Wouldn’t it be nice if we could read something once or twice and then remember it for life? The reality is that much of what we learn goes in one ear and out the other.
In fact, studies show that most people forget 50% of what they learned in the first hour, up to 70% after 24 hours. This number jumps to 90% lost from memory after 7 days, if the information is not used.
With this in mind, here are eight proven methods to help you improve study methods, enhance recall, and increase retention of information:
1. Look for opportunities to teach or share with others
Unless you’re an expert on a particular topic, you probably wouldn’t consider teaching it to others, but research shows that explaining a concept to someone else is the best way to learn it yourself.
One study in particular found that when students thought they would have to teach the material they were learning to someone else, they were not only better at choosing and organising the most important information but they also remembered it more accurately later on.
With this in mind, if you really want your learning to stick, you may want to consider looking for someone to tutor or offer to help your fellow students with their homework.
2. Relate new material to what you already know
When you’re learning something completely new, one way to help it stick in your memory is to connect it with something you have already learned. In a recent study, participants who were provided with relevant cues before listening to prose passages were better at recalling them later than those who had received no cues or contextual knowledge beforehand.
The process of assembling prior knowledge on a chosen subject makes it easier to retain new incoming information. For example, before learning about a subject like Roman history, you could spend some time writing down what you already know about the topic before you begin studying.
3. Use visual aids
When you engage more of your senses in the learning process you are better able to recall what you have learned. Research shows that visuals in particular can help us to retrieve information more easily. The study revealed that students who used visual associations to remember groups of words had significantly better recall, compared to those who had simply used repetition to commit the words to memory.
Visuals aids transmit messages faster and improve overall comprehension. For this reason, whenever possible you should try to use visual learning aids such as educational videos, infographics, photos, maps and charts to enhance your learning.
4. Put it into practice
Putting your learning into practice is a recognised method to firmly lodge the information in your mind. Each time you practise a new skill or apply some new piece of information in a practical way, neural pathways in your brain are strengthened and you’ll be less and less likely to forget what you’ve learned.
For example, if you’re studying photography, you could make an effort to get out every day with your camera and practise the techniques you’ve been reading about.
5. Make an effort to retrieve information from memory
In the modern age we have developed a dependence on technology; it’s much easier to look it up on Google than to try and remember. When we stop trying to remember, the areas of the brain responsible for memory start to get lazy, just like the muscles in your body would do if you stopped walking.
The act of trying to remember what you’ve already committed to memory forces your brain to revisit the neural pathways that were created when the memory was first formed. The more you revisit these pathways, the stronger they’ll become and the chances of you forgetting the information again in the future are slim.
6. Read out loud
A study done at the University of Waterloo found that reading a list of words out loud results in better recall than when reading the same list silently. The act of reading out loud, which combines the senses of sight and hearing, creates the memories of both reading the words and of hearing them spoken out loud.
Reading aloud takes some getting used to, but you may be surprised at how much it can speed up your revision process and improve memory.
7. Write by Hand
if you’re trying to write quickly, use a laptop, but if you want to fully understand and remember the information you’re writing down, you would be better off using a pen and notebook to take notes.
A recent study on groups of students taking notes while watching TED talks bears this out. Students who used laptops performed worse in tests on the material, even though they had been able to type more words, than those who took notes by hand.
8. Embrace your mistakes
Research shows that making mistakes while learning actually benefits memory. In one study, students who made a mistake while trying to find the right answer were better able to remember the correct answer, later on.
Your mistakes should be viewed as part of the learning process and you should not be too hard on yourself the next time you slip up. Once you get over the embarrasment of blurting out the wrong answer in front of your classmates, at least you will know that you won’t be getting that particular question wrong again.
Learning usually involves some reading and listening. If we want what we learned to stick, we need to do more than simply reading a textbook or passively listening to our teachers. Use these techniques to help cement new information in your mind and retain more information while studying.