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First Year Experience Seminar Online Textbook

This is the main textbook for FYE Seminar to be used beginning Summer 2017

4.1.1 Memory

“Students remember only 10 percent of what they read and 20 percent of what they hear but almost 90 percent if they do the job themselves, even if only as a simulation, according to research cited by the Federation of American Scientists.” 

-Sarah Glazer


"Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand."



   The above quotes are over 2,000 years apart, but they both relay the same information about learning and memory, and that is if you want to have strong recall you must be an active learner. What, you ask, is an active learner? It is the opposite of being passive, and it means being proactive in your education and your study.


   To be an active learner a student creates a relationship with note-taking, reading, and understanding the material. This means creating context for the material you are working with. Instead of rote learning, which is simple memorization such as historical dates or vocabulary words (i.e. using flashcards), try understanding the material. Instead of memorizing historical dates, try to place those dates in context, and making connections before and after the material. If you need to memorize 1865, the end of the American Civil War, understand what came before it, what led to the war’s end, and what followed it. These connections leave a lasting impression on your long-term memory. Rote learning works in short-term memory, and the material will be lost soon after. This can happen right after an exam, or worse, before you even take it. Long-term memory lasts, well, longer.


   What is the difference between short-term and long-term memory?


   Short-term memory is just that: short. It lasts less than one minute. It works well when you get a phone number, but once you dial the number it is lost. New information you receive will push out what is already stored in short-term memory. Therefore, short-term memory is not the best way to study or prepare for assignments and exams.


   Long-term memory, unlike short-term, is nearly unlimited in time span and capacity. When you understand the information, instead of trying to simply memorize data, it goes into your long-term memory because the associations made, and the context created, deepens the memory pattern. It goes beyond simple recall and enters a process, and that exists in long-term memory.  


   Let’s take, for example, remembering somebody’s name. How many times have you met someone, shook their hand, and turned away not knowing that person’s name even though they introduced themselves to you only seconds before? We’ve all been there. But why can’t we remember? Many of us say, “I’m just horrible with names.” But this is not true. It’s not a faulty memory issue. It’s because you weren’t paying full attention, and you didn’t actively incorporate the person’s name into context.

As Samuel Johnson said, “The true art of memorization is the art of attention.”


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4.1.2 Tips for Stronger Memory

Some tips for stronger memory:


1.       Using memory aids, or mnemonic devices, is a great way to increase memory recall. Simply trying to remember a list of words, for example, without creating any type of context is difficult. This repetition of information as stated before is called Rote Learning, and it only lasts in your short term memory. It usually does not stick: i.e. land in long term memory. The reason is because you did not create a relationship with the material. Since we have been children we have created mnemonic devices to remember and to learn. Take, for instance, the famous ABC song. Most of us learned our ABC’s by singing that song. The song is a mnemonic device, and it likely worked for most of us.

  • Songs tend to work well with auditory learners (like the ABC song). A rhyme scheme can work just as well. Some students will even create rap songs to remember information.
  •  Visual learners can work with imagination. Try making up an image that links the information to be remembered. The image may be drawn or described on paper, or you can create a mental image. The more vivid the image, the better - use sounds, smells, and tastes as well as sights in your image. For instance, let’s say you park at the mall during the holiday shopping season. The parking lot is a sea of vehicles. You know you’re in E6, but how do you remember that after hours of shopping: create an image that will last, and make it interesting. So, with E6 you could think of an elephant with its six appendages (four legs, a trunk, and a tail). But go even further. Make the elephant pink and put her on roller skates. By making the image memorable you will have no problem recalling the information when your arms are full of presents.
  • If you are a verbal-linguistic learner and you have a list of vocabulary words to remember, you might try creating a story. Again, this is building relationships/context with the language, which actually creates a deeper understanding and therefore lasts longer in long term memory. Using language to encode information is referred to as semantic encoding. 

