How to improve your long term memory

We often blame our memory for poor academic performance (“I’m no good at remembering names / dates / rules / verbs / characteristics”) when really we should be addressing our faulty input and storage system. There is a big difference between short-term and long-term memory. If you study a topic one night and can recall most of it the next morning, don’t be fooled into thinking that you will be able to remember it accurately in two months time.

If the goal is to improve your long-term memory, then the key to success is based on the efficiency of input (the ‘mental filing system’ we employ). Reducing the burden on the limited short-term memory, and channeling information into long-term storage, is based on the creation of patterns and the avoidance of randomness.

  • Chunking: 

As the average person can only hold seven ‘items’ in short-term memory, grouping items together into ‘chunks’ can increase capacity. This is generally used for remembering numbers (think of how you remember phone numbers by grouping the seven digits into 2 or 3 chunks) but can be applied to other listings in various subjects.

  • Repetition:

Studies indicate that 66% of material is forgotten within seven days if it is not reviewed or recited again by the student, and 88% is gone after six weeks. Don’t make life harder for yourself – build in a brief daily and weekly review of material covered. It will save you having to re-learn material from scratch!

  • Application and association:

The best way to channel material to long-term memory is to organise it into meaningful associations. Link it to existing information and topics and create vivid personal examples which act as ‘mental hooks’ or ‘cues’ for recalling material in the future. Thus, new items are put in context. If you learn a new formula / verb / rule, try to put it into practice immediately with a relevant example.

  • Use of mnemonics:

These are various word games which can act as memory aids and which allow personalisation and creativity. Think of stalactite (come down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (go up from the ground); the colors of the rainbow – Roy G. Biv (‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ to remember red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet); the seven characteristics of living organisms – Mr. Grief (Movement, Reproduction, Growth, Respiration, Irritability, Excretion, Feeding). You can devise many more of these to aid your personalised recall of items in your subjects.


Looking over a topic every now and then will help to keep it in the memory, taking away the need to cram before exams.
Make a summary of the work and look over it ten minutes later, the next day, the next week and then the next month for a few minutes each time. This reinforces the knowledge learned.
Understanding increases as time spent studying passes. However, the ability to recall things being memorized becomes progressively less efficient as time passes in a study session.
20 minutes is needed for the mind to get into the rhythm of and flow of the material. Any more than 40 minutes spent memorizing means that memory declines to a point where it is no longer valuable.
The answer in revision lessons therefore is to do 30 minutes with a 5-minute stretch break and then review the topic.
Another technique you can employ into your study sessions right away is this:
(1) Revise for 1 hour (remembering to take a 5minute break halfway)

(2) 10 minutes later revise the topic for 10 minutes
(3) 1 day later revise the topic for 5 minutes

(4) 1 week later revise the topic for 2-5 minutes
(5) 1 month later revise the topic for 2-5 minutes
(6) Before exams revise the topic as required.
Each time you do this, knowledge is reinforced and it enters deeper into the long-term memory and becomes more stable.