Ways of Memory

Ten Ways to Remember

 Learning is Understanding plus Memory.
—Edwin Locke p. 60

Many students confuse understanding and memory. They say, I don’t need to memorize this. I already understand it. Others say, I don’t need to understand it, I’ll just memorize it.  Edwin Locke (Study Methods and Motivation) explains it this way:

To understand something means to grasp its meaning. … Memorization involves being able to pull material our of your subconscious mind (our area of “storage,” so to speak) on order.

Since understanding and memorizing are different operations, it is possible to do one without the other. Thus you can memorize or learn to recite … such as a poem or a definition without having any idea what the words mean. This is what people usually have in mind when they object to the practice of “rote memorization. …  Memory without meaning is useless unless you want to hire yourself out as a trained  parrot.                            –Edwin Locke p. 59

Students claim to spend hours studying but still can’t remember what they studied, especially when they need it most, while taking a test.

Some memorization is very important. Meaningful knowledge, however is critical for success in the twenty-first century…It is impossible to deal with complexity and change and to make sound judgments if the tools and knowledge at our disposal do not make sense.  We do not come to understand or master a skill by sticking bits of information to each other. Understanding a subject results from perceiving relationships.
—–     Caine and Caine, Making Connections. p. 7-8

The problem is not that they have a poor memory. The problem is that they don’t know how to use the wonderful memory they have. If the only kind of memory you are using is rote memorization, then you need to learn about the many other kinds of memory. 

In these pages on memory, I am using the metaphor of pathways. Consider this beautiful road through a Utah canyon. Just as there are many different roads we can travel, we might say there are many pathways to memory.

We can select a road for different reasons. Will it get us to our destination? Will it get us there quickly? Will we enjoy the ride?  I would certainly enjoy the ride on the road in the picture.

As we choose a road for different reasons, we need to remember different kinds of information and choose pathways to memory for that work best for the content and one that matches our learning styles. Unlike traveling on actual roads, we should use many different pathways to memory for best results.

Ron Fry’s five tools for remembering

Ron Fry in How to Study  p. 77, lists five basic tools that help us remember.

1. Understanding:   It is easier to remember what we understand.

2. Desire:                 We remember things we really want to remember.

3. Over-learn:           We remember best the material we learn most thoroughly, what we read carefully, what we organize, and what we review over a period of time.

4. Systematize:       We remember material best if we have a system for remembering it. Think “MVery Excellent Mother Just Served UNoodles” as a way to remember the eight planets. (Where there were nine planets, she served nine pizzas).

5. Association:        If we associate or connect new information to what we already know, we remember it more easily.

The Characteristics of Memory

This looks at the process of memory from a different perspective. Edwin Locke lists the following characteristics.

  1. Memory is limited. We can only learn so much in a certain amount of time. To learn more, we need to spread the task over a longer period of time. Cramming doesn’t work.
  2. It is important to Pause. Don’t go too fast. It takes time to perceive, understand, integrate (or organize information) and remember it. Stop and think about each main idea. If you are in a hurry you won’t remember much.
  3. Minimize Interference. He’s not talking about stopping to talk on your cell phone. He refers to mental interference. It is best to go to sleep soon after studying. It is especially important to get a good night’s sleep after studying for an exam.
  4. When to Program Memory. When you first read the material, pause to go over it in your mind. Then plan a schedule of review rather than waiting until the night before the exam.
  5. Memory and Bias. Some students won’t study ideas that they don’t like or they disagree with. It should actually be helpful for you to understand different point of view. If you continue to disagree with it, you will better understand what it is you disagree with.
  6. Rest. Study is hard work. You probably will need a break after every twenty to  thirty minutes of solid study. You feel better after a break, possibly with a little exercise or a snack. At the same time, your brain will be working to strengthen your memory.
  7. Memory is an Acquired Skill. The more intensely you study, the better you will be able to remember new information in the future. Just as babies learn how to talk, we must learn to study and remember.         — Locke pp.60-62.

Remember: How quickly you get through reading material is not as important as how much of the material gets through to you!
— Harry Lorayne in Page a Minute Memory Book, p. 143.

To learn how memory is processed, read    How we process memory:  It covers the Senses, Short-term Memory, Working Memory, and Long-term Memory. This is the theoretical and research information on memory.