Archive for the ‘Memory techniques’ Category

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Thank you for the music – listening to music when revising

May 31, 2013

May and June are the traditional months when students around the world lock themselves away to revise for their exams.

In China for example over 9 million students will be sitting the university entrance exams.

Last May (2012) Teenagers at Xiaogang school in Hubei province were pictured hooked up to bags of intravenous fluids hanging from the classroom ceiling to boost energy levels during the revision period. An extreme action by anyone’s standards, but perhaps an example of how much pressure students feel this time of year.

As I mentioned in last month’s blog my daughter is currently caught up in this May/June exam frenzy. So once again I found myself looking to her for inspiration. What was she doing, how did she revise? This is not because she is a perfect example of a revision student, in many ways she is not, but I do think she is typical of many.

What does Beth do?

  • Makes notes from her notes – This is a standard exam skill, reducing content down into measurable and personal chunks. She does use mind maps (possibly my influence) but not exclusively.
  • Prepares as if she has to teach someone else – this I find interesting and has certainly not come from me. She writes on a white board the key points as if she was going to teach that subject. I like this idea, as many teachers and lecturers will tell you nothing focuses the mind nor motivates you more than having to teach it to others.
  • Practices past exam questions…of course!
  • Studies while listening to music – now this is the one that intrigued me and as a result I have devoted the rest of the blog to answering the question …..

Is it a good idea to revise whilst listening to music?

As ever the science needs much interpretation.

It’s a bad idea

Researchers from the University of Wales, tasked 25 students with memorising lists of consonants. Some were shown the letters while sitting in silence, others while listening to music by their favourite bands or by groups they had a strong aversion to. The conclusion was that listening to music, hampered their recall.

So it’s good then

Scientists at Stanford University, in California, believe there is a molecular basis for music known as the “Mozart Effect“. It was discovered that rats, like humans, perform better on learning and memory tests after listening to a specific Mozart Sonata in D.

But then there is the evidence that suggests that switching attention when trying to learn as might be the case with listening to music slows down the cognitive process.

Yet you cannot ignore the research that clearly shows music has the ability to alter your brain and induce relaxation which in turn helps create an ideal state for learning.

Watch what happens to your brain when you listen to music.

Hopefully you get the idea.

Conclusions

  • Listening to music puts you into a more relaxed frame of mind and that is of course good for learning. So listening to music before or after revising can help.
  • If you do want to listen to music, avoid music that requires you to shift your attention. This would suggest you should not listen to  music with lyrics  as it can mean you need to think about what is being said nor should you listen to something new that you may not have heard before. This is one of the reasons classical, in particular baroque music is the preferred choice of many students. Also don’t play the music too loud, keep it as background noise.
  • If there are specific facts that you simply need to know, then avoid listening to music completely, give it your full attention. But you can’t concentrate at this level all day, only for short periods.
  • On the whole be consistent don’t keep changing the type of music, you need familiarity.

Music to help you study

The internet has many websites that offer relaxing and helpful music, here are a few that might help.

 

 

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Chunking

September 30, 2012

Whenever I deliver an exam technique or memory course I always come away feeling I have learned something, although I do of course hope it was not just me!

Last week was no exception; it was the memory technique course. Now I have written in the past about memory techniques, but last week one specific topic stood out, chunking.

One of the problems with learning any subject is that often you are faced with such large volumes of information it seems impossible to learn. This is not dissimilar to the position that memory champions find themselves, for example one of the tasks they have to undertake is to memorise a pack of cards.

How long would it take you, 30 minutes, 2 hours, maybe it’s not possible?

Well it is possible and you can do it in 24.97 seconds, don’t believe me, then watch this video.

So how is it done?

Well the first thing to say is it takes practice; secondly it uses some of the principles of memory, chunking, visualisation, and association. You break the task down into a series of smaller tasks, e.g. remember each separate card (chunking) then create a unique image of each card and finally put the events into a structure you are already familiar with, let’s say your journey to work (association).

Listen Professor Winston and Andi Bell world memory champion in 2002 explain more.

Chunking in a bit more detail

I have promoted the benefits of visulisation in previous blogs so let’s focus on chunking.

