How to Memorize Material Faster
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People often joke about their 'bad memory,' but science shows us that our memory can be what we make of it. If we give attention to memorizing things using proven techniques, we can see dramatic improvements.
How our memory works
To memorize material faster, it helps to understand the internal process. So let's discuss how our memory works.
After centuries of research and assumptions, science has narrowed the process of memorization down to three distinct stages: encoding, storage, and recall.
- Encoding: At this first stage of memory formation, you have consciously observed or determined something to be remembered. Your brain begins to extract and compile any sensory information from it.
- Storage: The information collected about the event or the items to be remembered is stored in various parts of the brain. The neurons (your brain cells) communicate with one another about the information to form either long-term or brief connections between each other. The stronger these connections, the more established the memory.
We have two kinds of stored memory: short term and long term memory.
- Short term memory is how we hold information that we won't need for very long. For instance, the five items we need to pick up at the store or our order in a restaurant. We need to remember these things, but after we've purchased our items from the grocery store or been served our meal in the restaurant, we don't need that information anymore. Our brain' lets go of it.'
- Long term memory begins as short term memory but is information held onto for days or years. This form of memory is how we can recall so much of our childhood, our college experience, or the birth of our first child.
- Recall: This is the process of bringing back into our conscious thinking something that has happened in the past or information we have learned beforehand.
It's important to note that our memories are not 'snapshots' of the past. They aren't moments frozen in time as they seem. Over time, we actually incorporate new information into our memories. This action is subtle, but our memories are not exact representations of what we have experienced but rather a creative rendering of the event.
Tips to memorizing material faster
Now that we are familiar with the mechanics of the process, here are some proven tips for memorizing material faster.
Write things down
If it's possible to write down the material you're trying to learn, do it. Our ability to remember information, understand new ideas, and be more productive overall is boosted when we write things by hand. Why not just type it - you ask? Because according to research by UCLA and Princeton University, not only does typing not aid in the learning process, it may hinder it.
When you write by hand, your brain must work to digest, summarize, and find the meaning in the information. This work translates into better understanding and retention.
Make it meaningful
Have you ever tried to memorize nonsense? Things that make sense to us are easier to remember than things that make no sense. This tip has a double implication:
i ) When you can ascribe meaning, relevance, even reward to what you're doing, it will be easier to do. So reminding yourself of how memorizing this material will move you toward your work and life goals will motivate you to do the work.
ii ) Make the material make sense to you. Summarize the points and try to understand the overall concept to encourage your brain to hold it. Sterile, meaningless information is complicated to remember. Our brains love lively, colorful, interesting material.
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Our brains love new information to be built upon old information. Be intentional about finding ways to connect the new stuff with the knowledge you have already. This may be accomplished by 'building out' from what you already know. For instance, we can learn multiplication by building on the knowledge we have about addition. Once we realize that multiplication is fast addition, we can learn it faster.
Our brains love organization. It's like a massive library with volumes of books. We don't want those books all over the floor or on shelves in no particular order or without proper covers and titles. How long would it take to find information in a library in this state?
Organize the material to be memorized in some order that makes sense to you. Learn it sequentially and remember to rehearse the earlier memorized parts along with the brand new bits. This will help you connect it all and present it in your brain in an organized manner.
We'll never learn information if we don't give it attention. This means paying attention when it is first presented to us and also putting in the time to digest the information. For instance, you'll learn people's names faster if you pay attention when you are first introduced and call them by their name a few times in the beginning. You might even spend time rehearsing their name and face in your mind later to help solidify it.
Our brains are predominantly visual. Words are not as easy to remember as images. One of the fastest ways to memorize new material is to make it visual with imagery. For example, when studying mathematics in college, I learned many algorithms by creating a character representing each. Using the algorithm's name and how it behaved, I gave my exaggerated characters clothing, colors, and symbols. It was fun, and it worked!
One creative way to make your material visual is to construct a mind map. A mind map is a beautiful way of making non-visual material visual. Make it colorful and vibrant - remember these are things your brain loves.
I know, you were hoping not to see this old method on here. But it is still the best way to memorize material faster. Anything that you repeat over and over again will stick in your brain. Whatever other methods you use, repetition will be vital to making the new material hold.
There are many useful methods for memorizing material faster, including these above. Whether you're applying yourself to learn a speech or a new language, memorization is a worthy endeavor. Our minds grow sharper with use, so giving attention to learning new things is exciting and will have long-term benefits for your brain.
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