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Memory Techniques for Exams and Tests

Have you ever been afraid of your mind going blank when you sit an exam? I have. And many of my students tell me they worry about this too.

It would be a nightmare if this really happened, but fortunately, studies show that it’s actually very unlikely.

Usually, your memories flood back once you pick up a pen and start answering questions. However, the worry surrounding this issue can make exams more stressful than they need to be. One way to reduce the stress of exams is to practise some memory techniques so you can be sure that all the information you need is firmly fixed in your mind. Try some of the techniques below to find the one that’s best for you.

1. Create Mnemonics
This involves translating information into an alternative form that can be remembered more easily. One way of doing this is by taking the first letters of a string of information you want to remember and then creating a more memorable phrase.

For example, remember the order of the compass points with ‘Naughty Elephants Squirt Water’ (North, East, South, West) and the order of the planets with ‘My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Noodles’ (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune).

2. Make up a story
To help your brain absorb bigger chunks of information, another great strategy is to break the information down and make up a story linking each piece of information. This can be an effective method for learning trickier information and facts as it helps to bring things to life and makes the information easier to recall. Believe it or not, the crazier the story is, the easier it is to remember!

For example, this is the chemical formula for photosynthesis:

6CO2 + 6H2O + Light energy ->  C6H12O6 + 6O2
Carbon dioxide + Water + Light energy -> Glucose + Oxygen

You could remember it with this story:
Charles Oscar O’Brian had 6 heads (6CO2). He thought he was very strange until he met Harry Henry Oswald, who had 6 heads as well (6H2O). Their eyes lit up (Light energy) when they saw each other and they ran together. Their meeting was sweet (like glucose!). Charles’ 6 faces blinked their 12 happy eyes and his 6 mouths went ‘O’ (C6H12O6). He breathed a sigh of relief. There were 6O’s too from his new friend (6O2).’

3. Set facts and figures to music
If you’re struggling to commit a chain of information to memory, try putting a tune to it. Even a rap will do! Then all you need to do is to remember the melody and the words will come flooding back. To make it easier to recall, you can use a song that you already know – perhaps a children’s nursery rhyme! When I was at school, I memorised the quadratic equation formula using this technique, and it remains in my memory to this day:

Always remember, your brain is more than capable of storing the information you need for your exams. You can make it even easier by trying these techniques or developing some of your own.