MEMORIZATION: Make memorization easier

Cartoon of a frog teaching a class of frogs

A good memory is a real asset. It is important to understand how your memory works so you can train it. Everyone has a memory, but few people know how to use it well. Here are some tips for improving your memory.

Your brain sorts information as your senses convey it. This information is filed in a part of your brain called your short-term memory, or working memory. If you want to remember information for a long time (like when you are preparing for an exam), the information has to move from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.

For this to happen, the information has to be: 

  • well understood
  • linked to information you already understand
  • repeated to your brain (Reading aloud enables you to use two senses: sight and hearing. Writing also uses two senses: sight and touch. Information repeated this way has two pathways to your brain.)
  • used as often as possible. (Your memory does not forget information, but it needs frequent reminders about the information it contains in order to retrieve it easily.)

Write, link, see

Here are three ways of handling information to place it in your long-term memory. For example, remembering an author’s name will be easier if you:

  • write the name down;
  • link the author to a literary trend, school or style; and
  • see the name in your reading material and visualize it.

Using your short-term memory effectively

Your short-term memory can store a small amount of information for a short period of time before transferring it to your long-term memory or losing it. Consequently, it is very important to avoid mental passivity.

Mental passivity occurs when you are not making an effort to understand, link and repeat the information given in class. Unfortunately, this is often what happens in classes where there is little student-professor interaction.

A good learning situation helps you process the information you need to remember and, thus, think more clearly about it. It also helps you organize, reformulate and experiment with the information you receive in class. If you process information this way, you will be able to reuse it as necessary.

What you can do

1.       Listen actively;

  • Review and silently repeat the professor’s explanations.
  • Associate what the professor says with what you already know.
  • Go over the professor’s key words.
  • Take notes that can be easily re-read.

2.       Select information to memorize;

  • Identify the main ideas and stay focused on them.
  • Highlight or underline the important information.
  • Add key words in the margins of the page.
  • Write a short summary in your own words.
  • Create your own tables, graphs and diagrams.

3.       When you are preparing for exams, organize information into units;

  • Create a summary that reduces the number of pages to be studied.
  • Use visual representations such as tables, graphs and diagrams.

4.       Use appropriate memorization techniques;

  • Use concrete and personal examples to help retain abstract concepts.
  • Repeat a list of dates in and out of order.
  • Write a summary in your own words to help understand the content of a long text.
  • Make associations to real-life situations to help give a personal slant to the knowledge.
  • Formulate your own questions.

5.       Learn from general to specific;

  • Skim through the information you need to learn before getting into the details.
  • Understand the essence of what you are learning by understanding the main ideas and making links between them.

6.       Use more than one of your senses;

  • Read aloud: read the key elements in the text aloud or talk about them with someone.
  • Read and write: create a summary or a table.
  • Read and do: apply different elements of the text.

7.       Visualize the information;

  • Create mental images and associations that are personal.
  • Imagine yourself performing a task by visualizing the context as precisely as possible.

8.       Use mnemonic devices (mental associations);

  • Use different colours for your notes.
  • Create your own acronyms or acrostics.
  • Sing the information to the tune of a popular song.

* The best way to achieve an efficient short-term memory is to train it. Use daily chores such as memorizing your grocery list or friends’ phone numbers to keep your mind active. Be confident in your abilities!

* Your short-term memory is capable of storing 5 to 9 pieces of information for a short period of time. To retain more information for a longer period, you will need your long-term memory.

Make better use of your long-term memory

To transfer information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory, you need to:

  • Stay focused
  • Take good notes in class
  • Review your notes after class
  • Re-read your notes regularly between classes
  • Reuse memorized information as often as possible

Know your learning style

To memorize things well, you have to know yourself. The senses you use best will help you keep information in your memory. People can be visual, auditory or tactile/ kinesthetic learners.


“Memorization.” University of Ottawa. <>

Is your memory still playing tricks on you? Stop by the Mentoring Center (Simard Hall, room 125B). We can help you improve your memory by suggesting tips and techniques that are sure to work!

You can also sign up for one of our free workshops.


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