9 Things You Need to Know About Memory and Learning for Exam Success - Part 1/2

When you think about passing professional exams like CIMA, one of the biggest challenges is about finding time to study. It is also about finding ways to optimise the use of that precious time. Knowing about the basics of learning and memory is a good place to begin because unless we do appreciate our own limitations, we cannot really overcome them.

moonwalking with einsteinMost of the ideas described in this article are from Moonwalking With Einstein, The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. In the book Foer describes his yearlong quest to improve his memory to take part in the United States Memory Championship with the help from top "mental athletes." The book is a mix of cutting-edge research, interesting historical facts about learning, memory and creativity and chockfull of tips, tricks, ideas and techniques on how to improve your memory and recall. This week I will present the frist 3 points and next week you can read the next 5 (8 altogether).


There are better ways to learn, memorize, study and succeed


The good news is that anyone can learn these secrets and apply them.

Tony Buzan, who founded the World Memory Championship in 1991, tells Foer that "The brain is like a muscle," and that memory training is a form of mental work-out. What we have to remember is that "Over time, like any form of exercise, it'll make the brain fitter, quicker, and more nimble."

Let us explore some ideas and techniques that will help you study better and learn more effectively into the limited time you have to studying for CIMA exams.

Human memory, which evolved over millions of years was simply not meant to do the things we ask of our memories in the 21st century.


Our memories are good at some things but not at others.


Our memories are good at remembering certain things but not others. We are good at visual memory, but not at long lists of words or numbers. Memory techniques help us take the types of memories our brains are not good at and help us transform them into types of memories we are good at holding on to.

The more we appreciate the limitations of our memories, the better we will be at taking measure to deal with those gaps, effectively, and hopefully better than most of our peers. This knowledge and awareness of various tips, tricks and techniques can serve us well in both studying for exams and in becoming professional experts in our careers.

Here are a few points to help you enhance your memory:

1. Learning is not just about memory. It is also about recall.

After all, what is the point of studying if you cannot recall what you studied during the exams? So effective studying is not just about committing things to memory. It is also about recalling what we studied and using them within a meaningful context.

Think of memorizing as filing a document in a filing cabinet. Unless you have an effective system to know where what goes in, you will have trouble finding the document again. So just as you need a filing index and some form of logical file listing, an organized way of doing things, you will not be very effective or productive. Memory and recall work in just the same way. You have to have means and methods of storing away your memories in an organized and detailed enough manner for you to be able to recall them later.

2. Learners can benefit from using various memory techniques.

new thinking 300x300The more tips and tricks you know on better storage, the better your recall will be. Effective memorizers use multiple hooks, multisensory memory storage techniques.

You know how sometimes you know a word but you really cannot recall it however much you try? That is an instance when we are able to access only part of, but not the whole of the neural network that contains the idea. That is your process of committing it to memory has been less than effective. This can happen not just with words, but with names and ideas as well.

The secret to avoiding this frustrating experience is using multiple hooks and multisensory techniques to lodge what you learn clearly in your memory.

You have heard of various study techniques. That is what they are all about.

We are told to skim a document or lesson unit before reading; to scan it for key ideas. We are told we should read something fully and to summarize the gist of it immediately afterwards. Don't just read and read again and again, we are told. Try to express the ideas in your own words. Make short notes. Create acronyms and mnemonics. Highlight, underline, use different colours. Use visual techniques to boost memory. Make mind maps of the ideas and concepts and their relationships. Use flash cards. Answer practice questions. Do practice exams. Teach someone else what you are learning.

Each of the above helps you make your learning more multisensory, compared to just merely reading it. When you do these things you are learning actively.  Their goal is to get more of your attention and provide multisensory hooks for you to hang your learning on. All these have a role to play in improving your capacity to remember and recall what you study. 

3. There are different types of memory.

In general, memories can be divided into two broad categories: declarative memory and non-declarative memory. These are also referred to sometimes as explicit ad and implicit memories.

Declarative memories are things you know you remember. How many wheels are there in a car or the colour of your hair or eyes. Non declarative memories are things you know unconsciously "like how to ride a bike or how to draw a shape while looking at it in a mirror". And different brain regions are associated with each type.

Psychologists divide declarative memories into two groups. Semantic memories are memories to do with facts and concepts. Episodic memories are memories of experiences we go through in our lives. Episodic memories based on experiences are naturally located in time and space. Semantic memories are not bound by time or space.
Most of the s tuff you study for exams are semantics. But if you try to add an acronym or create a mnemonic to describe a process, you can begin converting it to episodic memories. When a friend was in grade 7, she created a whole poem to remember the first 20 elements of the periodic table. And I recall the pride she expressed in having done so. It was funny. We laughed about it. Both she and I can still list the 20 elements in a row because we made this semantic memory into an episodic one.

Case studies are another example of converting semantic learning into episodic memories. This is why practice tests are important for your CIMA exam learning process. They help you cement your learning.

800x400 blog

4. Memories are dynamic, not static.

This is important for study revision. Studies on brain damaged people show that memories are not static. They can age and their complexions can change. This is why periodic reviewing of what you learn is important.

As Foer notes "Each time we think about a memory, we integrate it more deeply into our web of other memories, and therefore make it more stable and less likely to be dislodged." He also goes onto note that in the process, we end up transforming and reshaping our memories. And over time, our episodic memories turn into facts. 

So just as you use various techniques for study, use them during revision to make your learning more memorable.

Pretty interesting, isn't it? Stay tuned for the next part of this article. Meanwhile leave a comment below this blog and connect with us on FB or Twitter.

update: this is the link to the part 2

As a bonus, I have selected this videos for you, have a look. 

Joshua Foer (from the moonwalking with Einstein) talks about memory palace. I find that interesting, I'm not sure I'm personally there (yet) but I tend to hear more and more about the memory palace. There must be sth in it.


Get Your
Free Account

  •   get access to roughly 30 free qs/paper
  •   receive emails with tips, resources and discounts
  •   get ready for your exam!

Stop procrastinating...

Start practising today!

Select your paper and sign up for a free package
or click one of the below icons to register using your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account
Sign in with Linkedin