By Muhammad Mehdi
Imagine a world without memory. Can you recall who you are? How have you come to be reading this? What’s your name? Wait, better ask Mom and Dad. Perhaps, you don’t remember your Mom and Dad either.
Pull back the strings of your imagination and acknowledge what a blessing for mankind memory is. However, both consciously and subconsciously, we already recognize its importance. Remember your mother stuffing almonds in your mouth? Or those ultra-memory-booster wazaai’f you have tried memorising all your life (so ironic still)? Remember? No? If no, then you could turn to the memory improving techniques provided in this article.
An improved memory can make an individual’s life easier and more efficient in all walks of life. Whether they are a student, teacher or someone heading to the superstore for grocery, the more functional the memory, the better. But before transitioning to the sharpening of memory, let us discover how forgetfulness occurs.
It is believed that forgetfulness occurs primarily due to the decay of information in the brain or the replacement of old information with the new one. Consequently, we are unable to retrieve the memory and say we have forgotten. A number of hacks given below, therefore, can be employed to retain information in the brain for a longer time.
In one of the techniques for memory uplifting, all you have to do is to attach a mental image with the item you want to remember, which will then serve as a retrieval clue. At times, all of us have trouble integrating a new vocabulary word in our memory store. To be spared of this difficulty and to remember the word for once and for all, you can create an image or an impression that goes with it. For example, if you encounter a word “prodigy” which means “a young person with exceptional qualities or abilities”, I can chop this word into a phrase such as “proud-ho-ji”. See? We tend to perceive exceptionally talented people as being proud and aloof and we can effectively knit this impression with the word “prodigy” by creating a mental image of a proud person young person walking pompously. Consequently, whenever you come across the word “prodigy”, the above image and impression will pop up in your mind, and you would not need to look for it in the dictionary again.
Another way to remember a list of words through imagery is a method known as “loci”. In this, first you need to bring up a location in your mind that you are highly familiar with, such as the path from your room to the kitchen. Your brain has a fixed image of all the things you come across on the way and in a discrete order. Now, you can attach each object with a word and retain the perfect sequence. If you want to remember a list of grocery items, then you can imagine a loaf of bread hanging from the door, radio playing the advertisement of your favourite cereal, eggs in places of the bulbs, and so on. Similarly, if a student wants to remember the members of group I of the periodic table, they can associate the elements with various familiar objects in the same way. On taking a mental walk, they will simply be able to recall the whole group. This method has been tested globally and is one of the favourite techniques among people to retain a list of items in memory.
Information is easier to remember if it is elaborated in terms of its meaning. This refers not only to knowing what the facts contained in it actually mean, but also being able to make connections between these facts and one’s preexisting knowledge or the aspects of one’s life. Thus, we can better remember a sentence whose meaning we know, rather than a sentence spoken in, let’s say, French. Moreover, to continue with the example given earlier, students might learn about elements better if they can make a connection between the properties of those elements and how they are used in their everyday life. The stronger and more relevant these connections are, the better we are able to retain the information.
Meaning also incorporates the idea of interest and relevance. The information we find interesting and useful is better stored in our memory than something which neither appeals to us, nor is useful. This is why students tend to perform better in the subject they declare to be their favourite, though the converse is also true at times. Thus a student having interest in Urdu poetry will automatically be keen and better able to remember the material when studying about poetry because it is meaningful to him or her.
As a matter of application, teachers can try to establish meaning of what they are teaching by making the material and presentation interesting, establishing connections between the current topic and other topics as well and students’ lives, and highlighting the practical usefulness of the information. As for you, the reader, you are more likely to remember the contents of this article if you try to connect this information with your own experience.
Research has proved that information can be recalled more effectively if it is organized at the time of storage, even when parts of that information might be unrelated to each other. There are many ways to organize the material to be learned. One of them involves thematically arranging the material into sections, subsections and categories. A large amount of information such as that in a chapter in a course book or, let’s say, the information in this article can be stored in the mind for a greater period if it is organized thematically. Thus, all the headings and subheadings must be noted and a mental map for them should be created. One step further will be to create a hierarchical tree like an organogram to note the headings and subheadings. This lets you navigate more efficiently through the information and the chances of retrieval increase. [DIAGRAM]
Another method of organization involves the use of mnemonics, which are techniques enhancing our ability to learn information. Introducing an acronym for a list of words or introducing a phrase containing the first letters of the learning items are examples of mnemonics. Who can forget the universally adopted mnemonic, “Some People Have Curly Brown Hair Till Painted Black”, we all have grown up with in trying to cope with trigonometry. Yes, you were using a memory technique without having a clue. Another common mnemonic is “VIBGYOR” which you might have used to remember the colours in a rainbow. Yet another mnemonic technique is to introduce a story or a little fable to include the items you want to remember. Again, suppose your grocery list contains carrots, eggs, a hammer and tissue papers. With this list, you might form the following story in your mind, “The CARROTMAN smashed all the EGGS with the HAMMER and removed the evidence by wiping with a TISSUE PAPER”. Congratulations, you are about to return home accomplished!
A final method to improve memory is practising recall of the information shortly after it’s stored. When reading a text, for example, try asking questions from yourself with respect to why and what you have learnt in the last paragraph or the last page. Research has shown that practising retrieval in one round of reading is better than reading the text again and again so as to grasp it stronger than the last go. This practice can also be done between friends who can also ask questions from each other. Besides, such questions not only improve the recalling of facts but can also improve students understanding of the content as a result of discussion with their peers.
A note to teachers
A natural challenge teachers have to face is to deal with the issue of information retention by their students. I personally believe that teachers’ talent is exhibited in their success of making their students retain the relevant information for longer than usual. Many a times, it comes as a shock to the teachers when they learn that their pupil had been unable to write in the exam an answer that they had been rehearsing so well and repeatedly in the class. Thus, I hope that passionate teachers will utilize the above discussed techniques in not only their own teaching, but will also make their students practice them, ultimately enhancing their learning skills.
Muhammad Mehdi is an undergraduate student at the University of Karachi.