The older we get, the harder it seems to remember names, dates, facts of all kinds. It takes longer to retrieve the information we want, and it often pops right up a few minutes or hours later when we are thinking about something else. The experts say that keeping your mind sharp with games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles slows the aging process, and that may be true, but we found three other things you can do to sharpen your memory.
1. Vary Your Study Space
A study shows students who studied a list of words in a windowless room and again in a room with a view did far better on a test than students who studied only in the room without a view.
Dr. Robert A. Bjork, psychologist at the University of California, L.A. and senior author of the research, states, “What we think is happening here is that, when the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting.”
2. Vary What You Study
The same principal may apply to what you study. Musicians and athletes have known this for years. They practice cross-training.
“Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time,” Carey writes.
It might also be helpful, and this is my advice, to vary your learning style. Most of us use more than one style anyway, but if you find yourself relying primarily on visual learning, try auditory or kinesthetic techniques. You might be surprised.
3. Test Yourself Often
It also turns out that when a student is required to retrieve information, say for a test, that information is re-stored in the brain in a more accessible way for future use.
Carey reports that researchers don’t know why this is true, just that it is.“It may be that the brain, when it revisits material at a later time, has to relearn some of what it has absorbed before adding new stuff — and that that process is itself self-reinforcing,” he writes.
“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” Carey quotes Dr. Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College, as saying. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively.”Practice tests, then, are powerful learning tools.