Look at these letters for 30 seconds

BAADHLWWFCBBACCA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

Now look at these letters

ACCA CBB WWF DHL BAA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

You should find that you did better at the second list, one because some of them are already familiar to you BAA – British Airways, but most importantly because they were broken down into smaller chunks.

It works for study as well

Chunking is not only a useful memory technique but a great way to study. When faced with a new subject, start by breaking it down into smaller chunks then priorities those chunks as to which is the most important. This would normally be the most examinable. You then focus on that chunk, don’t worry about all the other topics; just concentrate on that one, and when you have done that move onto the next etc.

And finally

The guy that broke the world record is Ben Pridmore from Derby in the UK

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Sleep, picture, talk – learn smarter

April 30, 2012

Three stories caught my eye this month that I thought might be of interest.

They are all ways in which new research is providing evidence as to how it is possible to learn more effectively, a kind of smart brain learning.

 

 

Sleep is good for study

A new study from the University of Notre Dame suggest  that sleeping soon after learning new material is best for recall. This clearly has implications for students in those latter stages of revision and arguably the night before the exam.  The answer it would seem is that you can study right up to the last minute (probably memorising  facts) as long as you are getting a good night’s sleep after wards.

Although it is not known with certainty why sleep is so good, it is believed that it brings some form of consolidation of the facts, a kind of updating and reorganising of the brain while you rest.

The idea is not that new, this research was out in 2004

Pictures are better than words

This might come as no surprise to people who have read this blog before but it is reassuring that there is some science to support the view that the brain is more effective with pictures than words.

A story from the BBC about a group of people who had their brainwaves scanned while completing a series of tasks, individually and in groups, to see if data visualisation, presenting information visually, in this case a series of mind maps can help. The results showed that when tasks were presented visually rather than using traditional text, individuals used arround 20% less cognitive resources. In other words, their brains were working a lot less hard.

The research was carried out by Mindlab International, an independent research company that specialises in neurometrics – the science of measuring patterns of brain activity through EEG, eye tracking and skin conductivity, which tracks emotions.

This is not just another plug for mind maps, they are just one way in which information is presented visually. When reading a book or study manual, put information in boxes, use graphs, draw people and objects, make it look visual, it will all help.

The first sign of madness – talking to yourself out loud

Gary Lupyan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison often found himself talking out loud so he thought it might try to find out if it helped, and guess what it did.

In one experiment, volunteers were shown 20 pictures of various objects and asked to look for a specific one, such as a banana. In half of the trials, participants were asked to repeatedly say what they were looking for out loud to themselves, the others were asked to remain silent. The researchers found self-directed speech helped people find objects more quickly by about 50 to 100 milliseconds.

Most people talk to themselves when studying, but they don’t say the words out loud they keep it inside their heads. What this research suggests is that what you should do is say the words out loud, use different voices even. I know it sounds strange but it does work. Okay maybe you should do it behind closed doors; you don’t want to upset the neighbors…..

 

 

 

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Mind Mapping unplugged – How to Mind Map from beginning to end

October 27, 2011

Another month and another MasterClass live on-line lecture, this time on “How to Mind Map” don’t worry this is the last one for a while. I have blogged before about Mind Mapping, explaining the principles and how to draw one. So this presentation was to look in more detail as to how you should do it, starting with a text book and working through the various versions until you get to the “overview map” at the end.

Below is a note of the key learning’s from this presentation.

Steps In Mind Mapping – assuming you know nothing about the subject

1. Mind map the Contents page – identify key words

Firstly take the text book that you want to study from and find the contents page. Use the headings on this page as your guide, these should form the basis of your first map.

This will be very simple summary of the key themes radiating from a central image or word. Mentally stay away from the detail and just record the words. At this stage it is little more than black and white spider diagram.

 

 

2. Redraw the Mind Map – asking what is this chapter/section/word all about, what does it mean?

Look at the completed map and redraw, this time though just flick through the chapters looking for the main headings in the book. Notice terms that may be similar, perhaps showing that they are parts of the same topic but have been split up into two or even three chapters simply because of the amount that has to be learned. Add to the detail of the map using some of the content from the book and any syllabus guidance that may be given. At this stage you need to reduce the number of branches coming from the central theme.

