Our previous blog explained how working memory enables us to process information moment by moment. This blog will go deeper into the filing drawers of long term memory.
Long term memory is where permanent memories are stored. These memories can last a lifetime. Nothing gets into long term memory without first passing through our senses into working memory. When it comes to recalling information for an exam, this is the part of your brain that you really want to be supercharged. So how do you get things into long term memory?
Here are some hints for laying down long term memories:
- Repetition: Imagine you walk across a grassy field on your way to school. When you cross the field the first time, you look back but you can’t really see your path. You keep walking the same path every day and after a while, you look back and there is a line in the grass where you have trodden it down. The longer you walk that path, the clearer it will get. When you learn something it is like walking a path. Your brain actually builds neural connections. The more times you practice, the faster and more complex the connection gets. So you can’t study on the morning of the exam and expect the information to be in long term memory. Information based subjects such as Biology, require many walks across the field over a number of days. Understanding based subjects such as Maths, require repeated practice. The good thing is that once you have it in long term memory – you have it. Which is why I can still do algebra even though I haven’t done it since I was at school.
- Intentional Focus: Our working memories pick up and put down a lot of information in the course of even a few minutes. We are continually observing our world, processing input, solving problems and then moving on. To keep hold of something important we need to intentionally focus, direct our noticing and make sure we don’t discard the information. Just telling yourself, this is important – pay attention – can make a difference in how much you retain. This is particularly important when you are sitting in class zoning out!
- Relevance: Our brains like things to make sense. When you have something new to learn, take a moment to find out how it fits in with what you already know. May be it fits with things you learned at school in this subject or another, or may be things you have observed in every day life. For example, when learning about solids, liquids and gasses, notice the condensation on the window, blow hot dragon breath on a cold morning, boil the kettle and think about the steam. When new information builds on old information, your brain doesn’t have to open a new file, it can add to an old file. And that is much quicker.
- Keep yourself amused: Boredom is such a study stopper. Keep your brain focused and interested by using color in your notes, doing little relevant drawings, writing yourself funny notes about the content, making up a mnemonic or poem to help you remember something. Here’s a mneumonic from the website mindsetworks.com to help you remember how to get the most into your memory.
Break down information into smaller parts you can handle
Repeat and review: when you repeat something, you make the neurons grow new connections much more than if you only hear something once.
Active Learning: take an active role, asking questions and practicing skills, and you will remember more
Information search: when you don’t know something, ask or look it up
Never give up: When something is hard, that is your cue that you need to keep at it – that’s when you have a good chance to make a new permanent brain connection