Making Memories and “Rathers” for Retention

Rather do this to boost your memory and retention when studying

Making Memories and “Rathers” for Retention

No matter how well you have done academically thus far, chances are that your memory has occasionally failed you. Recent surveys revealed that many students waste their time on ineffective methods of learning, rather than using these tried-and-tested methods.


The most common method of learning new terminology is to read the words and their meanings over and over until they stick. Regrettably, studies have shown that it is too passive and most of the material does not leave an impression.

Rather: Space your reading

Passive rereading is possibly the least effective study technique, but it may be inevitable when you feel like you lack a basic understanding of the concepts. By returning to the material at regular intervals - for example, read a chapter, move on to something else, and then re-read it after an hour, a day, or a week – you help to stimulate your memory.

Take it up a notch by questioning your understanding before you return to the material, which helps tune your attention on the bits you do and don’t know and increases your mental engagement.

Underlining and Highlighting

Stabilo, Bic, and co. might not like this advice, but highlighting mindlessly is as useless as passive rereading. While underlining key words and phrases and identifying the most important passages makes sense to help you engage more with the information; marking without insight does not.

Rather: Be discerning

Start by planning your reasons for highlighting, as described in the video below:

Psychologists have noted that it is best to think more carefully about each point and its relative importance in the overall argument by reading through the text once before re-reading with your highlighters on hand. This fosters active processing that is essential for the formation of stronger memories.

Take Note

Frenzied note-taking is an image often associated with lectures and libraries. But as with underlining and highlighting, thoughtless inclusion of all material can let you down.

Rather: Stick to the brief

Scientific evidence suggests that the fewer words you use to convey an idea in your notes, the more likely you are to remember it afterwards. This is probably because creating summaries and paraphrasing force you to think deeply about the nub of the idea you are trying to express – and that additional effort cements it in your memory. These findings may also explain why it is better to take notes with a pen and paper, rather than using a laptop: writing by hand is slower than typing and forces you to be more concise in what you note down.

Flash Cards

Officially called “retrieval practice” by psychologists, self-testing is a particularly reliable system for learning specific, detailed facts. This method certainly boosts your memory, but beware of its shortfalls.

Rather: Know thyself

Experiments have found that that the more confident people felt about their learning of a fact, the less likely they were to recall it later. This is important to bear in mind when studying with flashcards, as you do not want to ‘drop’ the card before it is cemented in your memory. Instead, it makes more sense to continue testing long after you think you know the word.

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