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Memory Improvement Tips

You’re taking your final exam and you run into a question that provokes strange feelings. Deep in your brain, you know you have the answer but for some reason, you can’t pull it out. You remember seeing it in your notes but by the time the test is over, you’re not able to recall the information. After the test, you hurry to look at your notes and find the answer.

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I couldn’t remember that! It was so easy!”

Has this happened to any of you? It’s a painful yet common feeling. And all students hate it. To prevent this from happening, here are some memory improvement tips that you can utilize.

1. Repeated exposure in various ways

It seems obvious. If you want to memorize the Krebs cycle, it is intuitive to think that you need to look at the picture of the Krebs cycle over and over again. However merely looking at the picture may not be enough. Humans primarily learn through hearing, seeing, and feeling. If you can somehow integrate all three of those senses, you will have an easier time remembering something. Also, even within one sense, vision for example, a varied approach helps.

Example: you may first hear about the Krebs cycle in lecture (visual and audio). Then you can read about it in a textbook or study it from your notes (visual). Afterwards, you can talk about it with your study partners, while drawing diagrams and verbalizing the cycle without your notes (visual and audio). Finally, you could go as far to draw the entire cycle in your imagination (somewhat visual). You are studying the same material in different ways. The repeated various exposures will help imprint the knowledge into your brain. Sometimes one kind of learning is not enough.

2. Understanding over memorization

Sometimes the reason why we forget certain things is because we try to memorize without understanding. If you need to remember a difficult formula, molecular pathway, or anything other complex topic, it is best to shoot for understanding first. If you understand how something works first, your brain will piece together the memorization part. If you simply memorize without understanding, during the test, when you forget the material, you will have a hard time putting your knowledge together because you never really knew it in the first place.

3. Ask why

We often remember things that we are most engaged in. If you had a passionate debate about Obamacare, you will remember the details about Obamacare better than if you had simply read about it online. In your debate, you probably asked your “opponent” why he or she thinks in a certain way. You may have asked yourself why you believe what you believe. You most likely asked why the system works the way it does. The more questions you ask, the more engaged you are. Your molecular biology professor informs the class that DNA is packaged in histone proteins. The first thing that should pop into your shouldn’t be “I see”. It should be, “Why? Why is that important?” That transforms you from a passive learner to an active one. It will help you understand your study material better (see #2). As an active learner, you are most likely to recall information that you have invested much energy into remembering.

4. Get adequate rest

This practice is well known but not well practiced. So many college students choose to pull an “all-nighter” over getting sleep. Most of them are forced to so because they procrastinated. Even so, forgoing sleeping before a test is not a good idea. Sleep is necessary for a memory to “stick” onto your brain. If you need to pull an all-nighter, do it 2 nights before the test. Study as much as you possibly can the day before and get sleep the night before your test. Your sleeping may be even more valuable than your studying. These are just some memory improvement tips that should help you remember better and thus score better on your exams. Obviously there are more, but try practicing these four and see if you see any improvement.

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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