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Improve your memory for exams

If exams are around the corner we look at tips to sharpen your brain and some apps to boost your memory.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

A postgraduate student at home revising for his examinations
Wordplay – uses a vivid phrase with humour, colour or mnemonics to help you remember.

Promote new neural pathways in your brain by setting it challenges like learning a new language

Exams are coming up soon, some of you have already started swotting so we’ll take a look at some tips to improve and boost your memory.

Memory can erode as we get older. Scientists say the memory area, the hippocampus, of our brain loses 5 percent of its nerve cells with each passing decade. The good news is our brain is like a ball of plasticine - it does have an astonishing ability to change and adapt even when we age. This is called neuroplasticity or building new memory networks which we can all encourage in various ways.

Throughout your life managing stress and choosing the right lifestyle is an important key to healthy memory as well as adopting balanced methods to learning and swotting.

You can promote new neural pathways in your brain by setting it challenges like learning a new language or studying our programmes via distance learning can improve your analytical and cognitive abilities.

Memory is a way of organising information in your brain.

Organising how you learn is another key like studying in bite sized chucks when you have spare time. Many students find regular and frequent periods of study much more beneficial than cramming in at the end with lots of coffee to keep awake. Do try to plan and manage your study time proactively - you’ll feel more in control and less stressed.

If you change and re-organise the way you think this will help support and improve your memory – we’ll look at some techniques next to get you in the right frame of mind to tackle exams.

Memory tips

Our short term memory usually enables us to memorise about 8 items, here are assorted basic tricks and tips to enhance memory further:

  • Use association to remember facts – this can be visual clues or numeric.
  • Break down numbers into groups to remember them.
  • Chunk or group items together in order or list things – for a shopping list group items for diary under alphabet d.
  • Use acronyms to remember key sentences – first letter of each word.
  • Exercising your brain will improve neural pathways - learn something different and difficult like Sudoku or mind games.
  • Get some exercise – even a brisk walk will help your brain focus.
  • Get enough sleep - your brain will operate at full capacity.
  • Test yourself – track your progress and fill in the gaps without having to relearn a whole chapter again.
  • Wordplay – a vivid phrase with humour, colour or mnemonics will help you recall.
  • Eat well – pick foods rich in omega-3, colourful fruit and vegetables, nuts all boost cognitive function.

Some things that don’t help memory:

  • Multi-tasking or doing too much like having 10 web pages open – won't aid sustained concentration for long periods.
  • Taking stimulants like coffee to keep awake or stay alert - these only offer short term effects.
  • Cramming isn’t ideal for long term memory– break your study into manageable chunks.
  • Not drinking enough water – have a glass immediately after you wake up to kick start your metabolism and brain.

Memory tools and apps

Two main methods of supporting your memory are with external and internal aids which anyone can use. External support could be writing or using flash cards and internal aids are using games to train your brain.

Lumosity - Play brain games like Sudoku or computer games to improve concentration. Just 10 to 15 minutes a day can make all the difference. Lumosity has games and tools developed by Harvard and Stanford neuro scientists to improve your concentration and cognitive skills. You can sign up for a personalised training programme at basic level for free and use this via the web, iOS and Android.

Personal Zen – helpful for managing stress or to reduce anxiety. A game to train your brain to focus on the positive and less on negative. You could use this 10 minutes a day on your hand held device before study time. It’s available on the AppStore or ITunes.

Sudoku – these online number puzzles will give your brain a work out. Limber up from plain easy to devilishly difficult. The web version is available on all browsers, iPad and Android.

Eidetic – Learn and remember anything. Working differently from typical brain training apps it uses a technique called spaced repetition to help you memorise important numbers, historical facts, tongue twisting literature terms or poetry. Useful to commit learning to long term memory. It is available in several languages and available on iTunes.

Flash cards - use StudyBlue to make digital flashcards on your mobile device. Also upload class study materials to create flashcards which you can share with others. Another good app is Evernote Peek which turns notes, audio or images into study materials. Both will help you memorise and study.

More information

  • Find out when your exams take place - see exam timetables.
  • Study a language - learn about linguistics, phonetics and semantics in our BA English programme.