Study Hacks to Improve Your Memory and Ace Your Exams

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Exam time generally means stress time—whether you’re doing your HSC, a TAFE certificate or university degree. During exams, your achievement-related emotions are tested and your cognitive ability can become clouded.
But what if we said there are ways you can boost your memory, exam marks and reduce stress? Read on for our top tips and tricks.

The role of memory

Memory relies on effective study behaviours like choosing where you study, how you study and with whom you study. It’s active, subjective and an intelligent reflection process of previous experience.
Memory is related to learning, but it shouldn’t be confused with learning. Instead, think of it as a symbiotic relationship which continues to evolve throughout life; it serves to support you when you need to tap into your learning. There are three main processes involved with memory:

1. Encoding

Encoding refers to transforming information into a form which can be stored for later use. There are three factors which impact upon encoding efficiency, including:
  • Content factors: the type of material to be encoded (volume, degree of familiarity, structure of content etc)
  • Environmental factors: the conditions under which the encoding takes place (temperature, humidity, noise, socio-emotional climate etc)
  • Subjective factors: the variables in effect when encoding takes place (fatigue, health, motivation, disposition etc).

2. Storing

Storing refers to maintaining the encoded information in memory.

3. Retrieving

Retrieving refers to the re-accessing of information from the past which has been encoded and stored.
Employing strategies to support these three elements can help to protect your memory from the unbelievable amount of information that’s thrown at it on a daily basis. Decide what content you want to remember the most, and use the following strategies to make it stick.

Strategies to enhance memory

1. Say it out loud

Studies show that reading the information you want stored out loud can increase your chance of remembering it by 50 percent. It’s called the “production effect” and it’s the result of enhancing information to make it more distinctive in memory.

2. Reward yourself

Your brain can learn to attach itself to almost anything. If your brain thinks something makes you happy, it is more likely to throw it in the important memory basket. Does chocolate make you happy? Tie your learning of a particular piece of information to a block of chocolate and your reward can cultivate the feeling of happiness—a memory worth saving. For example, every time you get a question right, reward yourself with a square of chocolate.

3. Draw it out

You don’t have to be Picasso to draw out important information. You simply need to put it on paper in forms of pictures, text and diagrams to power your visualisation. Try drawing out scenes and infographics. If you need to remember a process in order, draw it out as a flowchart. If you need to remember people, sketch out notable characteristics.
Mind maps are a great way to visually represent—and remember—information. They allow you to sort through your thoughts and ideas quickly, and help you discover new relationships among seemingly unrelated ideas and information. The use of colours, images and keywords in mind mapping aids in enhancing your memory and retention.

4. Catch some zzz's

Getting enough sleep is so important for remembering information. Without sleep, your mind becomes murky. With enough sleep, memory can be improved by 40 percent, increasing the way you focus and learn efficiently. Sleep consolidates a memory so it can be retained quickly in the future.

5. Study with a group

If a particular theory is confusing or a certain era is overwhelming, there’s a high chance that someone in your study group will have a good grasp on it. Instead of spending valuable time puzzling over the concept, ask a friend how it connects to the bigger picture. Information is best stored when it’s understood, so don’t try cramming it in if you don’t have the big picture.

6. Chunk it

Breaking long streams of information into manageable chunks gives your short-term memory a better chance at storing it. Theoretically, we are capable of storing around 7 pieces of information in our brain at any given time.
Imagine trying to remember a 14-digit phone number. Could you remember 14 seperate pieces of information: 1-9-6-9-4-8-1-2-1-6-1-0-6-6? What if it was broken up into chunks?: 1969 (moon landing); 4,8,12,16 (multiples of four); 1066 (Battle of Hastings).

7. Wiggle your eyes

It may sound odd, but moving your eyes from left to right and from right to left is one of the easiest ways to enhance your memory before a big test. The left and right side of your brain perform different activities, and engaging both sides in your study will improve the connection between them.

8. Exercise

Swimming, running, dancing—basically any form of cardio for 30-35 minutes a day, four times a week can help to improve memory. Cardiovascular exercise enhances blood flow to the brain, increasing the secretion of the protein needed for long-term memory.

Putting the effort in

Try out the 8 techniques listed above to see how you can boost your memory ahead of exams. Remember, the more effort you put in, the better reward you’ll get. Memory can, without a doubt, be enhanced with effort. Are you willing and ready to try?
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