Revision is often one of the most arduous aspects of student life. Having to recall information you have heard for the first time, sometimes months ago, can be a challenge. However, being able to understand better how our brain remembers information and the triggers that we can draw upon will help immensely in those pressurised moments in exams where we just can't put our finger on that key idea that we need.
Utilising your memory to its full potential is extremely important in the revision process, but it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. If we look at the way our brain encapsulates general memories first it will give us a better idea of how we can employ this method when revising.
Our lives are full of experiences and the brain has to possess some sort of method to decipher between our important memories that we want to remember and the insignificant information we take in every day. The things that we encounter in life enter our mind through our five senses, eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell and if the brain considers the encounter important enough to remember, the experience is then associated with our senses which can be triggered. The stronger the emotions, the more likely you are to remember. We then think about those memories and make sense of them or ‘understand’ their meaning. They become thoughts. Those thoughts then connect with other thoughts in the brain and form a big network. That’s how we can find those memories again, through the connections. The more connections we make, the easier it is to access a particular memory or thought. These memories and emotions connect with our prior knowledge and experiences, creating context for them.
We can understand new memories better by remembering and comparing how we felt about other experiences we have had. Perhaps an example might make this make better sense. Say you decide to go for a walk tomorrow and as you are walking you spot a child playing with a toy that you owned when you were younger, all of the memories from the time period where you yourself were playing with this toy would come flooding back. A sensory experience such as this will trigger a domino effect until you eventually get to the memories; we need a trigger in order to begin the recalling process.
In terms of revision, rather than trying to remember exactly the wording of revision booklets or teacher’s PowerPoints, we should focus on trying to attach these triggers to key points you want to remember. It’s important to generate connections between different ideas in order to create clear paths in your thinking. If you come across a particular piece of information whilst revising that you feel would be extremely important to be able to recall under exam conditions, then creating a sensory trigger is the way forward.
This may sound silly but go with me on it. Let’s say you’re studying for a closed book English Literature exam and you need to remember quotes that you think will aid the points you want to make. Read through the specific quote you want to be able to remember and every time you go over it in the days you spend studying, spray a squirt of a distinctive aftershave or perfume. Then, just before the dreaded exam, spray a little bit of this same smell and hopefully, if the tactic has been successful, the idea that you have wanted to retain will have become so attached to this smell it will be quite simple to recall.
Of course, I have made revision sound much simpler than it actually is, and spraying a bit of perfume will not allow you to be able to recall every bit of important information you have learnt over the past few years. However, through this blog I am trying to highlight the importance of making connections whilst revising. Even if this method helps you to retain just a few important points, it will be worth it.
Jake Evans is a recent graduate from The University of Derby with a BA in Film and Television Studies with Media and Communication Studies. He used his time at University to uncover and learn how his skills could be used throughout the media industry. As an enthusiastic writer, Jake also began producing film reviews that were published on a local movie website while completing his course, combining his passion for film and his writing aspirations.
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