It may have been a few decades since you’ve had to cram for an exam, but we all frequently need to commit information to memory in our daily lives.
While some people seem to be able to remember vast amounts of information with very little effort, others struggle to put names to the faces that they recognise. Why is this the case? The explanation lies in your ability to subsequently access stored information.
Sure, cramming might have its merits in the short-term, but if you want to memorise information and be able to remember it down the track – not just the next day – there are far better strategies. Interestingly enough, and despite popular belief, the issue isn’t our brain’s ability to store detail; it’s actually our ability to recall that information.
The first step, and perhaps the most crucial, is to pay attention. It seems blatantly obvious so it probably sounds ridiculous to even mention it, but most of the time when we’ve forgotten something it’s because we weren’t paying enough attention to the information. How many times have you been introduced to someone, only to forget his or her name a few minutes later?
Two good tactics for remembering names is to use them repeatedly when you initially meet a person and to make a mental connection between the name and something else – for instance, perhaps they have the same name as your aunt or a good friend from high school.
Rhymes and mnemonic devices also work really well for qualitative information. Mnemonics are especially useful for retaining information in a certain order – for example, ‘my very excellent man show us nine planets’ for the order of the solar system.
Remembering numbers requires a slightly different approach. What works best here is to ‘chunk’ the numbers in groups so instead of trying to memorise 10 digits, you’re memorising three groups of digits. A good example of this is a mobile number – rather than 0-4-0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7, think of it as 0401-234-567.
Noticing patterns is also helpful with numbers, whether it’s a date, phone number or amount of money.
Some more general tactics that help to commit information to memory and recall it are repetition – writing it down or saying it out loud several times, visual associations – imagining a related picture or image of the information, and making links between the new information and previous knowledge that you have.
Are you better at remembering names or faces? Do you have some tips for improving your memory?