As a student, you’re using different kinds of memory.
There’s your working memory, which you use to hold on to information in your short-term memory and work with it. If you forget steps two and three of a set of instructions while you’re working on the first, your working memory needs a boost.
Then there’s your long-term memory, in which you store information you’ve learned, to be pulled out when you take a test. If you’re unable to remember things you’ve learned on your test, you may have a problem with how you store items in your long-term memory in the first place.
Experts tell us genes play a role in how some of us can remember things better than others. But so do choices. Here’s a look at seven things you can do to improve memory in the short-term and long-term.
Make lifestyle changes or avoid certain lifestyle choices
We often get complacent about how much beating our bodies can take. By “beating” I mean the invisible punches that leave a mark every time we engage in “choices” like smoking, unhealthy food habits, and lack of exercise. These habits lead to high blood sugars, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. A prematurely aging body cannot be home to a healthy mind.
Lack of mental exercise also has the effect of aging the mind. It’s logical then, that a healthy diet, good food habits, regular physical and mental exercise will help you keep your mind and memory sharp. Even if you think you’re young and resilient, which you are to an extent, it doesn’t take long for a poor lifestyle choice to take over your life. A lifestyle change will help you protect what you have, so you can work on making it better.
You could get started by planning a daily routine for yourself. Design it in a way that suits you, whether you’re a night owl or an early bird. Leave aside around half an hour a day for physical exercise.
Make a conscious decision to cut junk food out of your diet. Junk food can make you sluggish. This can be a difficult choice to make for students to make since junk food is cheap and easy to find when you’re hungry.
But take small steps. Cut back on energy drinks and soft drinks, switching to water instead with a slice of lemon or orange for flavor. Don’t skip breakfast (something as simple as wholemeal toast with some peanut butter and eggs is better than sugary breakfast cereals.) Don’t skip lunch and dinner, and eat smaller meals. Pick a healthier option from the menu when you visit a fast food chain with friends. Urge your friends to change where you eat when you eat out. Go to a sushi bar instead of a bar where they serve only high fat, fried foods.
Pick challenging mental exercises
When you are consciously putting your memory to train, don’t pick an exercise you’re comfortable with. Challenge your mind. Watching a documentary marathon is not as effective in making your memory sharper, as learning a new language.
Exercise four hours after you learn something
A recent brain imaging study found that as little as ten minutes of walking out on your favorite path or the treadmill can improve connectivity in the hippocampus, the area of your brain related to memory and learning.
Another study found that when you exercise four hours after you’ve learned something, you remember more than if you exercise right after learning or don’t exercise at all. No one knows why this is the case. But there’s enough evidence to suggest it’s a good practice to adopt after a difficult lesson.
Teaching someone is an excellent way of boosting your working memory. Whether you teach juniors or start a YouTube channel on the subject, you’ll go on to have a better understanding of the subject than those students who simply spend time re-studying something.
Review what you’ve learned before bed
Scientists have found that if you review what you’ve learned during the day just before you fall asleep in bed, you’ll have a better chance of recalling it better later. In fact, it’s even better to study before bed. But make sure to get a good eight hours of sleep for better retention. There are endless studies that link sleep with better memory, so keep that in mind when you stay up watching Netflix shows after studying.
Use tried and tested memory enhancement techniques
If you need to remember lists of items, such as dates, try using the ancient Memory Palace or Mind Palace technique to link items visually to familiar spaces. Sherlock used it on the show to an unrealistic degree, but the average student can make it work to remember things like the value of Pi to impossibly long places.
The Mnemonic Major Method is another one for memorizing numbers using sounds and vowels, for the more spatially challenged ones among us. You could use techniques like the Memory Palace technique to learn poetry too, as the Chinese did under the tutelage of Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci centuries ago.
Break information into smaller bites
When you’re facing a complex idea or piece of information, try breaking it down into smaller portions. This is an exercise of your short-term memory, which can hold between four and seven separate things at the same time. Break things down so you can remember it long enough to store it in your permanent memory. There’s a reason social security numbers and telephones come with hyphens!
There are many other tips and tricks to train your memory. I won’t recommend brain training apps and programs as one of them. There’s no evidence that brain games can help young students improve their memory. They are more useful for older adults who have felt their memory decline.
Keep these tips in mind, bring about changes in your lifestyle, study more attentively and you’ll be well on your way to seeing improvements in how you remember things no matter where you stand now.