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One Foolproof Technique to Memorise Any Information

Updated on May 9, 2016

How to Memorise Anything

There is no one-size-fits-all technique to memorise anything, however in my time as a student at university, I have found one way that has consistently worked for me.

As a psychology student for four years, I have always had to write long essays in exams, exams that would sometimes span over 3 hours long. In order to put forward any argument in these types of essays, we always had to cite authors and researchers.

The problem with having to cite authors during an exam is that not only did I have to understand the argument, model, theory, or research I was writing about, I also had to remember who came up with it in the first place. This may not sound too hard at first, but realising that you might have to do this for over 45 citations for just one exam is bewildering at best.

In order to to effectively learn the information I needed to know along with its corresponding author, I had to come up with a technique which worked for me. Something that had a clear structure, as well as offering enough repetition for me to be able to rehearse the information with its link to its author.

Over time, I did come up with such a technique, and it has served me well in helping me achieve good grades in my university exams. Below we'll go through the technique overall, before going into detail.

The Four Phases

This technique involves 4 main phases:

  • The List Phase
  • The Card Phase
  • The Rehearsal Phase
  • The Test Phase

This may seem intimidating at first like it's going to take a lot of time, but trust me when I say that it won't take as long as you think and that the time you do spend will be of value.

Below we'll go through each of these phases in detail so that you can begin memorising any information you need to for your next big test.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Phase One: The List Phase

The list phase is the important core of this technique for memorising any information. It involves, as the title puts forward plainly, making a logical list of the information you need to memorise.

Begin by first taking a sheet of paper and dividing it into columns based on the information you need to learn. To illustrate this I will use the example of how I have done this for the research I needed to learn.

Figure 1 on the right shows that I have divided my columns into 3, these columns are labelled 'Author', 'Year', and 'Summary'. This is because, for each piece of research I need to memorise, I need to remember the name of the author who wrote it, the year they published it, and what it is they actually wrote.

Placing this information side by side allows me to associate each attribute of the research with one another. For example, I can now associate "Potter et al" with the year "2009". It also allows me to quickly glance at all the information I need in one place (Which is great if you stick this list on your bedroom wall after you're finished!).

Do this for all the information you need to memorise, splitting each module of information up with a horizontal straight line. Once you've done this, you should have something similar to what is shown in Figure 1. Don't worry if you have more or fewer columns than I do, it will certainly differ depending on what it is you are trying to memorise.

With this helpful list constructed and ready to help, you can move onto phase 2 of my technique on how to memorise anything.

Extra Tip

You will notice that I have placed a number in a circle under each author's name. This is because I have already written up a plan of what I'm going to cover in my essay, paragraph by paragraph. That means I know that I will be using "Potter et al, 2009" in my 4th paragraph. This can really help you remember the order you will be using your information in the exam.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Phase 2: The Card Phase

The next phase involves creating flashcards, either with pieces of actual card or online using the many free websites available.

I recommend using Cram.com, it allows you to create as many sets of flashcards as you like. You can then go through these in different modes to help you memorise all of your information. The added benefit of Cram is that there is also a smartphone app, meaning you can keep revising wherever you go.

Make your flashcards so that one piece of information is on one side, and another piece of information is on the other side. This information should be dictated by what is on your list from Phase 1. An example can be seen in Figure 2.

An example from my list would be having "Potter et al, 2009" on one side, and my summary of that research on the other side. Do this for all pieces of information you are trying to learn.

If you have more than 2 pieces of information, group them based on your best judgement. In my example above, I put the year the research was published after the name. This meant I could still learn the year by associating it with the name of the researcher(s) and the information on the other side.

Extra Tip

Try to be as brief as possible when writing your information up on your flashcards, bullet points are a great way to do this. Having too much information can make it difficult to memorise something, so cut down words and sentences wherever you can.

Phase Three: The Rehearsal Phase

This is where your preparation in the last two phases begins to pay off. Rehearsing your information can be difficult at first, but with time, you will notice that you are retaining a lot more than you may have previously thought.

Rehearsal can be done in numerous ways and you will probably find that one or more ways suit you better than others. This is normal as we all have our own learning preferences.

Let's go through 3 main ways you can rehearse your information in the hopes of memorising it fully.

Cram's "Memorize" Function

Once again, another reason to use Cram is for its terrific functions in helping you rehearse your flashcards. However, if you aren't using Cram, you can still emulate this function yourself with your own flashcards.

This function is very simple, you take one flashcard and read the front of it, in my example I would see "Potter et al, 2009". I would then speak out loud what information I could remember with regards to this card.

Once you've finished speaking, take a look at the back of the card. If you were right then that's great! Put it in a "Correct" pile. If you were wrong that's okay too, put it in the "Wrong" pile.

After you've gone through all the cards, start the process again but only with the cards in the "Wrong" pile. Keep redoing this method until there's nothing left in the "Wrong" pile.

By applying this method multiple times throughout the day, you'll quickly see yourself making progress in memorising each card and the information associated with it.

Cram's "Cram Mode"

The aptly named 'Cram Mode' is another great way to memorise your information in a method similar to the one above. The main difference here is that this mode is more intense and lasts longer.

Instead of having "Correct" and "Wrong" piles for your cards, you should now have piles for levels 1 to 5. Start by going through your flashcards again and speaking out loud the information you remember about each one. If you got it right, place it in the "Level 1" pile, if not, don't place it in any pile.

The trick is to move cards up by one level when you get it right and to move it down by one level when you get it wrong. Keep at it until you get all cards up to level five.

By that time, your brain should be filled with information so make sure to take a break before going at it again. Once again, however, you will start to see yourself doing better and better each time.

The Listing Method

This method is one of my favourites and doesn't even require Cram or your flashcards. All you need is a pen and a piece of blank paper.

All you have to do in this method is to write down all the pieces of information you remember from one side of your flashcards, then you write all the information you remember from the other side. This all goes in a list side-by-side.

Think of it almost like a test, but it's okay to miss out information that you can't remember. Once you've written out your list and can't remember anything else, review what you've written with the help of your list you made in Phase One.

In this way, you can begin to see both what you remember, and what requires a bit more rehearsal. It also tends not to take as long as the other two previous methods, making it a great technique to do every hour or so to see what kind of progress you are making.

Extra Tip

Try picking one or two of these methods and setting an alarm to go off every hour during the day. When the alarm sounds, you have to go ahead and go through one of the above methods. By doing this I have learned easily over 15 pieces of new information in a single day!

Phase Four: The Test Phase

So you've rehearsed, rehearsed again, and rehearsed some more. You think you may be ready to bring this information with you confidently into the exam or test. Time to find out for sure.

To make sure you definitely know all of your information, as well as being able to reproduce it at will, you should carry out a similar test to the Listing Method described above. Except this time you should time yourself.

Set yourself a specific amount of time you think you will have in the examination to plan your answer. An example would be a University Psychology essay exam where the rule of thumb is 10 minutes of planning and 50 minutes of answers writing.

In this case, you would start a 10-minute timer and try to write out all of the information you have learned in clear and constructive manner. Essentially you want to be writing out your information like you did in Phase One, but this time, you will be doing it entirely from memory.

If all goes well and you have successfully memorised all of your information, you should be able to get it all down in the appropriate time frame.

If you go over the time frame, you may have to do a little more rehearsing so that you don't hesitate as long in the exam.

Whatever your outcome, I am confident that you will have found this a helpful technique in memorising any information you may need for an exam, test, or any other important use.

Jamie Peutherer publishes content weekly at Xnanga.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter (@Xnanga) for updates.

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