3. Study each chapter

You can’t get away from this part I am afraid, you now have to study each chapter or attend a course that will prepare you for the exam. But you are doing so with some understanding as to what you will be studying and how it fits together.

4. Redraw individual chapters in colour

This is when we produce out first real Mind Map. Redraw the key topics, in colour showing how they all relate, use images and of course your imagination. Key topics at this stage may be chapters or combinations of chapters. At the end of the chapters of many study manuals there will be some questions, or at least there should be! Add these to your Mind Map so that you know which topics have been tested. This will also help direct your studies, mapping out the questions you should be doing.

5. Complete the final overview map

And finally take all of these individual Mind Maps and complete an overview map, one map that links all of the individual maps together, this will help you see the BIG picture, perfect for revision.

Hope that helps let me know how you get on….

More free content- EDU You Tube  

The availability of lectures and guidance on-line just keeps coming.  You Tube are now providing free content to help you study, check out EDU You Tube.

 

 

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The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams

March 31, 2011

Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first people to link words and pictures, using their combination to help with both learning and creativity. It also left behind a permanent record of what he had been thinking that could be used as a reminder for him and others, a set of notes!

Leonardo died in 1519 and it was not until the late 1960’s when Tony Buzan refined the technique and gave it a name “Mind Mapping. “

What is a mind Map?

According to Tony Buzan, mind maps are an expression of radiant thinking and a natural function of the human mind, a powerful graphical technique which provides a universal key to unlocking the potential of the brain. A nice description but I am not sure I understand what they are just from that.

In the context of making notes, I would define a mind map as a way of recording key words that, unlike linear notes, start with a central theme that is often an image, and have content that radiates out from this central theme like branches from a tree. They should be colourful and the note maker should use their imagination in drawing the map, bringing in images and showing connections in any way they wish.

How to draw a mind map

There are and should be few rules to mind mapping as the individual should bring as much of him or herself to the process as possible. But there are some guidelines.

1. In the centre of your paper, draw a square, a circle, or an image that will help you focus on the core issue of the mind map. Inside it, write the name of the subject or topic you are studying. It is probably best to have the paper in landscape rather than portrait.

2. What are the main points or substantial topics that relate to your central theme? Draw branches from the circle, like branches from a tree, to these sub topics. Print the key words on these branches, use block capitals if your writing is not so neat. You can also use geometric shapes for these new areas, or sketch a small picture. Why not do both?

3. The structure will broadly follow the key words that you highlighted from the text. You may, however, find that some of the topics or key words lead you to make connections that at first you did not see. Make the associations and don’t be afraid to re-draw the mind map if it gets a little messy.

4. Begin branching off into smaller but related topics. Think fast! Your mind may work best in 5-7 minute intense periods. Using different coloured pens to show the relationship between separate yet related topics can be very powerful. You can use symbols as well as pictures if that seems to come more naturally.

5. Mind maps work to a great degree because of your choice of keywords and the fact that they are short and to the point. Don’t feel that you have to expand on these; you don’t.

6. Let your thoughts and imagination go wild when it comes to the images. Although a mind map is logical and so requires you to use the left side of your brain, it also requires the use of colours and images, both of which involve large amounts of right side brain activity. Don’t worry about how good at drawing you are. You don’t need to be particularly good at art; it just needs to be legible and only to you.

Check this out  it is a really helpful and practical guide to using mind maps to make and organise notes.

If you want to hear Tony Buzan talk about mind maps, just click on the link to the right of this page in the Blogroll.

I personally find mind maps one of the most effective learning and exam tools I have ever come across. A map is much more than a simple note taking technique used to record content. It presents that content in such a way that aids learning. You will recognise how topics inter-relate and so begin to understand the subject, not just remember it. It is also, as the name suggests, a map: it shows you the whole subject, not just one part of it, so that you can see where you need to go next. And, like a map, you can take many different routes to get to your destination and, in so doing, learn more about the subject. It is also ideal for revision and is much easier to review than traditional notes largely because of the pictures

Try something new today

Some people say that mind mapping does not work for them and that may be true. But I think that if you had never been to school and were trying to learn or solve a problem, as Leonardo discovered all those years ago you would more than likely draw pictures and link those pictures with words than record your thoughts in a black and white linear format, so give it a go.

