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Guidelines for More Effective Studying

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Guidelines for More Effective Studying
238
Chapter 6
Memory
Mnemonics
One way to improve your memory is to use mnemonics (pronounced “nee-MON-ix”).
Mnemonics are strategies for putting information into an organized framework in
order to remember it more easily. To remember the names of the Great Lakes, for example, you could use the acronym HOMES (for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and
Superior). Verbal organization is the basis for many mnemonics. You can link items by
weaving them into a story, a sentence, or a rhyme. To help customers remember where
they left their cars, some large parking lots have replaced traditional section designations such as “A1” or “G8” with the names of colors, months, or animals. Customers
can then tie the location of their cars to information already in long-term memory—
for example, “I parked in the month of my mother’s birthday.”
One simple but powerful mnemonic is called the method of loci (pronounced “LOWsigh”), or the “method of places.” To use this method, first think about a set of familiar locations. Use your home, for example. You might imagine walking through the
front door, around all four corners of the living room, and through each of the other
rooms. Next, imagine that each item you want to remember is in one of these locations. Creating vivid or unusual images of how the items appear in each location seems
to be particularly effective (Kline & Groninger, 1991). For example, tomatoes smashed
against the front door or bananas hanging from the bedroom ceiling might be helpful
in recalling these items on a grocery list. Whenever you want to remember a new list,
you can create new images using the same locations in the same order.
Guidelines for More Effective Studying
The success of mnemonic strategies demonstrates again the importance of relating new
information to knowledge already stored in memory. All mnemonic systems require that
you have a well-learned body of knowledge (such as locations) that can be used to provide a framework, or context, for organizing incoming information (Hilton, 1986).
When you want to remember complex material, such as a textbook chapter, the same
principle applies (Palmisano & Herrmann, 1991). You can improve your memory for
text material by first creating an outline or other overall context for learning, rather than
by just reading and rereading (Glover et al., 1990). Repetition may seem effective, because
it keeps material in short-term memory, but for retaining information over long periods, repetition alone tends to be ineffective, no matter how much time you spend on it
(Bjork, 1999; Bjorklund & Green, 1992). In short, “work smarter, not harder.”
In addition, spend your time wisely. Distributed practice is much more effective than
massed practice for learning, and retaining, new information. If you are going to spend
ten hours studying for a test, you will be much better off studying for ten 1-hour blocks,
separated by periods of sleep and other activity. “Cramming” for one 10-hour block
will not be as successful. By scheduling more study sessions, you will stay fresh and be
able to think about the material from a new perspective during each session. This
method will help you elaborate on the material, as in elaborative rehearsal, and thus
remember it better.
More specific advice for remembering textbook material
comes from a study that examined how successful and unsuccessful college students
approached their reading (Whimbey, 1976). Unsuccessful students tended to read the
material straight through. They did not slow down when they reached a difficult section. They kept going even when they did not understand what they were reading. In
contrast, successful college students monitored their understanding, reread difficult sections, and periodically stopped or reviewed what they had learned. (This book’s In
Review features are designed to help you do that.) In short, effective learners engage in
a deep level of processing. They are active learners. They think of each new fact in relation to other material, and they develop a context in which many new facts can be
organized effectively.
Reading a Textbook
mnemonics Strategies for organizing
information in order to remember it.
239
Improving Your Memory
Research on memory suggests two specific guidelines for reading a textbook. First,
make sure that you understand what you are reading before moving on (Herrmann &
Searleman, 1992). Second, try the PQ4R method (Thomas & Robinson, 1972). PQ4R
stands for six activities to engage in when you read a chapter: preview, question, read,
reflect, recite, and review. These activities are designed to increase the depth to which
you process the information you read and should be done as follows:
1. Preview. Begin by skimming the chapter. Look at the section headings and any
boldfaced or italicized terms. Get a general idea of what material will be discussed, the way it is organized, and how its topics relate to one another and to
what you already know. Some people find it useful to survey the entire chapter
once and then survey each major section a little more carefully before reading it
in detail.
2. Question. Before reading each section, ask yourself what content will be covered and what information you should be getting from it.
UNDERSTAND AND REMEMBER
Research on memory suggests that students who simply read their textbooks
won’t remember as much as those who,
like this woman, read for understanding
using strategies such as the PQ4R method.
Further, memory for the material is likely
to be better if you read and study it over
a number of weeks rather than in one
marathon session on the night before a
test.
3. Read. Read the text, but think about the material as you read. Are the questions
you raised earlier being answered? Do you see the connections between and
among the topics?
4. Reflect. As you read, think of your own examples—and create visual images—
of the concepts and phenomena you encounter. Ask yourself what the material
means, and consider how each section relates to other sections in the chapter and
other chapters in the book (this book’s Linkages features are designed to promote
this kind of reflection).
5. Recite. At the end of each section, recite the major points. Resist the temptation to be passive and say, “Oh, I remember that.” Be active. Put the ideas into
your own words by reciting them aloud to yourself or by summarizing the material in a minilecture to a friend or study partner.
6. Review. When you reach the end of the chapter, review all of its material. You
should now see connections not only within each section but also among sections. The objective is to see how the material is organized. Once you grasp that
organization, the individual facts will be far easier to remember.
By following these procedures, you will learn and remember the material better. You
will also save yourself considerable time.
Students and employees often have to learn and remember material
from lectures or other presentations. Taking notes will help, but effective note taking
is a learned skill that improves with practice (Pauk, 2005). Research on memory suggests some simple strategies for taking and using notes effectively.
Recognize first that in note taking, more is not necessarily better. Taking detailed
notes on everything requires that you pay close attention to unimportant as well as
important content, leaving little time for thinking about the material. Note takers who
concentrate on expressing the major ideas in relatively few words remember more than
those who try to catch every detail. In short, the best way to take notes is to think about
what is being said. Draw connections with other material in the presentation. Then
summarize the major points clearly and concisely (Kiewra, 1989).
Once you have a set of lecture notes, review them as soon as possible after the lecture so that you can fill in missing details. (Remember: Most forgetting from long-term
memory occurs during the first hour after learning.) When the time comes for serious
study, use your notes as if they were a chapter in a textbook. Write a detailed outline.
Think about how various points are related. Once you have organized the material, the
details will make more sense and will be much easier to remember. (“In Review:
Improving Your Memory” summarizes tips for studying.)
Lecture Notes
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