Memory strategies

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Did you know that memory can improve by practicing and using effective strategies? The information presented in the modules and resources will help you develop your memory through a series of activities, self-reflection questions, and tools.

Looking for something short and sweet? Scroll down for some quick tips on memory.

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MODULES AND RESOURCES: Improving Your Memory


MODULE: Memory at University

Information on how your mind works, forgetting, and remembering; basic memory strategies and negative effects on memory.

Tools: Self-assessment

Subjective memory questionnaire, objective memory test, forgetting (reasons & solutions).

Tools: Distributed Practice

The benefits of distributed practice for memory and learning.

Tools: Pegging, The Major System 

Using “pegging” to remember lists, sequences of numbers, and equations; strategies for very long numbers and written passages.

Inform Yourself: Substances and Memory

Marijuana and alcohol: What is their impact on memory and learning?


Learning and memory are closely linked. The modal model of memory includes several stages that depend on paying attention and being mentally engaged:

Stage 1. Acquiring information (Working or Sensory memory)

  • Try thinking about the material (comparing, analyzing, processing), to keep the material in your conscious mind

Stage 2. Storing information for later use (Short-term and Long-term memory)

  • Try organizing material, so it can be “found” in your mind
  • Repeat, visualize, rehearse information for better retention
  • Information needs to be in long-term memory before writing an exam!

Stage 3. Accessing memories when required (Retrieval)

  • Try practicing using the memorized material, which leads to fast and accurate retrieval, and reduces forgetting

Neuroscience research has determined:

Memory for an event or information is most likely if there is a heavy emotional component or there are multiple exposures to the material (i.e., it becomes familiar).

Tip: Preview information before class, make notes, review after class.

Quiet time for “consolidation” is required for memories to move into long- term storage.

Tip: Study or read 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. Repeat, take a longer (15 min) break.

Our need for sleep increases during times of intense learning and memorizing.

Tip: Get 8-9+ hours sleep during exams or other high-demand periods.

Drinking even 1-2 alcoholic drinks can impair all stages of memory, especially the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory.

Tip: Drink moderately, avoid binging, don’t party during the week or exams.

Recall of material is improved by mimicking your learning environment.

Tip: Consider your eventual “working” conditions (e.g., exam hall or clinical setting, your desired mental or psychological state) when you are learning.


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Photos courtesy of Dean Hochman under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.