12 Great Memory Strategies For Better Grades

By: Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D. And Alvin J. Silbert, Ed.D.

Have you ever noticed that some things are easy for you to remember while others are difficult? For example, you may be able to remember how to put an engine together, or why it rains, but you may have trouble remembering the lines to a school play or multiplication facts.

You'll be relieved to know that there's nothing wrong with you; this happens to everyone. The good news is that there are strategies that can help you remember what you need to remember.

12 Great Memory Strategies For Better Grades
These twelve strategies are called mnemonic ('ni mon ik') devices. They are effective as they have been helping students for years, not only on homework and tests, and continue to be valuable in their daily lives.

It is easier to memorize information when you break it up into small chunks. This is called chunking. We use chunking when we memorize telephone number, a locker combination, or social security number. It's easier to remember long numbers when you 'chunk' them into groups of threes, fours and fives. That's because most people can only remember about three, four or five bits of information at a time. How to use 'chunking' to remember;

  • Chunk vocabulary words by grouping them by parts of speech or other attributes.
  • Chunk history by time periods or events.
  • Chunk foreign language by grouping words into categories like household items or occupations.
  • If there is no pattern to the information you need to study, just group the items into three, four or five at a time, and that will help a lot.

Before you begin trying to memorize something, try to understand it. A good way to do this is by making a connection between what you are learning and what you have experienced.

  • For example, before attempting to memorize events of European history, find the places on a globe (or world map) and see where they are relative to one another and also relative to where you live.

These tools help you see things you are trying to learn. They help organize information. There are many different types of graphic organizers. You can even design them yourself.

  • the Venn Diagram for comparing and contrasting or a Web for the main topic and details
  • the Cause and Effect Design with the event in the middle box, the causes listed in the left boxes and the effects listed in the right boxes. (The effects and the causes are connected to the event by lines.)
  • the Cycle Organizer consists of shapes drawn in a cyclic pattern with words in each shape to represent things or events that go in cycles. For example, the water cycle.

To visualize means to see an image in your head without actually looking at it. Visualization can help you learn almost anything.

Here is an example.

Let's say the topic is the water cycle. Create a mental image of a cloud. Picture it growing. Now see, and 'feel' its heavy cold rain. See the rain hitting the ground, then flowing toward streams and rivers toward the ocean. Now 'see' the hot sun hitting and evaporating the water and forming clouds…. Get the picture? If you can visualize parts of the water cycle, the boring diagram becomes meaningful and remember-able. In general, if you have trouble visualizing material, try drawing maps, charts, graphs, or pictures.

Another learning strategy is to associate, or 'connect,' each word or event with a person, place, thing, feeling, or situation. For example, you may connect what you are trying to learn with someone you know, or with a movie character or scene.

  • For example, 'My altruistic Aunt Alice gives great gifts.' (Altruistic means generous.)

We all used rhyming in the ABC song to learn the alphabet. And the rhyme 'I before E, except after C, or when it sounds like A as in neighbor or weigh.' This is also a great strategy even when learning the times tables. For example, 7 and 7 went down the line to capture number 49; 8 and 4 made some stew and gave it to 32. (Rhymes don't have to make sense!)

This strategy is easy and fun to use. Just talk about the information you have to learn.

  • If you want to learn history, then talk history.
    Discuss, debate, argue. Think of a person who may have lived during a major historical event and pretend to be that person. Now talk about the important events: who was involved, when it happened, where it took place, what happened, and why?
  • If you want to learn a language, then speak it at the dinner table. It doesn't matter if others know what you are saying; you do, so you'll learn.

Storytelling is a great way to help you remember information in any subject. Write a story by focusing on the key points of what you're learning and arranging them in a logical sequence. It can even be a song or rhyme that tells the story. And there's a bonus: each event in the story triggers your memory of the next event, so you'll remember even more.

Do you remember learning the silly sentence 'Every good boy does fine' from music class? or 'My Very Excellent Mom Just Served Us Nine Pizzas' to remember the planets.

  • This strategy can even help us learn those extra troublesome spelling words. So, to learn 'aardvark,' you may make up a nonsense sentence like: Aardvarks Always Run Down Very Angry Rowdy Kids.

An acronym is a word made up from the first letters of a list of words. You take the list of words or facts that you want to remember and put them in an order so that the first letters of each word, or the first syllables, spell a real word or a made-up word.

How do you memorize the names of the five Great Lakes?

  • Easy, just remember 'HOMES.
    H=Huron, O=Ontario, M=Michigan, E=Erie, and S=Superior.

    While this strategy won't help you understand the information, it at least helps you to memorize it and probably remember the information forever. 

When you want to remember information, you have to practice it, or else it fades. So, just as actors need to rehearse in order to remember their lines, students need to rehearse to remember what they are learning. Here are some helpful hints on 'rehearsing'

  • Rehearse for short practice periods (perhaps 30 to 60 minutes) and then take a short ten-minute break to call a friend, have a snack, or shoot some hoops.
  • Use a multisensory approach every time you rehearse: say it, write it, read it, draw it, sing it – do whatever it takes.
  • Just before going to sleep, review everything you will need to know for the next day or for the upcoming test. It's amazing how much more you'll remember if you rehearse the night before.
  • Review in the morning while brushing your teeth, eating breakfast or sitting on the bus.

Playing games is a great way to memorize information. You see, as you play the game you are learning the material and practicing it over and over again. Games can help you remember facts, formulas, definitions, events or any other information you're trying to learn. Here is an example.

Although, this article is written from a student's perspective as this will make it easier for them. These strategies are just as helpful for adults, because we all need a little help remembering new things.


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