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Improving Your Memory: Part 2

Adapted from a handout by Jane L. McGrath

Memory Strategies


Once you have identified important information, there are several techniques that can help you organize and remember it. There is not, however, one best method for remembering everything. Experiment with different memory techniques to see which ones work best for you!


Relate new information to something you already know. And isolated idea/fact is hard to remember. If you associate or connect it with information that already makes sense to you, it will be more meaningful and easier to organize and remember.


Organize information into a vivid, clear mental picture. For example, to remember the necessary elements of a novel, form a picture with all the important characters dressed in the style of the period, doing something which shows what the character is like. If you have trouble picturing this in your head, draw it—the sillier the better!

Use Mnemonic Aids

For information that is hard to associate or visualize, try a memory technique. Some effective memory devices include the following examples.

Form a word from the first letter of each word in a series. Example: HOMES for recalling the Great Lakes—Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.

Make a nonsense phrase so that the first letter of each word is the information. Example: “Every Good Boy Does Fine” for the E, G, B, D, F lines of the treble music staff.

Word-Part Clues
For example, remember whether the denotative or connotative meaning of a word is the dictionary meaning by denotative and dictionary both beginning with “d.”

Poems and Rhymes
Make up short, catchy sayings that include the essential information. For example, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Review and Use the Information You Want to Remember!

  • Regular review and use of information will significantly improve retention and recall.

  • Rather than one long study session, plan frequent short study sessions.

  • "All nighters” never work!

  • Always include a review of previously learned information (yes, even if you have already had that test!) as well as learning new information.


Results of Recent Study on Effective Notes and Increased Retention

When comparing the most commonly used forms of note-taking—Cornell, concept mapping, outline, note cards—studies recently revealed that the strategy that leads to most effective retention is the use of note cards.

The predominant difference from other formats is that with note cards the student is able to separate learned information from that which has not been retained. The benefit derives from the ability to periodically review the material that has been learned while placing more emphasis on that which has not been stored in memory.

Here is are some web sites that explain the effective use of note cards.

Study Note Cards Learn the many uses of making note cards for studying. (University of Manitoba)

Creating Note Cards to Make Studying Easier: Spanish Example The site has examples and video explanation. ( Center for Research on Language Acquisition)

Using Note Cards Effectively: Chemistry Example (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Work with Note Cards from Both Reading and Lecture Notes Simple instructions with good illustrations (The Learning Toolbox)

a red arrow pointing to the notation Be sure to check the Internet for free downloads of note cards for your computer or phone!

Curve of Forgetting
The Curve of Forgetting describes how we retain or get rid of information that we take in based on a one-hour lecture. (University of Waterloo)
Note: The discussion refers to 100% of what you took in. This does not necessarily mean 100% of all information presented.

How We Remember
Short strategies to increase memory (California Polytechnic State University at San Louis Obispo)


Memory Assessment
Get to know your memory skills and the tools to improve retention (Muskingum College)


Memory Learning Strategies
Background, purposes, advantages, and specific memory strategies (Muskingum College)


Learning and Remembering
How can you become more efficient when you study? (University of Waterloo)

Concept- or Mind-Mapping This site has fun, interactive demonstration of making a mind map. (Study Guides and Strategies)

Concept Maps: Examples of Anatomy The site also has good links to other mapping resources. Try to ignore the flashing image and the floating menu. (

Types of Maps See some examples of typical mind maps and adapt them to your needs. (University of Michigan)


Encoding and Retrieval
Learn how sensory, short-term and long-term memory work, then use this information for more effective study and retention. (Muskingum College)


Using Mnemonics to Learn More Effectively
Close the annoying ad on the left to access a lot of information and related links. (Mind Tools)


This site has numerous examples from specific disciplines. Check it out! (Eudesign)



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Adapted from a handout entitled "Improving Your Memory: Concentrate, Comprehend, Remember" © J. L. McGrath

This site was created and is maintained by Barbara J. Speidel, SWC Academic Success Center Coordinator. @ Barbara J. Speidel

The ASC logo was created by Andrew C. Rempt. @ Andrew C. Rempt

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