Tag Archives: memory

Everything I know about learning I learned in kindergarten*

  1. Nap time is good for us. Sleep plenty at night and take a nap during the day if you need it. The average person needs about 8 hours per night, but some need more and some need less. Stress in your life–physical, mental, or emotional–will often increase your need for sleep (though it may make sleep more difficult). If possible try to go to sleep at the same time each night and allow your body to wake up on its own.
  2. Recess is everyone’s favorite subject. Exercising your body exercises your brain. Check out the research. Regular physical exercise makes your brain work better. Not only should you work up a sweat four or five times a week, get your blood flowing regularly during each study session. Get up and walk around the block or shoot some hoops every 45 minutes or so when studying. You’ll really be able to see a difference in how well your brain is working.
  3. Work a little, play a little. Small, regular study sessions are best; much better than study marathons. In general, studying an hour every day is much better than studying for seven hours once a week. Similarly, studying for thirty minutes twice a day is better than studying for an hour once a day. The more you live with the information the more likely it will be available when you need it.
  4. It’s easy to learn someone’s name if you see them every day. Regular review is the key to transferring information from your short term memory to your long term memory. For example, study for thirty minutes and take a five minute break. After the break, review what you just studied and then add new information. Similarly, begin today’s study session with a brief review of what you studied yesterday.
  5. Playing with finger paints can teach you a lot about what colors mix well. Not many kindergartners memorize “blue + yellow makes green,” yet most of them know it. Work with the information you’re trying to learn, and you will recall it much more easily than if you spent an equal amount of time simply rehearsing the information. In one psychology study subjects who organized a random list of words into categories did better at recalling the words than subjects who were specifically instructed to memorize the list.
  6. To learn to read, you practice reading. Kindergartners don’t memorize lists of rules and listen to lectures on how to read. Study with the end in mind. How will you be asked for the information? Will it be an essay test, a multiple choice test, an oral exam, a live scenario? When possible, test your recall of the information using the same format with which the professor will test you or in the same manner you will use the information in real life.
  7. Bean plants don’t grow very well if you forget to water them; all plants need water. Use metaphors and examples to grasp concepts. For example, if you are trying to learn how amps, resistance, and watts relate to electricity, relate the electrical concepts to the flow of water through pipes. Amperage is a measure of current, that is, the amount of electricity that flows through a given material in a given time. It’s like measuring how much water flows through a pipe in a given time. No metaphor is perfect so come up with several different metaphors for the same concept. How is each different? Where does the metaphor break down?
  8. Making cookies from scratch is a good way to learn about how to follow directions. When learning, get as many senses involved as possible. Everyone learns using some combination of their senses. The average classroom lecture might involve sight and sound as the prof lectures and writes notes on the board. But when going over the classroom notes, don’t limit yourself to sight and sound. A friend of mine studying art history would sit in a different room of her house while studying paintings from different periods. Then on the test she would recall what room she was sitting in while looking at a particular painting. “Let’s see, I was sitting in the kitchen, so this painting is post-modern.” Similarly, building models of molecules makes learning the difference between hexane and benzene hard to forget. Or how about snacking on a different type of food or burning a different scented candle while learning different items. “So was Descarte a 16th or 17th century philosopher? Ummm…cinnamon candle…must be 17th.”
  9. Every morning the teacher tells us what we’ll be doing that day. Set goals. Setting both short and long-term goals gives direction to your studying and lets you measure your progress. A long term goal might be something like getting accepted to Cornell Vet School by August of 2010. Scoring at least a 720 on the math section of the GRE would be a goal that might help you achieve that. Your short term goal for the day’s study session might be to do a single, thirty-minute, practice section of GRE math.
  10. Being able to sing the alphabet song isn’t the same as being able to spell. Aim to understand, not simply to recall. If you understand, recall usually takes care of itself, but recall doesn’t necessarily give you understanding. For example, understanding how prevailing wind direction and mountain ranges interact to cause rainforests and deserts allows you to make predictions about climate in locations all over the globe. Memorizing the average rainfall in the Gobi Desert and in Nepal is less useful in that regard.

*Apologies to Robert Fulghum, and thank you, Mrs. Hudson.

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Study Less for Better Grades


There’s only so much you can eat at one time. Gorge yourself and you’ll end up tossing your proverbial cookies. Psychology research shows that your brain works similarly. Try to shove in too much new info at one sitting and you’ll get brain barf. Well, not barf exactly, but your noggin will not thank you for it. In fact, you’ll end up interfering with your ability to recall the first info you studied. Here’s how you can fix it, while studying less and remembering more!