An accountancy student blogs about her experience using mind maps to help her pass exams.

 A general blog about mind mapping

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To pass an exam – do an exam

October 26, 2010

To ride a bike - Ride a bike

Although the debate around the value of examinations (testing) is set to continue, new research from Kent State University in the US suggests that examinations aid learning by making the brain develop more efficient ways of storing information. Dr. Katherine Rawson, associate professor in Kent State’s Department of Psychology, and former Kent State graduate student Mary Pyc published their research findings in the Oct. 15, 2010, issue of the journal Science. 

“Taking practice tests – particularly ones that involve attempting to recall something from memory – can drastically increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to remember that information again later,” Rawson said. 

In the article titled “Why Testing Improves Memory: Mediator Effectiveness Hypothesis,” Rawson and Pyc reported an experiment indicating that at least one reason why testing is good for memory is that testing supports the use of more effective encoding strategies. In particular the brain comes up with mental keywords – called mediators – which trigger memories which they would not do when studying only.

 I have to say that this comes as no surprise to me nor would it to any student or anyone who has ever read a book on memory techniques.   It does however add some significant evidence to support the use of testing or mock examinations as a means of preparation for the real thing.

 To pass examinations you require much more than just memory techniques, and in many ways all this research* has done is show that you can recall certain words far more easily if you link them via another word, the mediator, and then test to find out if you can in fact remember them. But because you can’t pass an exam without remembering what you have learned it does mean that by spending a little more time in encoding the information and by testing yourself afterwards you must improve your chances of passing.

 To my mind the research still has some way to go in recognising the other benefits of doing practice exams or tests, and I should add looking at the answers. For example do they not give a very clear indication of the standard required, provide focus as to what is important and what is not, give a concise summary of key parts of the syllabus, show how the knowledge should be applied in the context of the question and improve your level of concentration knowing that you will be tested latter, I could go on.

 How does this help – some tips

 When trying to get something into your head, don’t just read it, although reading is a method of learning, it is not very effective when it comes to remembering. Reading is largely an auditory process; you say the words in your head. Ever heard the saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”. At the same time as reading, underline the key words and make notes with those key words. The very process of extracting them from the text will help. Next you need to remember those key words, well why not link them with a story (A mediator) or with single words as illustrated in the study. There are several memory techniques that use the principle of association to link words, check out the “stack and link and number rhyme” systems. See video below for an example of how to use the number rhyme system.

 And then of course you need to test yourself and your ability to recall those key words afterwards.

 So be in confident and inspired that what you new has now been proven and that  tests are not just about finding out if you will pass or fail the exam, they are an integral and vital part of the learning process, and that’s a fact.

 *In the research they asked students to remember Swahili-English word pairs, such as ‘wingu – cloud and use a mediator (wingu’ sounds like ‘wing’ – the mediator, birds have wings and fly in the ‘clouds) to link the two.

For more thoughts on what this means - click 

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Thanks for the memories – principles of memory

March 17, 2010

What do you think this is?

This evening I will once again be delivering a live webinar on exam techniques and how to learn more effectively by using exam questions as a guide, Exam focused learning. The event ends with the suggestion that having produced a set of notes from which you can then begin to revise, you should commit this material to memory.

So I thought I would devote this blog to looking at what I call the principles of memory. These aren’t memory techniques in themselves but overriding principles that form the basis of most if not all memory techniques.

Principle one – It’s all about input
The first principle of memory is how you record (input) the information in the first place. Put the information in, in the right way and you will remember it, the wrong way and you won’t.

Firstly, get into the right mood
The way you feel, your emotional state, the mood you are in all create powerful ways of encoding information. Take for example the classic memory question: can you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot? Or more recent events: when the Twin Towers collapsed or when Princess Diana or Michal Jackson died? The reason you tend to remember these events is partly because it was unexpected, something you never imagined possible, it probably changed your mood to one of shock or surprise.

