Improving Memory Retention

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A person's memory is what stores, or retains information that is seen, heard, learned, or otherwise experienced. The ability to recall and use that information is also courtesy of one's memory. There are different types of memory that retain information in different ways. The two main types of an individual personís memory are short term and long term memory. Short-term memory is responsible for remembering things for very brief periods of time, and is often referred to as working memory. Short-term memory tends to decrease as a person ages, but it can be affected by other factors. Long-term memory is in charge of retention of conscious memories, like specific events or information about the world. This type of memory lasts from minutes to the length of a person's life.

Information that a person must recall for a test is courtesy of his or her long-term memory, but this process starts with the short-term memory. There are times when students may feel that they are having more difficulty retaining information. This can be the result of any number of factors, and just as previously mentioned memory is influenced by many things. Fortunately there are learning habits that can be developed to improve memory, such as using mnemonic devices, repetition and practice tests. Improving overall brain function can also make a big impact on memory. Some physical factors that can be adjusted are nutrition, exercise and sleep habits.


A student who wants to improve memory retention should start with his or her diet. People should include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, calcium, and vitamins B12, B6, and thiamine to their diets. Examples include foods such as vegetables that are green and leafy, colorful fruits such as blueberries, dairy products, fish, poultry and lean meats. Saturated fats, sugary drinks and snacks, and high calorie foods should be limited or avoided. Eating three meals a day, and having breakfast in the morning make a big difference in mental performance.


The importance of exercise for one's physical health is common knowledge, but what might not be so commonly known is that it is also crucial for one's memory function. Researchers believe that it helps improve memory in several ways. Exercise increases oxygen to the brain, which can affect a person's ability to concentrate. It also reduces the risk of developing certain conditions long term that may affect memory, such diabetes, stroke, or high blood pressure. Most students should attempt to get at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise several times a week.


A good nightís sleep allows the brain to process the day's information. This is an important part of memory formation and retention. During sleep our bodies restock neurotransmitters which allow us to properly focus and form mental connections. Sleep is also the time that memory is consolidated. When a person misses sleep or does not get adequate amounts of rest, these important steps do not occur. As a result, focus and learning become more difficult.

Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonics are techniques that help students remember and recall information. They work on the basic premise of word associations. There are a couple of types of mnemonic devices that one can use. Some examples of mnemonic devices are: the method of loci, chunking, acrostic, acronyms, and visual images. The loci method works by imagining important facts or items in certain familiar locations in the home or room. Chunking allows a person to break large groups of words or numbers into groups or chunks that are smaller and easier to remember. The acrostic technique involves making up a sentence using the first letter of words that are being memorized. An acronym uses the first letters of words that need to be remembered, to create a new word. Visual images help people memorize words by associating them with a visual image.

Repetition and Rhyming Methods

Repetition is a method in which a person memorizes what is being taught by repeating it out loud. Repeating information regularly is a great way to cement the information. The human brain is excellent at recognizing patterns. If facts come up multiple times, the brain recognizes it as something that has more importance than facts visited only once. To build on the concept of repetition, another method is called spaced repetition. Spaced repetition requires a person to repeat what is being learned over increasing spans of time. Rhyme is also useful in memory retention and it is often considered a mnemonic device. Rhymes are easily remembered because the rhyming structure limits the amount of possibilities that a fact could potentially be, by connecting that fact to a similar sounding word.

Practice Tests

Practice tests can greatly impact a student's ability to deliver information. Having familiarity with the testís structure will allow the student to focus on the information and spend less attention on understanding the form the information needs to be related in. Practice tests help improve actual test scores because the memory devices described above are given context. Studying new information is great for learning the facts, but practicing both the studying process and the actual testing process will create greater associations and allow the studentís to recall the information more effectively during their test.

Other Strategies

There are numerous strategies that can be used to improve a student's memory retention. Giving oneself plenty of time to study is one important method of improving memory retention. Students who cram at the last minute are less likely to retain what they are attempting to learn because they are overloading their short-term memory and not actually learning the information. Another way to improve memory in a particular subject is overlearning. Overlearning involves studying beyond the point where the student believes that he or she has simply memorized the subject being studied.

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