Do some students have a better memory than others? If this is the case, then those that do would be at a significant advantage at school. But can all students actually improve their memory?
With the vast amount of knowledge that students need to absorb, answering this question is crucial. In this blog post, we will explore 15 strategies that can help enhance your students' memory and ultimately improve their exam performance. This blog will outline strategies that will help your students:
- Boost their working memory
- Make information stick in their long-term memory
- Enhance their engagement
- Look after their brain better
Your students' working memory, on average, has the capacity to hold about seven items at a time. This limitation often calls for simple strategies to either navigate around this fact or make the most of this limited capacity. You can help your students manage this by asking them to:
- Write Things Down
Encouraging students to write down information can prevent overwhelming their working memory. Instead, they can record them on paper and easily refer back to them as needed. And here's a tip: traditional note-taking with pen and paper tends to be more effective than digital methods like using an iPad or laptop.
However, there may be situations where writing things down isn't feasible. In such cases, techniques like chunking, acronyms, and silly sentences prove to be useful…
Chunking involves grouping smaller pieces of information together. For instance, remembering a number sequence like '2, 8, 0, 3, 1, 9, 8, 5' becomes significantly easier when it is chunked into three groups like this: '28, 03, 1985'.
An acronym is a technique where each letter in a word serves as a cue to remember something else. This gives students a simple and memorable way to recall complex information. For instance, the “SCUBA” part of “scuba diving” means “Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus”. Many of us will also be familiar with SOHCAHTOA, which helps students remember the sine, cosine, and tangent of angles in a triangle.
- Silly Sentences
Silly sentences function similarly to acronyms, where the first letter of each word acts as a reminder for another word. A popular example is the sentence “Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain”, which is an easy way to remember the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet. Thanks to their comical nature, these sentences tend to stick in students' minds more effectively than the actual information they represent.
- Reinforce Regular Practice
Don’t underestimate the power of repetition. The more students practise something, the more likely it is to become automatic. When tasks become automatic, they require less working memory space, much like brushing your teeth, which we do instinctively due to regular repetition. Freeing up this cognitive load allows them to improve and move on to more challenging tasks.
Help your students make information stick in their long-term memory
Unlike working memory, long-term memory can hold a virtually infinite amount of information, for a virtually infinite amount of time. But to move information into our long-term memory, we need to engage with it many times.
Think of it like a path through a field: the more times you walk the same route, the more clear and easy to follow the path becomes. In the same way, the more we go over information, the stronger our brain connections become and the easier it is to remember that information and learn new things.
Here are some ways you can help your students make information stick in their long-term memory…
- Encourage Retrieval Practice
Retrieval Practice is the act of generating an answer to a question. Every time they actively try to remember something, students strengthen their long-term memory of it and improve how well they retain knowledge. Make sure to include recall activities regularly in your lessons to help the information stick with the students for a longer time. The good news is that there are many ways to use Retrieval Practice, from low-stakes quizzes and flashcards to completing past papers. If you want to improve the use of Retrieval Practice throughout your school, why not book a CPD workshop?
- Incorporate Spacing
Another effective Teaching & Learning strategy is Spacing, which is the act of revisiting information often over a longer period of time, as opposed to cramming it all with one lesson or study session. This gives students' brains the time they need to process and store information effectively. This isn't just about taking breaks; it's about giving students the chance to forget and then relearn, which helps solidify knowledge in their memory.
- Promote the Protégé Effect
Encourage students to teach what they've learned to each other. This strategy, known as the Protégé Effect, can significantly enhance memory and recall. The act of teaching requires students to organise and retrieve information clearly, thereby reinforcing their understanding. Interestingly, studies show that even just the expectation of teaching someone else can also boost memory.
- Incorporate Verbal Repetition
After explaining a concept, ask students to repeat it out loud. This method enhances memory more effectively than simply having them repeat the content silently in their minds.
- Boost Curiosity with “Why?” and “How?”
This learning method is known as Elaborative Interrogation. Simply put, it means students asking “Why?” and “How?” questions about the material they're studying. This helps students connect new information to things they already understand, making it easier for them to remember and recall later on. Research has shown that this technique can really help to boost memory retention.
Enhance student engagement
Boosting student engagement is key to helping them process information actively, which in turn enhances memory encoding and retrieval. Here are some strategies you can employ to keep your students engaged and foster learning…
Stories are often easier to remember because they're engaging, stir emotions, and follow a familiar structure. The emotional engagement that students can form with a story can significantly enhance their memory. So, incorporating storytelling in your teaching could be a powerful tool to help students remember information.
- Capturing Attention
Daniel Willingham emphasises that memory is the residue of thought. In other words, we're more likely to remember things we've focused on. This insight underscores the importance of capturing students' attention. If they're paying attention to irrelevant things, their memory retention can suffer. Therefore, implementing strategies to improve student focus in the classroom is crucial.
- Encouraging Reading
Another of Willingham's memory-boosting tips is promoting reading. He asserts that "the more you know, the easier it will be for you to learn new things." So, how do we help students “know” more? By encouraging them to read a variety of materials, including books, newspapers, and magazines.
Encouraging students to look after their brain
As a teacher, you can steer students towards practices that help their brains work better. Here are some easy-to-follow tactics that can enhance memory and boost school performance…
- Emphasise the Importance of Sleep
Sleep is not just for physical rest: it's a crucial element of memory improvement. Research shows that during sleep, the brain forms new connections between cells, which are vital for learning and memory. This means that getting enough sleep not only enhances students' recall abilities, but also improves their capacity to link new and old information. Encourage your students to get a full night's sleep, especially during exam periods. Studies have shown that Students who sleep 8 hours per night perform better than those who stay up all night cramming. For more information on this, read our complete guide to Sleep & Learning.
- Encourage Hydration
Yet another simple but effective strategy is to ensure students stay hydrated. Proper hydration has been linked to improved mood, memory, and concentration. You might even suggest that they bring a bottle of water into exams, as some evidence suggests this could enhance their performance. Remember: a well-hydrated brain is a more efficient brain.
Memory plays a crucial role in academic success. By helping your students incorporate these 15 strategies into their learning and revision, you can improve their memory and, ultimately, their academic achievement. Remember to experiment with different techniques, stay informed about evidence-based Teaching & Learning strategies (by subscribing to our twice-weekly newsletter) and find what works best for your students.