Ask The Expert

How to Improve Your Memory | Sean Kang, Assistant Professor of Education

One of the world’s most powerful mnemonic devices is also one of the oldest: the memory palace. This technique, first described by ancient Greek and Roman orators, involves the visualization of a familiar journey or place to quickly retrieve information. “Memory contest champions use this strategy to remember sequences of hundreds of items,” says Kang, whose primary research focuses on human memory and learning. “It’s a powerful way to learn, but it’s not a strategy you can use without a great deal of practice.” If you don’t have time to master the memory palace, Kang suggests the following quick tips to enhance your powers of recall. 

Test Yourself
“We often think of tests as a way to assess learning, but the act of testing actually changes a person’s memory. Retrieving relevant bits from your memory strengthens and consolidates that information. When you study, don’t just read and reread material. A better strategy would be to read first, then set aside time to test yourself. This could be as simple as covering up your notes while trying to remember information. That information will be better organized in your memory and more accessible later on.”

Don’t Cram
“A wealth of evidence suggests you get far greater bang for your buck if you space out reviewing information. If you learn something today, for example, study the same thing two days from now. Then study it again two days later. You will learn much better that way. Unfortunately, most students cram at the last minute. Cramming is okay for the short term, but if you want to remember what you have learned for more than a few hours, reviewing information at regular intervals is far superior.”

Mix It Up
“Often, we learn by blocking similar things together and not moving on to topic B until we’ve mastered topic A. This method may feel intuitive, but if you measure actual learning performance, mixing things up produces far superior results in the long run. If you’re learning a foreign language, for example, instead of just practicing one type of sentence structure again and again, you would benefit by practicing different grammatical structures at the same time.”

Sleep
“Sleep plays a critical role in learning and memory consolidation—the biological process by which memories become more resistant to disruption. When a memory gets consolidated during sleep, it’s less likely you will forget it. Studies show that if you get interrupted during certain phases of your sleep cycle, your memory consolidation will be disrupted and your learning performance will be worse.”

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