The best memorisation techniques for revision

by Anita Naik

Our tutors often get asked for best practices on revising, with memorisation techniques at the top of the list. Is it note-taking, re-reading, flashcards or something else entirely that works best? Here's what you need to know.

Test yourself from the start

Prof John Dunlovskyof Kent State University reviewed 1,000 scientific studies looking at 10 of the most popular revision strategies and found that many simply did not work. The findings published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest for the Association for Psychological Science found that the best way to remember something was to practice the testing effect.

"Students who can test themselves or try to retrieve material from their memory are going to learn that material better in the long run", says Prof Dunlovsky. "This is because the student is more engaged, and it is harder for the mind to wander. Testing itself when you get the correct answers appears to produce a more elaborative memory trace connected with your prior knowledge, so you're building on what you know".

1. Use past papers under timed conditions.

2. Challenge yourself with quizzes and answer exam-style questions.

3. Start testing yourself from the start of revision, not at the end.

Create Mind Maps for your walls

Mind maps aren't for everyone, but if you find visual cues help you remember information, give this technique a try. Mind maps work on memory both as you create them and when you view them regularly. They are ideal for dense content subjects like History, Psychology, Biology and English Literature, where you need to memorise many key facts, figures and processes that all link up.

When creating a mind map, remember the power lies in organising complex details into an illustration that links up.

1. Start your mind map with a central theme or keyword in the middle.

This should be the primary purpose of your mind map, for example, the Cold War.

1. Once you have the keyword, then have lines radiating outwards with subtopics.

2. From these more lines with a breakdown of these subtopics.

3. Colour coding the lines or subtopics can also help you retain a clear visual image of the information and how it all works together.

Work on retrieval

Our brains need to revisit the nerve pathways created when the memory was first formed to retrieve a memory. This is why making yourself repeatedly recall information helps to strengthen memory retention. What's more, there is power in the process too as any kind of method that focuses on challenging you to remember will then build new pathways too.

Techniques like flashcards work here because they are designed to enhance and encourage active recall. Having a question on one side and the answer on the other requires you to read one side and recall the information from the other side. Do this over and over, and you will build stronger neural connections in the brain.

Studying with a peer or tutor is another way to improve your memory. Explaining concepts and theories to another person and then getting feedback is beneficial to the long term recall of details that often get missed when you study alone.

Avoid passive note-taking

Finally, if you do one thing, avoid revision solely based on re-reading notes and making summaries. Unlike the techniques above this is what's known as passive revision that won't fully engage your brain. And if it doesn't engage your brain then it's not a memorisation technique.