  1. Set a timer (watch, cell phone, sun dial, online stopwatch, whatever) for thirty minutes and study. When the timer sounds, finish up the thought/idea you were studying, then …
  2. Take a five minute break and Continue reading Study Less for Better Grades

You study TOO MUCH…


…at least when it comes to reviewing info you want to recall, like your class notes on the Kreb Cycle or the Quadratic Formula. If you catch yourself going over the same notes again and again, trying to wedge it into your gray matter, there is a better way. Oodles (no, really, OOODLES) of good research to show that mnemonics (memory strategies) can increase your recall. That means less review for you (see this article for a run down of the research).

And using mnemonic techniques doesn’t require that you have thick glasses, a lack of fashion sense, and a passion for Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, the article linked above begins with an account of how mnemonics were used to beef up recall among Continue reading You study TOO MUCH…

High School Ain’t College


[hidepost]Previous high school experience tells students…

  • there’s always a second chance
  • someone will remind you of upcoming due dates
  • the teacher can’t give the whole class failing grades
  • the student will be told exactly what’s on the test
  • very few tests are cumulative, so short term memory is usually sufficient (if your smart and pay attention, good grades are easy)
  • paying adequate attention in class is usually good enough; outside studying is not required
  • tests are relatively easy and fair
  • tests are designed so that even the lower-achieving students can potentially pass
  • there are many grades during the semester, so a few screw-ups are okay
  • each question on the test will have been addressed many times, both in class and in the reading
  • most of the required knowledge comes from class and one or two texts, not mostly from many different texts
  • long, boring lectures are the exception
  • teachers will work hard to make sure students understand what is being taught
  • teachers know how to teach, most of the time
  • teachers care about student progress, most of the time
  • someone will help students identify which classes need to be taken and when
  • someone other than the student is responsible for the student’s learning

For these reasons, students fail to understand …

  • how difficult college can be
  • how little oversight there is
  • the implications of this lack of oversight
  • the implications of their new personal freedom and the necessity for self-control and good habits
  • the real nature of the problem (it’s no longer an issue of how smart you are, but of how how much you practice good habits)[/hidepost]

Flash Cards for Vocabulary Memorization


flash cards for memoryFlash Card Do’s

  • Do use flashcards in three different colors. Positive words–such as benign , sagacious, and staunch–could go on green, blue, or mauve 3×5 cards. Negative words–such as mendacious , stultify, and malevolent–might go on red, yellow, or puce 3×5 cards. Neutral words–like rebuttal , soporific, and nominal–could go on white, tan, or taupe cards. The colors don’t really matter as long as you are consistent. If you do choose to use mauve, puce, and taupe, I would diagnose you as excessively high-falutin’ and respectfully recommend a monster truck rally and two full episodes of Family Guy.
  • Do carry the cards around with you and review them whenever you have a chance; at the stoplight, before class, waiting on your girlfriend, in the line at the grocery store or the bank, waiting on your girlfriend, on long trips, walking across campus, or even while waiting on your girlfriend. Note to the fair sex; I mean no offense, but I’ve never had a boyfriend, and so I’ve never had to wait on one. I’m quite aware of the fact that the inferior must wait on the superior. Peons wait on princesses (princessi?) and not vice-versa.

Flash Card Don’ts

  • Don’t put too much on any one card. The purpose of using 3×5 cards is not to perfect your microfiche-ian penmanship. Go for the word on one side of the card and a short two or three word definition on the other side. For example, you might have the word “mephitic” on one side and the definition “stinky” on the other. The biggest mistake people make–besides posting their drunk pics on facebook–is putting too much information on a single flash card. One card equals one fact.
  • Don’t recall only the short definition!!! Before boiling it down to a short two or three word definition, you must look up the full definition of the word, making sure you completely understand it and can use it in a sentence. The short definition will act as a handle on the memory of the longer definition, but only if you learned the long definition first.
  • Don’t fail to review the flash cards on a regular basis. Make reviewing the cards a daily habit just like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or waiting on your girlfriend (hand and foot … because she’s a princess).
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Group your vocabulary for better recall…


When learning vocabulary, get more bang for your buck by looking at synonyms at www.dictionary.com or sister site www.thesaurus.com. For example, when studying a word such as garrulous, you can also memorize verbose, prolix, loquacious, and voluble, all of which mean talkative, more or less.

As you go through them pay special attention to how they differ; prolix, for example, has the idea of tediously long-winded, while garrulous refers more to going on and on about relatively trivial matters. By grouping all these words together you establish a category and make all the words more memorable.