Revision Tips

Revision Techniques: Memory Association

Did you know that you can trick yourself into memorizing concepts? When I was in IB, I used to retype all my notes the night before the test and hope that the knowledge magically stays in my brain. While it proved to be somewhat effective, it was a lot of inefficient—and very tiring—work.

In university, I took a neuroscience class on the neural mechanisms of memory. Through these mechanisms, we can associate what we learn with certain things to remember it better. Essentially, these techniques are built on the assumption that we, as humans, are more likely to remember things that are “exceptionally base, dishonourable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable, or laughable” (from Rhetorica ad Herennium). This tells us that with training, we are able to remember things more effectively.

When studying, it is often easier to recall knowledge that you associate with extreme emotions or personal experiences. Here are some techniques that use memory association to help you retain and recall concepts! 

1. Use “weird” analogies to remember concepts

For instance, in Biology, I associated the electrochemical gradient of the resting potential with an analogy of tennis balls falling out of a basket to signify how potassium cations diffuse out of the neuron to leave behind chlorine anions, resulting in negative membrane potential. This technique is great in helping you understand complicated processes, so feel free to use simple analogies that are applicable to your own life!

2. Recall “episodes” and how you felt while learning the concepts for the first time.

Memory is often tied to a specific time or place, and remembering the instance you learnt it may help in retaining the memory long-term. For example, you might recall the instance you learnt something in history class and remember that a classmate commented something funny while learning about that concept.

3. Associate concepts with personal experiences or emotions.

Having a personal connection to the concept has been proven by many studies to help with memory recall. For instance, it is quicker for me to learn about organizational structures in Business because I am interested in entrepreneurship. Having in mind the personal applications of the material, I am able to engage more and remember better. Another example is being able to remember key themes from the Brave New World novel for English, wherein I remember being “weirded out” by the notion of hypnopaedia and Bokanovsky’s Process of cloning in the book, which in turn helped me better remember the concepts during essay-writing. 

4. Test yourself many times!

Testing yourself (especially after some time has passed) is a way to “encode”  the memory for deeper processing. In other words, it’s a way to make the concept “stick” to your memory better. The more conscious effort you take to recall the knowledge, the more likely that the memory will be stored for the future. Explaining the concept to a friend in simple terms is also a good way to process the information and retain the main points.

Given that these tricks are quite abstract, they may not be for everyone. It is important to do what works best for you! Another thing to note is that these memory association techniques are most applicable to memorization-based subjects, such as Biology. Some aspects of these—such as testing and analogies—are also applicable to subjects such as Math, but what I found most effective for those subjects is to have a full understanding of the concepts such that you can link all the steps together without getting lost. I hope these tips help with your studies! 

Here are a few links on the neurological basis of these memory association techniques:


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