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As we reach the cusp of exam season and people start to frantically rustle through the dusty notes that they neglected all Easter holiday, it becomes increasingly obvious to every student that our courses are full of so much content, it feels like you’ll never be able to remember it all. It’s a little unfair actually, especially if you’re like me and you can recall the lyrics to multiple songs you haven’t heard in years but gets played in Sugar, no problem at all. It seems like there must be some way of improving your memory and forcing your brain to utilise all of its wormy grey bits.
We all know the standard revision methods taught in primary school, secondary school, and even college. However, we all learn differently and spending hours on an intricate mindmap might be a total waste of time for you. Therefore, the best way to improve your memory is to identify how your brain works. Unfortunately, there’s no magical quick fix that will enable you to effortlessly recall everything you need to know in the exam room. But there are simply tricks and tips that you can utilise to make the most of your memory store. A basic understanding of your learning style and what type of learner you are will enable you to make the most of what you have.
What kind of learner are you?
Everybody learns differently, that’s obvious. We’re all individuals and there’s nobody else on the planet like you, so why should it be assumed that everybody learns in exactly the same way? The fastest way to figure out what revision method works for you is to figure out how you learn. In essence, there are three main cognitive learning styles that we know of: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. You might be one of these, you might be all.
A visual learner is somebody that needs to be able to picture things, or have things laid out in a particular way, in order to recall them. If you’re a visual learner, you need to be able to see the information in front of you, which means you might like to use charts, graphs or pictures to show information rather than just reading it. In lectures, you might learn better by watching your tutor pace the room, or you might like to make copious notes and write them up in a neat, organised fashion later on.
An auditory learner retains information best through hearing information and repeating it verbally. You probably like to be told how to do things or given information, and then verbally summarise it aloud. If you’re an auditory learner, you’re probably able to play a musical instrument or you just really enjoy music – this means you’ll be able to concentrate better if you have soft music playing in the background (if so, check out Culture this issue for how to create the perfect revision playlist).
Last but not least, a kinesthetic learner is a hands-on kind of person. You tend to be good at subjects like maths and science, even if you dropped them like a hot potato the second you could choose your own degree. You probably work best in a group of people, rather than on your own and you’d always rather be able to demonstrate how to do something rather than explain using your words. Basically, you tend to be practical and demonstrative in the way you go about things.
Did any of these descriptions make you think ‘Yep, that’s me in a nutshell’? Great. Do you feel like a number of these characteristics apply to you? That’s also great. The fact of the matter is, if you recognise yourself in any of these learning categories, there are a number of ways you can improve your memory and become a revision-machine.
For visual learners, the best way to improve your memory is to get creative. Rather than re-reading the same paragraph from a set of notes over and over again, make them memorable. Try turning a history timeline into a cartoon, use photographs of important researchers to jog your memory of studies, make your maths or science research into colourful charts – whatever works for you, do it. If you like to write out notes: colour code headings, subheadings and important snippets of information. If you’re a language student cramming vocabulary, create flashcards with pictures to illustrate what the word means or use bright colours. People tend to say don’t waste time making your revision notes pretty, but a visual learner is more likely to recall a beautiful page of notes in a crunch then a sentence they repeated aloud one rainy Lancaster afternoon. I certainly found it easier to remember quotes for an English Literature closed-book exam at A Level by writing them in different colours and sticking them all over my room, rather than reading them repeatedly.
If you’re an auditory guy or gal, you’ll need a microphone, recording software or lots of course study buddies. If you planned ahead and recorded your lectures, creating a lecture playlist is the most efficient way for you to revise. If you didn’t, download Wavosaur – a free audio recording and editing software you can easily find online – and start recording yourself reading your lecture notes, practising your verb endings, verbalising chunks of textbooks or even explaining equation. Reading the material will start to consolidate it in your brain, and as soon as it’s recorded, listen to your playlist everywhere – the gym, on the bus, even chilling out in the rarely seen Lancastrian sun. Auditory learners have the advantage of being able to learn on-the-go, rather hunching over a desk scribbling constantly. If you want to be more sociable, arrange study groups with your mates to discuss the material, or have a friend come over for coffee and Q&A. As mentioned before, some quiet music in the background will make recall much easier for you, because there’s a chance that you’ll be able to remember when the Norman Conquest was if you realise that you read about it whilst listening to some instrumental Biffy Clyro.
Learning is slightly trickier for kinesthetic learners if you’re studying a degree that doesn’t require you to work with your hands. If you’re doing an engineering or an art degree, it’s easier for you to be practical; but humanities students might have a hard time making the most of their learning style. Some helpful suggestions for you folks would be to take regular study breaks in order to mull over the information you just consumed. Try to learn new material whilst being active, for example, you might be more likely to recall information if you learn on the treadmill or standing. One researcher has even suggested that chewing gum whilst studying might jog your memory. A Literature, Language or History student might benefit from acting out what they’re reading or getting into character when learning quotes and vocabulary. Finally, busy hands are key to kinesthetic learners – try typing notes, creating flowcharts or taking online quizzes. Whatever makes you use your sense of touch will help improve your memory.
All in all, the best way to improve your memory is to take care of yourself. Getting so stressed out about revision that you find yourself in tears is unhealthy and will only have negative effects. Make sure you make time to eat, sleep and do things that you enjoy. Every student tends to skimp on sleep, what they don’t know is that the brain can only consolidate information and organise it into nice, neat blocks whilst you are asleep. Call it the defrag of your brain, if you will.