So many people have said to me, “I have a terrible memory – I just can’t remember anything!” The truth of the matter is that most folks have a fine memory – it’s their attention that is often lacking. We must attend to what we wish to memorize prior to actually memorizing it, and so consciously focusing on our subject of interest is always the first step in memorizing material.
Be sure to study at a time and in a place that is not only conducive to ingesting relevant information, be aware that we can actually remember seven (7) plus or minus two (2) bits of information at a time. “Tricking” your mind by chunking info can go a long way in transferring data from short-term to long-term. Think about the difference between trying to remember “2-5-8-3-9-7-5-8-2” as opposed to chunking the numbers “258”-“397”-“582” as you would typically do with a telephone number-much more effective when your brain thinks of this as only three bits rather than nine.
Rote rehearsal is ineffective. One of the oldest mnemonic (“memory”) techniques known to mankind, however, is the Method of Loci system in which you use imaginary locations of a familiar place as a framework for information retrieval. Simply stroll down memory lane, in your minds’ eye, by storing important facts in visual locations. Whether it’s your body, such as imagining each fact being written on each of your toes; or actually constructing a home in your mind and “seeing” the facts along places in the hallway, the bedroom, the kitchen, etc., this technique can be very useful. It’s amazing how specific details come to you as you “visit” the various locations in your mind. Memory for this typically involves implicit memory-one does not have to make a conscious effort to remember locations-it just happens.
We tend to pay attention and recall events, facts or data that incorporate action and connection of some sort. The imagination is virtually limitless-so don’t hesitate to use it! Construct a chain of related events that could only exist in your wild mind. Do you realize, for example, how easy it is to memorize and recall a series of, say, fifty (50) totally unrelated words simply by constructing bizarre, colorful, totally outlandish scenarios and connections from one to the other? Imagining the words “latex, syringe, stethoscope” as A BRIGHT ORANGE LATEX BUNNY ATTACKING A HUGE PULSATING GREEN SYRINGE THAT VOMITS A STETHOSCOPE; seriously we don’t pay attention to the mundane – it’s outlandish, unusual, dangerous, provocative stuff that makes it into our memory processing system.
The peg system is allied with this but a little more advanced. One pre-memorizes a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent. The objects you choose form the “pegs” of the system; for example: 1-arrow; 2-door; 3-shoe, etc. Visualize the first item being shot like an arrow, the second coming through a door, the third being placed in a shoe. Long lists come easy when you use pegs and it works great! There are many other techniques and systems one can use to enhance the memory process; these simple and effective strategies have proven quite effective. There is no substitute, however, for time, interest…and maybe a little coffee. Don’t CRAM, because regular, planned-out and limited study sessions are the only way to hold on to the data you need for med school!
HSpecial thanks to Dr. Bob DeYoung, who was a licensed Forensic Psychologist for 16 years who now has a part-time counseling practice. As an expert witness on many occasions he was called upon to not only provide testimony, but to critique that of others. He was also consulted to provide Forensic Hypnosis in situations where witnesses repressed facts potentially relevant to crucial cases.