New research suggests that the way we’ve been thinking about short-term and long-term memories isn’t entirely correct. We’re going to take a look at this new discovery. In addition, were going to see how you can make use of this new knowledge to improve your memory and increase your chances of exam success!
The accepted view of memory for the past fifty years has been that memory is handled by two different portions of the brain. Memories are created as ‘short-term memories’ in the hippocampus, and are later transferred to the cortex as ‘long-term memories’.
This was thought to be the case up until now. Scientists at the Riken-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics have discovered that memories are formed simultaneously in the hippocampus and the cortex. So, this means that the notion of committing information to the long-term memory might not be entirely accurate. Instead, it seems as though memories are made in the cortex from the beginning.
The team of US and Japanese researchers discovered this by testing on mice. Using light, this team was able to manipulate neurons inside the mice’s brains. From doing this, they discovered that memories were formed at the same time in the cortex as they were in the hippocampus. These results were demonstrated using mice. However, it’s believed that the same could apply to human beings, as well. You can find out more by reading the journal here.
The results have come as a surprise to many in the scientific community, since these new findings contradict the established belief that memories are formed in the hippocampus, then banked in the cortex as long-term memories after being committed properly. This changes the way we think about how memories work, and therefore we need to start thinking about how we can adapt our revision techniques.
So, what does this mean for exam candidates wanting to study hard? The same revision techniques will still be beneficial. In addition, practice tests are still the way to go when it comes down to quality study. However, we need to consider improving memory. This new research might change the game there.
In the past, people have focused on improving the commitment of memories to the long-term memory (cortex) and recollection of memories. However, might not be the case anymore, since memories go straight to the long-term memory (cortex). This might mean you don’t need to worry so much about committing information to the long-term memory. Instead, you need to focus more on recollection of memories – bringing banked memories from the cortex into the ‘working memory’.
Improve Your Memory – Recollection Tips
Here are some tips to improve your memory by strengthening your recollection skills:
Create Representations in your Brain
This method of making associations is most common, and can be applied to almost any kind of information with a bit of ingenuity. Essentially, you want to give your own meaning to facts and data by representing them in a unique way. For example, if you needed to remember that the Easter Rising in Ireland occurred in 1916, you could imagine a pile of Easter eggs going up in an elevator to floor 1916. This might seem bizarre, but these types of association can help you remember important details more easily. If you’re any good at drawing, it might even help to make brief sketches for the most important things you need to know!
Chunking is the process of chopping up larger pieces of information into smaller pieces. This allows you to remember them more easily. This is particularly useful for things like phone numbers, but can also be used for academic study too. For example, say that you need to memorise a mathematical formula or method for solving a certain kind of maths problem. You could dissect the whole solution into smaller steps, then memorise the process. Then, you can apply the above method for creating representations for each step, or use the method of loci (explained below).
Method of Loci
This is a technique that dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It involves mentally visualising locations and attaching information to them. First, think of a familiar place, such as your bedroom, classroom, or office. Alternatively, you can imagine a route that you take regularly, like your commute to work or school. Then, start to imagine placing the information you need to remember in this environment, such as key dates or names. Once you’ve done this, try to keep the location in your mind. This means that, when you think of this location, you’ll also be able to recall the memories that you’ve ‘placed’ there.
If you want access to more tips on improving your memory, you can check out our book: How to Study – Ace Your Grades. In addition, take a look at the following YouTube video, which features some quizzes to see how good your memory really is!