A student once said to me, “Teacher, you know why I don’t study? It’s because I have the memory of a gold fish! I will forget whatever I studied so I must study only on the night before the exam.” (PS :- if you don’t understand this joke, just google ‘gold fish syndrome’)

(Image taken from changeonesmind.wordpress.com)

I know that this is a very common problem among students. But do you know that there’s a very easy cure to this memory loss problem? So for you goldfishes out there – read this whole article and apply this simple technique below. It works!

So – What’s the secret to a better memory?


Repetition increases fluency of the flow of thoughts (thus increases memory), coherency, familiarity, dispels fear and encourages confidence. (This is an excellent combination of qualities to equip yourself with before an exam!)

You can repeat your lessons in various forms that suit your learning style  – written form (notes), verbal form (talk to yourself/talk to others) or even by mental reproduction .

(a) Repeat by Taking Notes Image taken from pokenoramen.com

This is the most common form. Teacher speaks in class, student take notes, student goes home and read the notes. Well, the point is, how many times do you read your notes, and how well do you understand them?

  • Are those notes photocopied by your teacher and distributed to you, or
  • you copy them from what you see on the blackboard directly, or
  • notes that you write yourself from what you understand from class and books?

Well, for each different answer to the questions above, they can either increase or decrease your chances of a longer memory of what you studied.

Generally, if the notes are given to you (in photocopy form), or even if you copied down what the teacher wrote from the board, you tend not to understand or appreciate them completely. (Either they are too lengthy, sentences too complicated or the presentation style doesn’t suit your taste).

Thus you are not inclined to read them again and again. Some just chuck them aside when they reached home, and then conveniently lost them. This is actually quite a common phenomenon among students.

However, for the more diligent ones, they actually spent some time digesting the notes given to them after the lesson or when they reached home, and better still, produce their own version of notes to customise to their own taste – either make it more compact, easier to understand, uncomplicate the complicated, add their own acronyms or illustrations, shortcuts, or whatever gimmick they have. Now why do you need to do this?

(image taken from www.educatednation.com)

2 Reasons why your own notes are the best notes!

Firstly, this process helps you to understand better what you have learned in class earlier. Sometimes the teacher’s explanation is not too clear, missing some details, or you may not be focused enough to grasp 100% of what the teacher said. Thus, reading it over will help you to have a clearer understanding on the subject and its details.

Secondly, doing your own notes will make you like it more! Why? Because it is in a language that you understand, in shortcuts that you know, in colors that you like, and in your own handwriting and style, not as boring and lengthy as the books, and easier to carry everywhere! When you start liking your own notes, you will have no problem reading them again and again. You will not feel resentful as when you have to reread somebody else’s notes, notes that you don’t understand, notes that you dislike!

Well, notes is only one way and the most common way of repetition.

(b) Repeat by Talking to yourself

Image taken from www.scienceblogs.com

Some students do not like to repeat writing that much but prefer a more vocal way of practice. So after you close your notes, instead of writing you can start speaking out loud what you have just read. Explain the concepts to yourself, with as much details as possible. Yes, talk to yourself or talk to the mirror, (or to your mother, or to your dog, etc.)

(c) Repeat by Teaching someone else (best way to remember and understand things)

Students always ask me “teacher, how do you remember all this stuff?” My answer is simple “ cos I teach them day in day out.”

Teaching someone else what you have just learnt is one of the best way to get it into your long-term memory. Get your friends to ask you questions related to that topic, then explain the answer to them as though you would in a test. Teaching a knowledge to somebody else is an excellent way to reinforce what you have already learned and to strengthen your own memory recall as well. Plus, you also get to benefit your friends by doing that (from repetitive listening).

(d) Repeat by using Imagination and Visualization

Well, a minority group of students do their revision a whole different way. They do not like to write their notes again and again, neither do they like to speak that much. However, their flow of thoughts can be very quick and coherent, and most have quite a rich imagination.

These type of students will only need to picture in their minds what they have just learned. What they vizualise may be in the form of words, pictures, graphs, flowcharts, etc. By using method of logic aided by visuals from their mental reproduction, they would be able to get the whole picture of what the question requires, and subsequently would be able to answer the question in writing.

One of the best way is to combine this method with notes. You should take the notes in a way that you can imagine them from memory. For example :

  • I always teach using multi-colored pens.
  • I draw colorful diagrams and use different colors for different keywords.
  • I use flow charts / tables
  • You may also use Mind-Map.

When do you need to repeat, and for how long?

So – fine, you understand that you need to repeat in order to remember. But wait… when should I repeat the lessons and how long do I need to keep repeating them? I have to study other things as well right?

Research has shown that most human forget about 80% of what they learnt for the first time if it is not repeated within 24 hours.

Meaning – if you learn Archimedes Principle on Monday 10am, by Tuesday 10pm you would have forgotten about 80% of it. But if you repeated what you learnt about Archimedes Principle between 10am Monday to 10am Tuesday, then you will have remembered about 80% of it for the next 7 days.Want to remember longer than 7 days? Read on…

If within the next 7 days you do another quick revision of the same lesson, you will be able to remember Archimedes Principle for few months. This is shown from research into short-term and long-term memory.

ACTION STEPS to help you make use of this tip.

1) Make your own notes on a topic that you have learnt but forgotten. – Let’s say Archimedes Principle.

2) Try to fit your notes into 1/2 pages. Use diagrams, tables, mind-maps, and make them colorful.

3) Read through the whole notes after you’re done. (Make sure you understand what you’ve written. DO NOT Memorize until you understand them!)

4) Now, close the notes and write out the entire notes again on a blank piece of paper.  You may forget a lot of things, but try to write as much as you can.

5) Open your notes and compare with what you wrote. Take note of the parts that you forget or remembered wrongly.

6) Repeat number 4 again until you can rewrite on the blank paper at least 80% of your notes on Archimedes Principle.

Next Step

7) Within 24 hours from this exercise, take out your notes on Archimedes Principle and just quickly read through them. Remember the main points and headings, then go through the details in your head.

You don’t have to write them again. Just quickly revise the notes. You should spend no more than 10 minutes on this quick review.

8) After few days… ideally within 7 days, try to tell your friends all that you know about Archimedes Principle. You should be able to explain about 70-80% of the Principle from memory.

Congratulations! You’ve done it.

After these 8 steps, you should be able to remember Archimedes Principle for a few months now. This sequence of repetition will embed the lessons into your long-term memory which is what A-star students do.

This technique is very suitable to study Biology, Chemistry, History and Physics. In fact, this is the technique my ex-student is using now. She’s a first year medical student at IMU. Tons of thick medical books to remember!

Try this out and share with me your experience. Leave a comment below or Facebook me.

To your success!

PS : – Check out Part 2 (More Tips to Remember stuff and Avoid Cramming) and Part 3 (How to Answer Exam Questions if You don’t Remember Much) in this series of Tips and Techniques to Study.