You sit down to study for a test you have coming up next week. You crack open your book and pull out your notes. You start reading over everything, but it seems like nothing is sticking. You start to freak out wondering how in the world you’re going to pass your test if you can’t remember any of the material. Then you start hoping that your professor will get sick and have to delay the test so that you can have more time to study. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get a snow storm in October!

The reality is that you probably don’t need more time, you just need to change the way that you’re studying. Try out these memorization tips, or mnemonic devices, to help you study more effectively.

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Switch to Audio

The reason you’re unable to retain everything you just read in a textbook might be because that’s just not the way you learn. Believe it or not, our brains are much better at encoding and interpreting sound, taste, smell, and even colors than text.

Instead of just relying on reading your notes and textbooks, record yourself reading through your study materials, and listen to it. You can even upload it to your iPod and listen to it while you sleep. You might want to consider having a friend do the recording, though. Some people don’t like the sound of their own voice.

Put It in Your Own Words

A lot of textbooks are written with a lot of technical terms — not exactly for the common man or woman. This makes it even more difficult to memorize. Instead of forcing yourself to memorize textbook definitions, break down the information into terms that YOU understand, and memorize that.

Not only will it be easier to memorize, but you’ll have a better understanding of the concepts and actual material. Have you ever studied for a test and felt like you knew all the terms and information. Then when the test comes, the concepts are all there, but the questions don’t resemble what you studied? This technique will fix that by helping you actually learn the material, instead of just memorizing what’s written in the book.

Visualize It

Some people are just visual learners. They can read a book 10 times and not remember a lick of what they read. But when a movie based on the book is released, they can remember every character’s name, and tell you vivid details of what it was about. To help give you an idea of whether or not you’re a visual learner, consider this: Would you rather have list of the parts of a plant cell, or a detailed diagram with all the parts labeled?

Color code your notes, create diagrams, create imagery in your head, or try any other visual technique that will help you grasp the information.

Use Acronyms

This is a very popular mnemonic device, and I use it frequently. Break down complex terms or lists into simple 3-5 letter acronyms that will help you remember them better.

One thing that you should try to avoid is creating so many different acronyms that you confuse yourself. I recommend only using acronyms for terms and concepts that you really seem to be struggling with, instead of creating an acronym for every single list in your book.

An example of a popular acronym is the one used to memorize the order of operations for math. You probably learned this elementary or middle school: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract = Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

Link Information

Instead of trying to memorize several individual pieces of information, try to find relationships between them. All the concepts within a single chapter will more than likely be closely related. And concepts from different chapters might not be directly related, but you can probably draw some similarities and link certain information.

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Skim Your Reading

Reading through a 50-page textbook chapter isn’t fun. Instead of reading every single word over and over again, try scanning through it and picking up the important tidbits of information. Certain pieces of information will stick in your head, and you’ll be able to relate it to the main topic of the chapter. The goal is to take in the key points from the material, and not crowd your brain with unimportant details.

I once had a professor who told us that you can get a lot of information from a piece of writing just by reading the first and last couple of paragraphs, then skimming through the body. It might sound crazy, but it works. Go look at a newspaper or magazine article, read the first couple of paragraphs and the ending, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it’s all about.

Teach It to Someone Else

In order to teach someone about a topic, you have to really understand the information. After studying, try teaching the information to someone else and see if they understand what you’re saying. The younger the audience, the better you’ve memorized the information. Could you explain amortization to a 5th grader?

You’ve probably noticed that a lot of your favorite teachers are the ones who make the material sound extremely simple and easy to understand. There are public speakers who make a lot of money because they’ve mastered this technique.

Distributed Practice

Your brain can only soak up so much information over long periods of time. After a certain point, all the reading you’re doing is useless because you won’t be memorizing any of it. Instead of reading for an hour straight, break down your sessions into small chunks.

You might try to memorize one section of a chapter for 30 minutes, take a break, and then move on to the next. This technique requires that you don’t wait until the last minute to study, though. It’s best to set several short study sessions over days or even weeks, than rush to do everything at once.

Relate It to Real Life

A lot of the information you’re studying probably won’t have any real-life application or be of any interest to you. But by finding a way to relate what you’re reading to real life, you’ll have a much easier time memorizing it.

For some subjects, this technique might be a little harder to implement. But you could use current events, past situations, or any other real life example to memorize your study material. This technique makes the information more entertaining, which also makes it easier for you to remember.

Make Flashcards

One of the oldest tricks in the book, yet some people still don’t know how to use them properly. The point of notecards is to help you recall important information by memorizing the main points associated with key terms or concepts. You should not be writing full paragraphs on notecards.

A helpful technique is to write a question on the front, and then the answer on the back. The answer should be short and concise — not a detailed explanation. That way, when you see questions on your test, you can easily recall the main points from the notecard you memorized. There are some great sites that allow you to create sharable flashcards online and browse through preexisting flashcards.

As a heads up, a lot of professors get the questions for their tests from flashcards found online, so there’s a chance you could see the exact questions from flashcards on your test. One of my favorite sites to study flashcards on is Quizlet. I have seen a lot of exam questions on the flashcards I studied from the site.

If all else fails, there’s always good old fashioned cramming. Although I definitely don’t recommend it, some students thrive on the pressure of having to memorize weeks’ worth of information in 24 hours. But using the methods above is a much wiser move.

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