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10 ways to improve your memory for written exams

It’s hard enough to write in exam conditions, let alone remember all the facts and quotes. We’ve put together the best ways to improve your memorising skills to get you those top marks...

1. Summarise

Flashcards are an all-time favourite of students in their revision times, and there’s a reason for it. Whether you have the cards in front of you or have downloaded a fancy cyber version, flashcards make you narrow down your notes – getting right down to the nitty gritty; all the important stuff.

Having a flashcard per topic, per character, per concept means that you are able to quickly flick between them, do the hide-write-read revision method easily, and have something that’s light and practical to bring with you before the exam.

2. Past Papers

A really good way to improve your memory in a particular subject is to go over past exam papers and do them yourself. Practice makes perfect, after all. Even if you need to have your notes open for the first paper you do, it will still make a difference.

It will not only get you in the knack of exam conditions and help you with time management, but it will also give you an idea of what kind of questions to expect. You start to develop an inkling of what is best for you to revise and focus on, and learn the specifics that you know will be useful in the exam.

3. Mind Maps

A very popular method for revision and remembering details – especially for those that love their coloured pens and highlighters! The reason that mind maps work so well for those trying to revise or memorise is assimilation. By putting a range of different points, all relating to the same topic, in a simple mind map form you are making a connection – or a visual association - between them all in an engaging way.

The easy-to-absorb revision layout aids in your learning experience and your exam experience by helping to spark your memory, making an association to a topic or from a point you make to another one on the mind map. With this mind map method, you’ll end up remembering far more than you would have by just reading notes.

4. Group Revision

A word of warning: this method works for some, but not all! Some people work well with other people, whereas others work better independently. For those that it works for, it’s a great option because it gives you support, the chance to compare and communicate each others’ ideas, and it can save time by covering a specific topic between a group of you rather than having to tackle an essay plan on your own.

The best way to go about working in a group is to have a pen in your hand at all times; capture any interesting points your friends make, and anything that you say too. You’ll collect lots of new and useful insights to potentially use in the exam. The memory of a conversation or discussion about a topic is more likely to stand out in your head, as opposed to one specific bullet point on the list you spent hours and hours doing.

5. Music

Why is it that you always know all the lyrics to your favourite songs and can’t remember quotes for your English exam or dates for that History exam? Well, if you try setting your revision notes to music, you might be able to. So, if you’re struggling to remember a fact or a figure in your exam, you just have to sing the song that you set it to (in your head, please) and it will come flooding back.

If you are not feeling that creative, there are certain genres of music that you can get on your iPod or phone that can aid your revision and memory. It’s known that classical music’s peaceful and harmonious nature is one of the best choices, in particular, Mozart – so much so that the improvement of mental performance whilst listening to his music is called the ‘Mozart Effect’.

6. Storytelling 

Everyone loves a good story, and like your favourite songs, they just stick with you. This is why it’s one way to help you memorise things. Take a character from the book you’re studying, plot out a timeline of the character’s important life moments, and turn it into a story. As childish as it sounds, it really does work. Transforming fact upon fact into a more digestible format like a simple story is not only easier to remember but so much more entertaining for you.

7. Repetition

Undoubtedly one of the most popular choices when it comes to memorising things: repetition, repetition, repetition. By going over something over and over again, it becomes embedded in your memory, long term or short term.

Repetition can take the form of repeating similar phrases in every practice essay that you write, or can be writing the same sentence back-to-back a number of times. It’s the same principle behind the punishment of writing lines; the more you write it, the more likely you’ll remember it. Supposedly, the magic number is 8 – if you write a sentence out at least 8 times, you will be able to remember it.

8. Speaking Out Loud

Although it may make you look a little bit crazy if you start doing this in the library, speaking out loud works! In fact, you’re 50% more likely to remember something if you speak it out loud instead of just reading it over and over again. So, what are you waiting for? Get chatting!

9. Teach Someone Else

One way of speaking out loud without sounding crazy is speaking it out loud to someone else. At the same time as helping them, you’re helping yourself. Simplifying your notes and ‘translating’ them into a more conversational language is a lot easier for your brain to take in, making it more likely for you to remember it and regurgitate it for the exam.

10. Visual

You don’t have to save drawing and doodling for Art or procrastination purposes. Visualisation is a very efficient method for memorising for most people. This is particularly useful when it comes to exams that will include diagrams or exams that require you to describe the appearance of someone or something.

​Films and documentaries work well for your memory, too. By watching things that relate to the topic, you’ll grasp at least a basic understanding, some interesting arguments, and even pick up on some extra facts that you weren’t taught – a serious way to impress the examiner.

Acing your exams often comes down to how well you are able to memorise the course material. Give your memory a helping hand with our ten top tips.