Using Psychology to Improve Long-Term Memory

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  • 1:20 Mnemonic Devices
  • 1:52 Acronyms
  • 2:20 Self-Referencing
  • 3:01 Rehearsal
  • 4:01 Spaced Repetition
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Polly Peterson
What are some tips for improving your memory? This memorable lesson on memory covers self-referencing, mnemonic devices, spaced repetition and rehearsal. You won't want to cram for exams once you learn these better ways to improve your long-term memory!

Have you ever wished you had a photographic memory? Wouldn't it be great to be able to take a mental picture of everything around you as if you were taking a photo with your camera? Then you could pull out the mental photo whenever you needed to remember a detail of a particular thing or event.

While having a truly photographic memory is rare, you'll be happy to know that it's possible to train yourself to organize and retrieve information in your mind. There are many ways to improve your long-term memory. Let's test some out now. There are lots of techniques, so see which one works best for you.

Let's start with a trick to remember how many days there are in any month. You may have heard the rhyme:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June and November;

All the rest have 31,

Excepting February alone:

Which has 28 days clear,

And 29 in each leap year.

Or, maybe you learned to make two fists and associate your knuckles with the 31-day months and the dips between your knuckles as the 30-day months and February.

Both of these methods are mnemonic devices, or associations that help you remember how many days are in each month. The rhyme is a verbal mnemonic and your knuckles are a visual mnemonic. Verbal mnemonics can be songs or poems, too. Think about how you can remember the lyrics to your favorite song quicker than memorizing new vocabulary. Next time, try making up a song with those vocabulary words to your favorite tune and see if it sticks.

Another technique for remembering things is to create acronyms or first-letter mnemonics in which each letter stands for something. For example, if you were trying to find a way to remember the names of the Great Lakes, you could use the acronym HOMES, which stands for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Or, if you're learning to read sheet music, you might have used the acronym FACE to remember the series of notes in the treble clef.

You'll often remember something better when you can associate it with yourself. Self-referencing is a way of relating information to yourself. Let's say I'm trying to remember a date for history class. It's easier to call to mind if I remember that it's twenty years before I was born, than if I try to remember the date on its own, without any reference point. Likewise, it will be easier to remember a new term, like 'autobiographical memory,' if I think about how it describes the way I recall experiences from my own life.

So you see, there are multiple techniques that can help you to learn and remember information. Sometimes sheer repetition, or rehearsal, is the most effective way to memorize information. When you rehearse information, you repeat it, out loud or in your head, to keep from forgetting it. For example, when you meet someone for the first time, if you say their name a few times during your initial conversation, it can help you remember it the next time you run into them. The rehearsal technique keeps material in your working short-term memory long enough so that it can be transferred to your long-term memory.

How could you apply this to, say, studying for an exam? It's not the best idea to cram the night before, because the greatest memory loss occurs within the first half hour to hour after you've learned something, then evens out after about a day. The next morning, you might find yourself right in the middle of that rapid memory loss during the exam! Of course, it's best not only to learn in advance, but also to repeat what you've learned.

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