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Posted April 13, 2015

Top Memory Tricks Postgrads Can Learn

Postgraduate study often has a strong focus on the written word. This can certainly be taxing to our brains, which were evolved to memorize and store information from very different sources. Throughout most of our evolution, all important information was memorized in relation to our senses, and as a result our memories are usually tied to sights, smells, sounds, textures, emotions or positions. Think of the evocative memories that can be stirred up by a smell or an old song that is reminiscent of past times in your life.

The written word then, being the focus of information transfer in our education system, is perhaps not the best format for memory storage. It is a medium that does have important advantages however, as a tool that can be used to present complex ideas and arguments. It is therefore invaluable as a method for passing on the wealth of information that needs to be learnt and absorbed on any postgraduate course. The solution to this dilemma is to incorporate these two systems, using our brain to memorize complex arguments in the way it has evolved to do so. There are a number of mnemonics that can be used to achieve this, varying in their ease of use, time they take to use and effectiveness. It is best to experiment to see what works for you since different brains will respond in different ways.

Most effective mnemonics work on the use of imagination (vivid, unusual, and emotional stimuli), association (merging or entwining items in a memorable way), or location (attaching items to particular places). In general, mnemonics should focus on good or pleasant images, use bright colours and size for emphasis, use all the senses, or include humour and unusual references, all of which help to make something more memorable.

Before getting stuck into your revision, you should make sure you have a good learning environment in which to study. More about this can be found here .

A common and effective mnemonic is the story or link system. Our minds tend to like stories or narratives and our mental worlds are constructed from them. So information gathered in to a story is more coherent and memorable later on. You can even strengthen your stories with particular images that help to reinforce a point. For example if an event happened in Cornwall you might imagine a gigantic ear of corn sticking out of a farmhouse wall. This can be used to remember names as well. So Socrates might be memorized as a sock on a crate with a cup of tea.

As discussed in this post , music can be a great aid to studying and concentration and can also serve as a useful mnemonic. Lyrics are often easy to recall years after you first learnt them, and if you can turn your learning into lyrics it can be a powerful way to remember. Long numbers, such as the speed of light, can be remembered by converting each number to a word of equivalent length that forms a coherent phrase.

To find out which method suits you, it is best to first determine what kind of learner you are (visual, auditory or kinaesthetic) and then adapt your mnemonics to this. With a little trial and error you are certain to find one of these methods a huge aid to your studies.

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