Memory & Concentration

Do you remember where you were March 15, 1995?  If this date is not your birthday or some other significant date, it is very likely that you do not remember where you were.  If I were to give you some clues or a choice between two or ore places, you might have less difficulty remembering.

Human memory has been compared to a filing cabinet.  You have drawers of information (e.g. History) and you have files within each drawer (e.g. dates).  If you file in an organized manner, it follows that you will retrieve easily when requested (e.g. test-taking).  There are several principles that you can use as tools to help you improve your memory.  Learning is impossible without memorizing facts and details.  However, memorizing is just the first step in the learning process (See the Learning Pyramid).


  •  You must have an interest in something in order to remember it.  Take classes you have a natural curiosity about, and for those General Education Requirements that may hold little interest for you, work extra hard to find ways to make the subject interesting.  Consider working with a study group.


  • You have to plan to remember.  Have a positive attitude and use active techniques.


  •  Discover the most important pieces of information, you cannot remember everything.


  •  Group ideas into categories.  Learn techniques such as concept mapping to increase retention and retrieval.


  • Make a mental picture of what needs to be learned.  Utilize mnemonic devised such as HOMES for the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).  Visual memory is a powerful tool that can be put to great use.


  •  Memory research has proven we retain more information for a much longer period of time if we recite it in our own words over a spaced period of time.  Information crammed in to 8 consecutive hours is not retained nearly as long as the same information recited over 8 separate days.


  •  Can you relate the new information to something you already know and understand? If so, you will find your memory increases.


  •  You must allow time for new information to soak into your brain.  Make a list or review your notes before returning to class the next time, this will allow time for reflection, helping you consolidate ideas in long term memory for later retrieval.

Layer your Learning:

  • Don’t forget, while working one week’s assignments, to continue to review and practice information given throughout the semester.  Use it or lose it!!!  Make studying for finals much easier by working with the information throughout the term, not just the week of testing.

Mnemonic Strategies

Memory Requires the 3 R’s - “recording,  retaining,  &  retrieving”.

To remember you must succeed at all three steps.  Thus, it is easier to forget than to remember, because you have 3 stages to fail rather than one:

“1 chance to remember and 3 to forget” “The secret to successful memorization hinges on the ability to ORGANIZE information as it is filed away in your mind.”   (Dr. K. L. Higbee)  Memory strategies can use a set of pre-memorized words,  visual images,  phonetics,  or locations.   Using mnemonics helps you learn abstract information and organize it for memory.  The following examples are meant to help you develop your own mnemonic devices.

“Pre-memorized words”

  • Using a key word to learn a list:
    ex. Homes - is made from the first letter of all the Great Lakes. It helps
    you remember their names (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), but will not give you their sequence (Michigan, Superior, Ontario, Erie, Huron)
  • Using a key word to learn a sequence:
    ex.  Foil - is made from the word for each step in an algebra process, First, Outside, Inside, Last.  (x + 2y)(3x - y) = (x)(3x) + (x)(-y) + (2y)(3x) + (2y)(-y). It tells the order to multiply terms in order to get the correct answer.
  • Using a sentence as a cue to learn a sequence:
    ex. “On Old Olympus Towering Tops, a Finn and Greek Vended Some Hops.”
    The first letter of each (capitalized) word gives the name of a cerebral nerve – they are given in order of location:  Olfactory,  Optic, Occulomotor,  Trochlear,  Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial,   Acoustic (Vestibular-Cochlear),  Glossopharyngial,  Vagus, Spinal Accessory, Hypoglossal. Developing WORD or SENTENCE cues.  Choose the material you need to learn. Must it be learned sequentially, or do you just need to know a list?  If possible, develop a key word to remember this list.  If no convenient word can be developed, devise a sentence cue.  Incorporate visual cues wherever possible.

Pegging Auditory-Visual Cues To Word Meaning

  • Associating a Latin name with a plant or animal:
    Learn Latin names for plants and animals by establishing a visual to auditory link.
  • First know the meaning of the latin root.  Acer saccarinum.  Acer is a word referring to all plants of the MAPLE family; saccarinum means sugar (saccarine). This is the sugar maple tree’s name.
  • Associate the meaning with the appearance or a quality of the plant.
    This is the plant maple syrup is made from.
  • Practice finding the object you must identify and say/write its name when you find it.
  •  Practice saying the name then finding it. (Practice mostly the way you’ll be tested.)