You CAN Improve your Memory!

Memory is defined as the retention of knowledge learned in the past and the ability to recall precisely the same information in the future. Memory is extremely important, especially during a test or while students write exams. There is so much knowledge that we need to know in order to succeed in our courses. Therefore, it is vital to incorporate memory-enhancing strategies in order to succeed at the university. Although there are many memory-enhancing techniques that could be used to your advantage, I will talk about three scientifically supported techniques that you can apply in your study sessions for the upcoming semester: association, rehearsal, and attention.

Associate bits of information!

Did you ever use a song to remember parts of the human body for a biology class or names of famous scientists? Chances are that, you were using mnemonics to connect different pieces of information and to increase the level of encoding in the human brain. Albert and his colleagues (2014) suggest that using different types of mnemonicsto learn new information can be helpful. Mnemonicsrefer to techniques, phrases, strings of letters, and cues that could be identified as indicators to particular information. Mnemonics are useful if you are required to memorize small number of grouped items. For example, when trying to remember the names of the great lakes: Michigan, Erie, Huron, Superior, Ontario, you might realize that the names of the great lakes consist of letters M E H S O. Now try to come up with a meaningful word such as HOMES or something bizarre but still memorable such as SHOME. Using mnemonics will make it easier for you to remember the names of lakes without missing any. Similarly, using post-it notes, flash cards, colored pens, etc. can be very useful for retaining content by memory.

 Fourth-year University of Saskatchewan student in Environmental Biology, Urvee, is trying to remember terminologies of drugs by using visual cues.

Fourth-year University of Saskatchewan student in Environmental Biology, Urvee, is trying to remember terminologies of drugs by using visual cues.


The trick to enhance memory for certain information is to simultaneously use verbal cues and imagery. For instance, one could draw a concept map, which could consist of diagrams and associated keywords. The human brain is most efficient when it is provided simultaneously with verbal and non-verbal information. For instance, when you try to remember the significance of a word you don’t know, you might find it easier to remember the significance of the word by associating different parts of the word with things you already know compared to trying to memorize the significance of the word by itself.


In addition, forming unusual phrases that are silly is even better for memory. Using rhyme mnemonics is another method that has been advocated by many researchers. This method puts new information in a pattern and allows that information to remain in your mind for a longer period of time. For example, here is an easy way to remember the nerves: olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, acoustic, glassopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory and hypoglossal using rhyme mnemonics: On Old Olympus' Towering Tops, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops.


Rehearse as many times as possible!

There is a negative correlation between retention in memory and the time that lapse before recall occurs. An increase in days from recall is associated with decreased memory for that particular information. Therefore, it is very important to revise the material you have learnt. Throness (2014) found that with time people tend to display a greater number of errors and an increased recall of false information. It is hence important to frequently rehearse learnt information. For instance, one could revise and rehearse learnt information after three days, and then after five days, and then after seven days, and so forth.

 Source: Student Learning Services, University of Saskatchewan

Source: Student Learning Services, University of Saskatchewan


For optimal results, one should start reviewing early, instead of cramming at the last minute. So this semester, instead of waiting at the last minute, try taking 15-20 minutes per classes to review your notes each week. Not only will you have a better final exam, but you will also retain the information in the long run. Isn’t that the goal of taking a class?


Attending to information!

It has been demonstrated that paying attention while learning new material is vital. Both association and rehearsal require focus. Students might find it hard to pay attention for long periods of time. Therefore, taking short breaks in between work sessions might be a better idea, instead of studying at a stretch for multiple hours. Breaks serve as incentives and may be used to relax, going for a walk, cook, or listen to music.


A popular way of applying this technique is to use the Pomodoro technique, which consist of working for 25 minutes straight, and then taking a short 5-minute break. You can find multiple apps that will time this for you, just like this one ( During your break, make sure you get up from your desk and either go for a walk, do 1-2 yoga poses, or stretch your legs. Any form of mild exercise can be really beneficial, both for your body and your mind!


Do what works for you!

There are many ways in which these memory-enhancing techniques can be applied, so find what works best for you. You can play around with your schedule to find the best situations for your own optimal learning experience. If you are a morning person, then you might want to learn new information during the morning. Alternatively, some people study better during evenings. Make your own schedule and experiment before setting up your final routine.


It is important to use memory-enhancing techniques because there is always going to be lots of new information that needs to be learnt; therefore, knowing some handy and simple tips to increase retention can go a long way in a student’s life when it comes to preparing for midterms and final exams.


Good luck!



Albert, A., Hallowell, M. R. & and Kleine, B. M. (2014). Enhancing construction hazard recognition and communication with energy-based cognitive mnemonics and safety meeting maturity model: Multiple baseline study. Journal of Construction Engineering & Management, 140(2), 1-12. doi:10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0000790

Throness, B. (2014). Keeping the memory alive, preventing memory loss that contributes to process safety events. Process Safety Progress, 33(2), 115-123. doi:10.1002/prs.11635

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