  • Another mnemonic for different learners is creating acronyms, words, or names. For instance, if you had to learn/memorize the seven coordinating conjunctions in English you can create an acronym: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So = FANBOYS.
  • For bodily-kinesthetic learners, try creating an association with the material to some kind of physical activity. Something simple like tapping your fingers in a certain way can help with recall.
  • There is the method of Loci, taken from ancient Greece. Try to imagine a favorite place, let’s say a childhood home, and then place the information you need to remember in each of the rooms. Or, if you drive a certain route every day, say to school, replace the landmarks with the information you need to recall.
  • Finally, there is the memory process called chunking. The idea is if you have many individual units to remember you should try to place them into categories or “chunks.” It is easier to remember groups then to remember each individual unit separately. Phone numbers are a great example of chunking. The group of numbers works together and we can hold these “chunks” in our memory sometimes for a long time. Another example might be grocery shopping. If you lose your shopping list, try the strategy of chunking together similar items into categories so you can recall them easier.


There are many mnemonic devices that can be used. However, deciding which memory aid works best for you, you must understand your learning style. Try and experiment with these different techniques until you find the one that best works for you. And most importantly, make it fun.


2.       Sleep. It is very important for many reasons, but did you know it also helps with memory? A regular routine of good sleep will enhance your memory and learning skills, so don’t think just the night before an exam you should get a good night’s sleep. You should, but you should be getting solid rest constantly for your memory to grow.


3.       The Five Senses. When attempting to recall information or creating mnemonic devices utilize all of your senses as much as you can. We rely much on our visual stimulation, but some of our strongest memories come from the other senses. How many times have you smelled something, like fresh mowed grass, and suddenly you’re taken back to your childhood days playing baseball? Or when you eat something and it reminds you of your mother’s cooking and the smells of her kitchen? Or a song comes on the radio and you remember the exact location you were when you first heard it? The five senses serve memory well. Use them.


4.       Focus on the task at hand. Do not have several things going on at the same time: reduce competing stimuli. This means shutting down Facebook, and turning your phone on silent, so you can focus on the information you need to memorize. This idea of single-tasking was discussed in Time Management if you need a refresher.


5.       Teach new and difficult concepts to another person. Teaching new terms, concepts, and information to another person not only helps you remember new information, but also through the act of teaching itself, it allows you to understand the information. As the old saying goes, “If you want to know something, teach it.”


6.       Use Elaborate Rehearsal. This technique helps to place new information into long term memory by taking the new material and connecting it to already learned material, asking questions, and make associations. Essentially, you use an active approach to the new material. For instance, take a new term or concept, study the definition of that term, and then make connections to what you already know. If the term is onomatopoeia, discover the definition, and then use the term in a sentence that connects to something you already know. Also, ask questions of what the term means, and finally, make any associations you can. This allows the term to penetrate your long term memory.


7.       Avoid cramming for a test. It hardly works. Your mind will not hold the information long enough for you to successfully finish an exam. If you have to cram for a test, create mnemonic devices.

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4.1.3 EXERCISE: Memory: A Self-Reflection

Please follow the link to view the document containing the exercise, which will open in a new window.   You will need Adobe Reader or Microsoft Office to view the document.  Adobe Reader can be downloaded at: .  You can download Microsoft Office through Blackboard: follow instructions on the “Student Resources” tab.

Read all instructions for the exercise thoroughly.

4.1.4 EXERCISE: Memory Aids Exercise

Please follow the link to view the document containing the exercise, which will open in a new window.   You will need Adobe Reader or Microsoft Office to view the document.  Adobe Reader can be downloaded at: .  You can download Microsoft Office through Blackboard: follow instructions on the “Student Resources” tab.

Read all instructions for the exercise thoroughly.

4.1.6 Scholarly Articles on Memory and Learning

4.1.7 Vocabulary for Memory Process

The document above contains a list of terms related to memory and provides a review of the terminology covered in the lecture on memory. 

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