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

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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  • Sleep study (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @02:39PM (#45954327)

    1. Have you gotten treatment, as an *adult*, for your sleep disorder? (e.g. overnight sleep study, etc.)
    2. Do you follow all the best practices for sleep -- e.g. sleep routine, e.g.only use sleeping area for sleep, avoid caffeine, no TV in bed, etc.?

    It seems to me you need to address the sleep issue first if it's still ongoing.

  • by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @02:43PM (#45954399)

    If you can't do that, then maybe University isn't for you.

    Bottom line: not everyone is able to do what most other people can do (hence "dis-abled"), and -- speaking from experience -- must make the best of your limitations.

  • by YumoolaJohn ( 3478173 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @02:47PM (#45954505)

    Memorizing stuff is pretty central to schooling

    Yep. This level of memorization is indeed "schooling"; what it isn't, though, is education.

  • by Sean James Brophy ( 3291099 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @02:49PM (#45954543)
    This is hogwash. Education has nothing to do with memorization. Memorization is not understanding. Two entirely different beasts.
  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @02:52PM (#45954607) Homepage

    Educational Psychology department at the local U about study strategies/study skills. Usually these are geared toward teachers (how to help their students to develop strategies) but sometimes they're even geared toward students at said U (how to study in college, and so on).

    These aren't classes about how to improve your brain, or about theory. They're very meat-and-potatoes: ways to organize note-taking, ways to organize reading activity and coordinate it with note-taking, ways to prepare for exams systematically and so on. What seems a problem of recall may be a problem of cognitive data architecture—not "it's not in there" but rather "you're not putting it in there in a way that lends itself to retrieval later on."

    I don't know your case or just how hard it is for you, but it's not uncommon for a broad cross-section of students to have many of the same complaints, and often the remedy is to learn differently (i.e. different, time-tested, sample-studied methods for effectively acquiring, organizing, and storing information) rather than to try to "do mental exercises" or improve some immanent property of themselves.

    And it's not common sense—they get down into things like how to lay out a page of notes, in geographical regions of the page; how to key words to paragraphs; how to note pages and where, etc. Very mechanical, technique-style stuff. You may find it helpful.

  • by xclr8r ( 658786 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:00PM (#45954773)
    I'm in a similar situation only older . Here is what is working for me (going from D's to A- and B+'s)

    You're older - it will take longer to assimilate information. Plan accordingly - that means studying on the weekend in advance of the class not night before. Ask the professor to point to any large blocks of information that you should commit to memory at the beginning of the semester in preparation.

    You are not a sponge - all night-ers are not going to help. Give yourself at least two nights of rest and then test your recall.

    Taking twice as long on tests seems on the long end - I take about 1.5x the time of traditional students on tests. Realize that some of them don't know the material either so are just turning in what they can. That said get a learning disability test to see if you do need special considerations (it may just be using a quiet area to take a test with no people around is all you need to focus).

    Usually (depending on field) the lower division courses are memorization and the upper division courses show how parts work in systems which is the important aspects.

    Try and see your study material in an applied setting. Putting pictures/experience to terms that need to be memorized is vital.

    Good luck.
  • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:00PM (#45954787) Journal
    Understanding is the key to an efficient and well organized memory system. Unprocessed data takes more effort to store, the more you understand and can interconnect what you know the more stable and long lasting the connections.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:00PM (#45954789)

    Bullshit. I teach at a university and frequently have students that have trouble with their exams. What the OP should do is go see the Accommodated Services department (or equivalent) at his/her university and see what accommodations can be made. I frequently have students that are able to write exams in separate rooms, on a computer (if it helps them to type rather than write), and with extra time and breaks in the middle of the exam. If someone wants to do a university degree, there is no reason they should be unable to do so.

  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:02PM (#45954829)

    Unless they are not bright enough to do so.
    Which would pretty much cause all of the symptoms mentioned above too.

  • by LF11 ( 18760 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:04PM (#45954863) Homepage

    That's bullshit. I started out with similar troubles, and just had to learn better time management. Skip the time-consuming questions, focus on the fast questions, then go back and work out as much of the time-consuming questions as possible in the time alloted.

    Few students do this.

  • Except that it has been found that one of the single largest predictors of success in the study of math specifically (and I do believe this translates to many other areas) has been whether a person believes in talent and abilities vs learned skills.

    That is to say, it was found that people who believe math to be a talent perform worst than people who believe it is a skill that can be mastered with effort.

    So if you really think it comes down to "abilities" then just go flip on the TV, you probably aren't going to find abilities in anything if you aren't willing to work at getting them.

  • by skids ( 119237 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:12PM (#45955017) Homepage

    Believing "brightness" to be an intrinsic character trait is a psychological crutch for those who view their intelligence as their only redeeming quality. A large proportion of the variety of cognitive impairments can be overcome, many even cured, and people can and do get smarter. OP should be praised for embarking on a serious quest for self-improvement. If only those sitting on their laurels would do so as well.

  • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:35PM (#45955491)
    To make such a statement is both cruel and more demonstrative of your own lacking than his. Anyone attempting to improve their lot in life by investing in themselves should lauded not ridiculed. Just because his path may be harder than someone else's doesn't mean he should give up, nor does it mean he cannot overcome present circumstance.
  • by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @03:51PM (#45955813)

    I teach at a university ... If someone wants to do a university degree, there is no reason they should be unable to do so.

    I'm a car salesman ... If someone wants to drive a car, there is no reason they should be unable to do so.

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:18PM (#45956235) Journal

    I can sketch, but I do not have the fine motor skills or natural ability to replicate real world (or imagined) people, places, or things on paper. If I were to go to a university to study art, I too would take 2-3 times as long as anyone else, and produce work which was noticably less accurate/detailed than my peers. I could study harder, retake many classes, try all sorts of learning tricks, but it would always be an uphill battle.

    It is easy for those of us in knowledge positions to think that success in technical classes is simply a function of hard work. That, while partially true, is not the sole criteria for success. A friend (and music notable) has said that nearly everyone can sing, and with practice anyone who can sing, can sing well. While that's true, it's only true in the sense that you could dedicate your entire life to singing and get good - good enough to enjoy it. But you would never have thevoice of Mariah Carey or Luciano Pavoratti or any of a number of naturally gifted people who also worked very hard.

    I think the parent post is right -maybe college just ins't for this guy. At least not as a short term career choice. Speed and repetition, along with memory training may help. Or it may not. Choosing to become an artist out of desire, and finding that you cannot - with instruction - replicate basic actions is a prime indicator that art may not be the path which provides the greatest reward.

  • by ApplePy ( 2703131 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:43PM (#45956619)

    Believing "brightness" to be an intrinsic character trait is a psychological crutch for those who view their intelligence as their only redeeming quality.

    Nonsense. It's only one of my many redeeming qualities.

    I really tire of the notion that people do not differ in intelligence. We know it about everything else, from sprinting speed, to artistic talent, to the strength of one's eyesight being inborn, but gods forbid we say that about brains.

    Oh no, if we just spend enough money on schools, and feed little Johnny a federal breakfast, we'll find that everyone is smart enough to be an electrical engineer. Even all the little minority kids are geniuses but we lie and say they're not because racism. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. I'm sick of it.

    I'm smarter than some people and dumber than others, and no amount of mental gymnastics is going to change that.

  • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @04:44PM (#45956639)
    Pushing boundaries and becoming more than you presently are should always be the foremost goal of everyone. Does everyone succeed in every endeavor? Of course not. But even the struggle of the journey itself bares fruit. To simply give up and accept only that which is easy would be a tragic waste so much potential.
  • by unrtst ( 777550 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @05:48PM (#45957509)

    arghhh... bullshit.
    I used to, and still do, hear the same thing regarding artistic talents. My senior year in high school, I was spending 2 study halls, 1 art class, and my lunch, and any other classes that let us take a blow off day, in the art room, and I was spending hours at home on it as well. Yes, I could draw/paint/etc better than most others, but they spent somewhere between zero and 20 minutes a day, in an unconcentrated state, practicing.

    I do 100% believe that there are predispositions to various activities, and if you enjoy something or, at least, easily stay focused on something, then it'll be easier to get better at said thing. I don't think those are talents.
    I'll also admit that I think there *are* some naturally "talented" people, but the term "savant" fits better.

    The vast majority of tasks, especially the 9-5 job ones, do not require any talent. Dedication, hard work, commitment, etc... sure, but you don't need to be especially talented, and most people are not. I also think anyone can learn just about anything (master is another question) if they really want to. It could be an uphill battle for some, and I think that's what the original topic is about... what are some ways he can make this easier? That's a valid question for anyone, and for each person, the answer will probably be a little different.

    All that said, just as the "naturally talented" folks are the exception and not the norm, there will be some that simply won't be able to excel in some areas. If you have an IQ of 85, don't get your hopes up on joining the ranks of string theory experts. If you're over 400lb before college, you probably won't be joining the olympic-level marathons... but you could work up to a nice long jog.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @06:36PM (#45958185) Journal

    We know it about everything else, from sprinting speed, to artistic talent, to the strength of one's eyesight being inborn, but gods forbid we say that about brains.

    For all those things (except maybe eyesight, but even that can be vastly improved with medical treatment), the variability based on effort is much more than the variability based on 'natural ability.'

    Getting a marathon time from 3 hours to 2 hours might take some natural ability (whatever that is), but getting it from 15 hours to 4 hours is all effort (and knowing how to apply that effort).

  • by SomePoorSchmuck ( 183775 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2014 @07:16PM (#45958793) Homepage

    Very few people have been killed by others getting their diplomas.

    Thousands of DOD-contractor engineers over the past 60 years would disagree with you. Highly-credentialed scientists have been responsible for millions of deaths in the modern world.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright