If only memorizing material for a prelim, recalling where you left your keys, or remembering the name of last night’s date were easier. There are certainly ways to help improve one’s memory. Memory is simply the mental ability to store, retain or recall information, and understanding the way it works is key to making it sharper.
Memory is composed of three main stages: encoding (the receiving, processing and combining of received information), storage (the creation of a permanent record of encoding) and retrieval (the recalling of stored information in response to a cue). Each part plays a role in what is commonly associated with both short-term and long-term memory. Short-term memory lasts several seconds to a minute (when the storage phase is almost nonexistent) on a near subconscious level. Long-term memory, when the storage phase is sharpened, can last a lifetime.
While it is almost impossible to prove, studies have yet to demonstrate a limit on the capacity of the brain to store long-term information.
So what impacts whether the new biology lecture we just semi-slept through becomes part of our short-term or long-term memory? It all boils down to the manner in which we encoded and then stored the information. Several studies have shown tips for memorizing material that incorporate as many senses as possible (visual, audio and even sensory) in studying an item or subject. Organizing the information received through note-taking and then developing pneumonic devices, such as acronyms, is one of the most helpful ways to build memory. As author Thomas Crook points out in his book Memory Cure, concentrating on a single piece of information for eight seconds is the minimum time required to transfer something from short-term to long-term memory.
If you’re finding yourself struggling to remember, you may want to invest in long-term habits that have, for the most part, been shown to improve memory over the years — some of which may surprise you. A UCLA study recently verified what many have believed to be true: a healthy lifestyle with sufficient exercise and sleep (when the brain subconsciously replays past events to form memories) is the best way to increase one’s memory. But additional revelations have suggested modifications to one’s diet can significantly augment that person’s ability to remember. Eating fish or foods with Omega-3 oils along with a diet sufficient in Vitamin B can improve memory. Surprising German studies showed individuals who cut their daily calorie intake by as much as 30 percent performed better on memorization tests over the course of three months. And a recent French study brought new support to tests that have shown light to moderate drinking (no more than two glasses of wine a day) reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 45 percent and improve overall memory.
The best advice for next week’s prelim may just be to eat, sleep and drink responsibly.