From a practical exam point of view, the best mood to be in when studying is curiosity. The more curious you are about something the more likely you are to remember it afterwards.

Secondly, use your imagination – exaggerate
Something that is imagined is, by definition, not real: it is made up, created by you and can be an image, a sound, a smell a taste or a feeling. For most people, an imagined event will probably be visual, you will see it or auditory you will hear it. We have a much greater ability to recall events if we play a part in their original construction. The event should be large, loud and unusual, do not go for something that is ordinary, ordinary is never easy to remember.

Lastly, use your senses
As all information is fed into the brain through the senses, as a result it should come as no surprise that they play an important part in what we can remember. They are effectively the input system. The combination and use of as many of your senses as possible will help create a unique event and the more unique the event, the easier it will be to remember. Although you have many senses the most powerful forms of input are your ability to visualise and to hear.

Principle two – Association and organisation

The second principle, the information you want to remember needs to be organised and associated. Although you may remember something in the form of a visual image or sound, it will become increasingly difficult to retrieve that image unless it is stored in your memory in an organised and structured way. One of the best ways of storing images is to associate them with something that you already remember. For example, it is far easier to remember the name of certain trees if you imagine a tree with branches and on each of the branches you hang the name of the different types of trees.

Almost all of the memory techniques use some form of association in order to create the memory.

Principle three – Repetition

And lastly we are back to repetition. Unfortunately there is no substitute for going over something again and again and again. All methods of input will benefit from some form of reinforcement by repeating the process.

In Summary

In order to create a memory, you need a sequence of events. Firstly, you need to input the information in the most suitable way. This might be by using images or sounds. Make sure you are in the right mood or state when you do this, and the more you exaggerate the event the more likely you will be to remember it later. But creating a powerful memory using images or sounds is only part of the process. Think of the memory as a piece of paper. Yes, you have recorded the information, but you now need to make sure it is filed away so that you will be able to find it. This is why you need to organize the memory: it needs to be labelled and, where possible, associated with some existing information. And, finally, go over the process several times just to reinforce it.

Oh and just in case you were curious, the picture above is of a neuron and it is when one neuron connects with another that a memory is created. The more you repeat something the more powerful the connection and so is the memory.

This is an extract from my book the E word (E for exam) that should be on the book shelves in the next few months.

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Tuition is dead, long live revision – Tip three

November 15, 2009

RIP TuitionFollowing on from tip two to practice past exam questions.

Tip three – remember, remember the 9th of November

Whether you remember the gun powder plot in 1605, “remember , remember the 5th of November” or the fall of the Berlin wall on the 9th of November from this rhyme, it still provides a simple example of how effective a memory technique can be. Tip three is what you should do now that you have a set of revision notes and have spent a considerable amount of time practicing past exam questions. It would of course be really great if when you went into the exam you could attempt every single question and be confident that you knew the answer. This may have been possible at some point in your exam career but is probably not so now. There will be topics that despite revising and practicing questions you still don’t understand and some that you will simply forget.

Less is still more

Mind MapYou need to take your revision notes and reduce them even more. Go through the notes again but this time only record what you can’t remember or don’t understand. The notes should also be written in a more short hand style, we only want key words not whole paragraphs. You might also wish to think about making notes in a mind map style rather than a linear one. These notes should be no more than 10 pages. They should be structured in the same way as your original revision notes wherever possible. These final set of notes can be prepared perhaps as late as 1 week before the exam. What you do next is memorise these notes, we are no longer looking for an understanding, but don’t be surprised if during this process something suddenly makes sense. There are lots of memory techniques you can use, ranging from the simple rhyme method above to acronyms, acrostics, peg methods and the famous roman room or loci method. The point is this, time for learning in the traditional way is over, you now need to commit as much to short term memory as possible. The night before and on the morning of the exam you just keep going over these 10 pages of notes. Use colours and images as much as possible and be creative, memory uses both left and right sides of the brain.

There are of course many more tips that will help with your revision but for me these are probably the most important. So to all those sitting exams, I wish you the very best of luck and to those that aren’t, if you are driving into work in the next few weeks, have a thought for the person in front, they might have a very important exam today!

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