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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Improve My Memory For Study? 384

Posted by timothy
from the hat-hen-ham-hare-hill dept.
First time accepted submitter Sensei_knight writes "How serendipitous! Today I see Slashdot also has an article linking caffeine to long-term memory, but I digress. Recently I returned to college in my 30s, after battling a childhood sleep disorder, and I now discover staying awake might be the least of my troubles. Now that I failed a few classes I'm trying to analyze and overcome the causes of this recent disaster. Two things are obvious: First, it takes me way too long to complete tasks (as if suffering from time dilation) — tests take me approximately twice the amount of time to finish [and the amount of time it takes to study and do homework is cumulative and unsustainable]. Secondly, I just can't seem to remember a whole lot. I know sleep and memory are very closely related, perhaps that's why I have never been able to commit the times tables to memory. My research on the subject of memory has not been very fruitful, therefore I want to ask for input into which angle/direction I should look into next. As for cognitive speed, I have completely drawn a blank."
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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Improve My Memory For Study?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @01:41PM (#45954371)

    First see your physician for a a checkup and make sure it's nothing like Thyroid, diabetes or something phsycial. Then see a psychologist (your doc probably can refer you) and see if they have some advice - and they may refer you to a psychiatrist for medical treatment.

    You could have a number of issues from undiagnosed dislexia or depression - depression really screws with learning and memory and being depressed doesn't ncessarilty mean you are bed ridden crying your eyes out.

  • Nootropics (Score:5, Informative)

    by tlambert (566799) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @01:44PM (#45954433)

    Nootropics

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nootropic [wikipedia.org]

    Not sure if it's the right band-aid for you. Treat the sleep disorder first.

  • Diet/Exercise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @01:47PM (#45954513)

    There are plenty of chemical/herbal compounds that you can take to improve cognitive abilities. However, aside from sleep with respect to controllable factors the absolute most powerful contributors to cognitive abilities are your diet and exercise. Both eating low quality (unhealthy) food as well as a sedentary lifestyle degrade cognitive performance immensely.

    My advise to you would be to ditch McRotten and visit your local gym regularly. As a side benefit you just might find yourself sleeping better too.

  • Re:Sleep study (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @01:52PM (#45954615)

    I don't think you understand why the joke is funny.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @02:32PM (#45955419) Journal
    The three pillars of good health are:

    1) Nutrition. Make sure you're giving your body energy.
    2) Exercise. Keeps your body capable. Cleans out bad stuff.
    3) Sleep. Gives your body time to rebuild itself.

    Once you have those figured out, then the answer is practice, and it will improve. Personal anecdote: I used to have horrible memory skills until I memorized a workable vocabulary in another language. Now I can handle memorization no problem.
  • Training (Score:5, Informative)

    by Peter H.S. (38077) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:13PM (#45956151) Homepage

    Memory and study technique are like all other efforts; they require regular training if you want to master them. There are no magic short cuts or pills that can remove the need of training. Some things like good sleep, exercise and not being stressed helps a lot, but you still need training.

    The training will be hard and progress frustratingly slow in the beginning (think overweight ex-chain smoker taking up jogging or cycling; it is tough going in the beginning.).

    Reading books is the key to success. You have to read regularly (like every day) and probably for more than an hour per day to make any difference (bed time reading excluded).

    Memory is a complex thing, but for studying purposes I find it useful to distinguish between "passive" and "active" memory. "Active" memory is the stuff you can recall and talk about for some length. "Passive" memory is something where you can recall the meaning when you read about it again. Just reading a book usually just produce "passive" memory. Talking about the book (or movie, or show, etc.) afterwards converts the passive memory to active memory.

    A good student is one that studies in such a way, that the most important stuff in the texts, are converted from passive to active memory.

    There are several classic techniques to convert passive book knowledge into active; discuss the book afterwards with others, write you thoughts about the text down (making notes is useful even if you never look at them again), or use your inner voice to recapitulate what you have just read, or even talk aloud to a fictitious audience. The latter was a major technique for Roman orators because it improves rhetorical skills as well. It will improve your verbal exams considerably if you train the same way.

    So try to start out with a small non-fiction book with a subject that you care for. Read a whole chapter, then reread it one page at a time, explaining to yourself with your inner voice using your own words, what was covered in that page and what parts were the important ones. Perhaps underline important passages.
    Afterwards, try to recapitulate major points from what your read, perhaps glancing at the index as a memory aid.

    Read another book on the subject in the same manner, and compare it underways (from memory only at first) to the first book.

    The above will not just convert passive memory to active memory, but it will also help you to actually understand in detail what was written instead of just reading the passage on autopilot without comprehension, it will help you focus on what is important, and the comparison will spawn memory connection between both text, so that one passage from one book, opens up the knowledge from the second book.

    The above is very slow and time consuming in the beginning, and it is hard work too. But don't worry, as time goes by, the speed will increase; you will develop your own way of committing the stuff to memory, and knowledge will make it easier to see what is important, and what is secondary.

    The point is to learn how to learn in a slow, systematic and thorough way in the beginning, later you brain will do much of the stuff automatically, and the speed will increase too.

    Read, recapitulate to understand what was read and to convert it from passive to active memory, try to identify what is key points, compare and connect the knowledge with similar subjects, read slow and thoroughly at first, and don't be afraid to reread stuff later.

    Good luck.

  • Re:Nootropics (Score:5, Informative)

    by PJ6 (1151747) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:41PM (#45956591)

    Nootropics

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nootropic [wikipedia.org]

    Not sure if it's the right band-aid for you. Treat the sleep disorder first.

    I tried Piracetam [wikipedia.org] for a while... seemed like a safe, cheap miracle drug for memory. And you know what? It does what it says on the tin.... but I stopped taking it. After a while I realized that I remembered all the words to the books I'd been reading. It was awful. I looked at them and thought, I will never read these again. Every book I'd read on it, I ended up getting rid of.

    Having your memory force-stuffed isn't all it's cracked up to be. Unless you need to reverse age-related cognitive decline, I don't recommend it.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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