We've all been there—the exam is coming up, and we've been studying, but for whatever reason, the material just isn't sticking. We read it over and recognize it but then when we try to recall it later without any cues, we can't. The following will explore a few of the things that you can do while studying or in your daily life more broadly to improve your memory, and therefore, make studying easier.
Mnemonic devices are excellent tools to use when you're working on memorizing a long list of information. The process involves making an association with the thing you're trying to learn and something else. It can be as simple as a rhyme or as complex as an entire mansion that you can walk through in your mind where each room and piece of furniture has a specific association to one of the things you need to learn.
Let's Talk About Food
You knew this one was coming, didn't you? The food you eat is broken down by your body, transported throughout your entire being via blood, and is what keeps your brain functioning. You want to pay special attention to limiting your sugar intake (this includes simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and rice as these become sugar really quickly in your body, and so your brain reacts like they're sugar).
You also want to focus on increasing your intake of healthy fats from sources like nuts (but not peanuts—that's a whole other can of worms we don't want to get into today), seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish (if that fish is smaller and comes from a clean source—mercury isn't going to help your memory any and finding high-quality fish requires lots of research). Omega fatty acids are where it's at when it comes to memory. They also do wonders for your mood, and feeling good and calm can only help with your study session.
Not only will these food tips help you day-to-day remember more of the things you're studying, but they'll also help protect your brain long-term by reducing your risk of brain degeneration, dementia, and Alzheimer's. For a bonus anti-Alzheimer's step, stop cooking with aluminum, and yes, this includes wrapping food in foil. That's really bad for your brain.
Subject Specific Tools
Depending on the subject you're studying, you might want to have a search for tools that can help. If, for instance, you're working on improving your vocabulary or understanding of words for linguistic reasons, you might want to take a look at something like unscramble.org, and you'll be surprised how many tools there are available if you start looking. Let's say you're practicing a new language; there's a high chance someone on the internet has made digital flashcards to help you with the 100 most common words.
Hydration Helps Everything, Even Your Memory
Your brain, just like every other part of your being, needs water to function. One of the fastest ways to combat brain fog and boost your memory is by drinking enough water. Many of us have been chronically dehydrated all our lives, so we don't understand what hydration feels like. Our bodies might even have coped with this by making us crave really unhealthy foods just because it knows it will get a bit of water through the food. Many people who begin drinking the right amount of water are shocked by how their food preferences change, how many fewer headaches they get, how much better they sleep, and how much clearer their mind works. It's hard for our brain to function optimally without the right amount of water—it might even be impossible.
Revisit Material Across Several Days
Studies show that our brains have a preference for remembering material that comes up frequently. This means that your mind is more likely to prioritize memorizing something like the route your walk to work instead of the route you need to take in that one hectic mall once per year when you buy your Aunt those chocolates she really likes. When it comes to studying, you can work with this by revisiting the material you need to remember each day for several days. Even five minutes of rereading something each day for a few days can help.
The Tough One: Sleep
We all know we need to be getting more sleep. As the years pass, humans are getting less and less sleep. Back in 1910, the average hours of sleep per night for Americans was nine. That's right. Nine hours of sleep a night. That might sound crazy to us today given how demanding our work and school lives are, not to mention how most of us come home and pick up our side hustles and work until foolish o'clock and then don't want to go to bed because we need at least an hour with our loved ones or doing something pleasant like watching a television show episode.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for being alert and focused during study sessions, as well as helping us move our daily experiences and what we learned into long-term memories. If you can't bring yourself to make the time for sleep because you have so much to study, consider the Canadian lumberjack tale:
There were two lumberjacks who wanted to figure out which among them was greater. They decided a fair test would be to see who could cut down more trees in a single day. One lumberjack worked tirelessly from dawn until sunset, and as he did, he noticed the other lumberjack leaving the woods and staying away for a while every so often. He thought to himself: "I'm certainly going to win because he keeps taking breaks."
At the end of the day, they compared their work, and the lumberjack that kept leaving the woods had more trees than the one who worked straight.
The first lumberjack said, "How can this be? I saw you taking breaks, six or seven of them at least. How did you cut down more trees than me?"
The second lumberjack said, "I wasn't taking breaks; I was sharpening my ax."
When it comes to studying and memory, sleep is sharpening your ax.
The above tips should help you set yourself up for some effective studying. Material that has been embedded in your memory can mean that the things you're learning will stay in your mind not just for the upcoming exam but for next year's classes, the workplace, or random dinner parties ten years in the future.