seems too personal to use a “little black book,” then keep a folded piece of paper with you and use it to write out the name. If you get to know Catherine better, you can copy her name into your “little black book.”

If you feel confident that you can remember her name for an hour or so, you might write this information in your little book later. Add a few other notes about what Catherine looks like, what she’s studying, what she’s interested in, where she’s from, and anything interesting you learned, anything you might mention the next time you meet. Later, you might even take a picture and put all this in a card file or in  loose-leaf notebook. If Catherine was worrying about a test, the next time you see her, ask how her test went. She’ll be flattered that you remembered.

Remember where you put things

I think most of us have parked a car, gone shopping, and then had no idea where we left the car. I knew a student who drove his car to a nearby store and then walked home. The next day he wondered what happened to his car. Had someone stolen it? The car was still in the parking lot. The secrets to this problem are the same.

Make a decision to remember.   Whenever you get out of a car, except at home or where you normally park it, you  say to yourself. “I am parking the car. I need to remember where it is.”

Focus on where you are parking.    Look around and see how you’d describe this place.  ” I am parked out from the M in pharmacy”  It is not a good idea ti remember parking by the red convertible. It might not be there when you get back. The pharmacy sign will still be there.

Create a plan for how to remember.  How will you remember the M in pharmacy? If your girlfriend’s name is Michelle, you can picture her standing near the car and waving.  You could choose an image you can remember easily. Think – “M is for Muddy.” Imagine the car totally covered in mud…not just a little mud but mud that covers the windshield. You will need to wipe it off before you can drive.  Nearly everyone who makes a conscious effort will find their car.

Where are your car keys? cell phone? room key? History notebook?

What are the things you have trouble finding? You know the secrets.

Make a decision to remember where you put things. This is much easier than wasting time searching for what Cellphoneyou need.
Perry knows where other things are, but he can never remember where he left his cellphone and he hates to leave for class without it. Sometimes this makes him late to class.

Focus on the problem. What things do you have a problem with? Why?

Create a plan.  Have a place to put everything and really put things in their places. When you walk in the door, stop and unload everything from your pockets or book bag, placing each item in its place. If you decide to keep notebooks, pens, etc. in your book bag, that’s fine, but — when you take them out  to study — you MUST put them back when you’re done.

Spend 10 minutes planning where things belong and 3 minutes a day making sure everything is back in place. This will save hours of frantic searching. It reduces stress and makes your life easier. Perry now leaves his cellphone and keys in a basket near the door.

What will you remember from your college days – 20 or 50 years from now?

Most college students have no problem remembering things that happened earlier in their lives. Only old people have a problem with long-term memory. Right?  Wrong. College students need to learn how to develop long-term memories now.

If you want to remember your friends, take pictures of them. Label the pictures with names, the date, where you were, and what you were doing. Put these in a scrapbook. You might use 8-10 pages a year.

You don’t need to remember everyone you met. I’d suggest including your list of classes, the names of your professors, and a few  comments on each class. If you have a few favorite professors, add their pictures. They’ll be flattered and in twenty or thirty years you’ll be glad you have a picture to assist your memory.

Include pictures of your roommate, and the friends you spent the most time with. Add  comments about each. If there were big events during the year that you’d like to remember, add comments and maybe pictures of those. Sure, you think you’ll never forget them, but you will.

I wish I’d done this. I cannot remember my first roommate’s name. I remember the names of two professors from my freshman year. one professor from sophomore year, but none of my professors from junior and senior years. Make a scrapbook. You’ll enjoy looking back and remembering. This will prevent forgetting.

Long-term memories of what you are learning

1. How much do you remember from the first several weeks of lectures when it’s time for  midterms and finals? That’s not really a long-term memory but we need to know how to create memories that last at least this long.

2. How well do you remember first year calculus when you need  it for second year calculus or physics? In most areas of study, you need to remember what you learned in introductory classes. If you forget everything soon after the exam, (which is common) you’re going to have problems.

3. How much will you remember when you have a job based on what you studied? Sure, there are classes you take only because they’re required. Is there anything at all in these classes you’d like to remember?

Don’t wait until you forget. To remember this material, focus on the situation NOW. You know the secrets.

1. Make a decision. What information do you need or want to learn and remember and for how long?

2. Focus on the problem.  You do NOT want to remember every word in that  book, not even for the test. You do NOT want to remember everything your professor said. Make of short list of the MAIN IDEAS… the main ideas in each chapter, the main ideas in each lecture.Then along with each main idea, you can add 3-7 related pieces of information: a definition, examples, causes, results, evidence, why it’s important. (For the test, you may want to include a few more bits of information that your professor focused on.)

Organize the information. This helps you store it in your memory. Studies show that when people divide a list of words into three or four categories. they remember more words and they remember them longer.

How should you organize the information? Check out the different verbal and visual strategies on this website. I’d suggest starting with a good outline. Some people prefer to write a summary. My favorite strategy is using concept maps. Sometimes a compare and contrast chart is more appropriate. For history, I’d suggest include a large, detailed timeline.

Each time you use a different strategy to reorganize the same information, you learn it better and will remember it longer.

Where do you get the time to do all this? Actually this will save you a great deal of time. Organize information immediately after the lecture or after reading the assignment, when the information is fresh in your mind. You’ll  find it easier to organize and you will be able to use more recent memory.

Go back over your organized information daily, then weekly, until the test. You won’t need to  re-read class notes or re-read assignments you’ve forgotten. You should need little or no time to review for a test. For details on how often to review the material and ways to remember this information through the summer, or for a lifetime, turn to Scheduled Review, listed below

The other Pathways of Memory

Rote Memory                                Mnemonics (memory tricks)

Visual Memory                              Auditory Memory                             Kinesthetic Memory

Relational Memory                      Emotional Memory                       Storytelling in Memory

Multiple Pathways                       Scheduled Reviews             research: Processing Memory

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