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Study techniques that work

The human brain is an amazing organ. With an estimated capacity of around 2.5 petabytes – or one million gigabytes – your brain is capable of learning an incredible amount of information during your study sessions.

But how exactly do you unlock all of this incredible learning and memory recall potential? Try these five scientifically-proven techniques to maximise your time spent studying.

Unlock with key(word)s

The keyword method is among the most widely researched memory strategies, and is recommended to learn and recall the meanings of words, technical jargon and scientific and historical facts.

Choose a keyword that can easily be associated with the fact, phrase or theory that you are trying to remember. Now, associate your keyword with an image, since images are generally easier to recall than words.

For example, if you were trying to remember the capitals of New Zealand, you might picture a map with a pair of gumboots (also known as Wellingtons) sitting atop New Zealand.

Practice (testing) makes perfect

No matter how you do it, practice testing is one of the best ways to study and improve your learning and information recall.

Passively reviewing information can lull us into a false sense of security that we know the information we’re studying – after all, the answers seem obvious while we’re reading the text or viewing the diagrams.

Alternatively, actively testing your memory retrieval not only reveals what you need to work on, but actually helps to improve your knowledge recall by building better pathways to the correct answer.

Create mock tests and quiz a classmate or study buddy, or try making your own flash cards (where the question is on one side and the answer is on the other).

Carry a tune

You may think remembering that computer science equation impossible – but can you still recall the lyrics to the theme song of your favourite TV show as a kid? Why should pulling these information files from your mind be any different?

The repetition, connection, rhyme and pattern in music is what makes it so easy to memorise song lyrics, which is why music has long been used to help students learn and recall information.

Making up your own memory-boosting song is simple. Start by choosing a tune you’re already familiar with (nursery rhyme melodies such as Three Blind Mice work well) and then add your own lyrics, containing the information you need to recall, in time with the music.

Build a palace

It’s a memory trick often spoken about on detective shows, however the idea of a ‘Memory Palace’ does have some truth behind it. It's also been used to enhance memory recall by ancient Roman philosophers and modern day “memory athletes” alike.

Think about your living room. Can you picture it clearly – remembering every piece of furniture, and framed photo? The Memory Palace technique is based on the fact that people are can almost effortlessly recall specific details about places and spaces they know well.

To take advantage of this for study, pick a place you’re very familiar with and that you can visualise in great detail. Imagine walking around this space, starting from the door, and paying attention to ornaments, books and other features.

Now, add some visual associations into your palace to help jog your memory of the facts you want to recall as you ‘walk’ around. As it’s much easier for us to remember the unusual than the routine, make these associations as wacky as you can.

For example, if you need to remember a certain date, picture it circled on a calendar stuck to your refrigerator. If you need to remember the name of someone, group objects that sound like that name in your palace.

Embrace your inner child

If you’ve spent any time around children, you’ll be familiar with their endless stream of “Why?” and “How?”. Asking these questions is how kids begin to understand the world around them – and as adults, we can learn a thing or two from this strategy.

Asking ourselves why a fact is true encourages us to integrate new ideas with things we already know to be true, and can more easily comprehend. This not only helps us to better understand new facts by mentally exploring them, but also improves our recall of this new information by building more memory pathways to that fact.

If you find it tricky to ask yourself questions, consider how you would explain a certain idea, concept or practice to someone else if they asked you “Why?”.

On the hunt for more study aids to help you knuckle down and get focused? Try these study apps to keep you organised throughout your course.