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It doesn’t take an extraordinary brain to get smarter about remembering. From techniques used by memory champions to fundamentals like securing enough sleep and maintaining healthy behaviors, just about anyone who wants to learn more efficiently has a variety of tools at their disposal—some of which they have likely already used.

Memory Tricks

While simply revisiting a newly learned fact, the definition of a word, or some other information can help reinforce someone’s memory for it, additional tools and processes can help make the effort to retain those details more powerful.

  • Mnemonic devices are ways of enhancing memory that can involve elaboration—connecting what one is trying to remember to other information in memory—organizing to-be-remembered details more efficiently in memory, and making use of mental visualization. Examples of mnemonics include:

• forming a series of word s into an acronym (such as ROY G BIV, for the colors of the rainbow) or a series of letters into an acrostic (Elephants And Donkeys Got Big Ears, for the notes of each string on a guitar, E-A-D-G-B)

• grouping to-be-remembered items together into categories (such as several types of food, when remembering what to buy at the grocery store)

• creating a memory palace: visualizing a series of objects, events, or other things appearing in a familiar physical space (such as a room at home), where each one represents something to be remembered; also called the method of loci

  • Paying closer attention to details in the moment can make it easier to remember them later. People can learn to focus better; mindfulness techniques may help. Minimizing distractions and avoiding multitasking while learning information could also help with remembering.
  • Spacing apart the time spent studying, rather than massing it together, tends to lead to better learning, according to research on the spacing effect. An example of spaced practice would be studying a topic once every day for relatively small blocks of time rather than spending a longer block of time studying on Friday. Accordingly, “cramming”—studying in one long, continuous period—can be an unhelpful study habit.
  • Testing memory of learned material, such as a passage of text, can enhance memory for that material—above and beyond re-reading, research indicates. The findings suggest that self-testing can help with learning, whether a person responds to self-generated questions or flashcards related to that information or questions provided by someone else (such as sample test questions in textbooks). Explaining a newly learned concept to oneself or someone else may also help reinforce memory for it.
  • Chunking is the combination of to-be-remembered pieces of information, such as numbers or letters, into a smaller number of units (or “chunks”), making them easier to remember. A simple example is the reduction of a phone number into three parts (which one might repeat to oneself in three bursts), though more complex forms of chunking are thought to help account for experts’ superior memory for certain kinds of information (such as chess positions).

Everyday Memory Boosts

Can someone deliberately improve their ability to remember over the long-term? While factors such as well-timed and sufficient sleep and physical activity can aid a neurologically healthy person’s memory ability, the evidence for approaches such as supplements or brain games is often mixed.

What are some basic ways to improve your memory ability in the long term?

In addition to a variety of strategies (such mnemonic devices and others mentioned above) to enhance your memory in the short term, striving to live a healthy and active lifestyle can help preserve memory ability over time. That means engaging in regular mental challenges, exercising routinely, getting enough sleep, and eating well. Reducing stress in daily life may also help to boost memory.

Can sleep help me remember?

Sleep is thought to play an important role in the consolidation of memories. There is evidence that people who sleep soon after studying new information are more likely to recall it later than those who study it and remain awake. Procedural memories (memory for physical skills, for example) as well as memories for experiences and for new knowledge, seem to benefit from sleep. Consequently, failing to prioritize sleep (or struggling with sleep for other reasons) may mean a missed chance for optimal memory consolidation.

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