We have two types of temporal memory: long-term and short-term. Clearly if you want to remember something for a long time, you should do whatever you can to shift the idea into long-term memory. There are many ways of making memories stick, but one factor to bear in mind is that the trace theory of memory suggests that most memories tend to fade over time and this is certainly what we all seem to experience.
When we encounter something new, we will forget a large proportion of the detail within the first twenty-four hours. Over the next few days, weeks and months we will forget even more although the rate at which we forget will drop off. Eventually, there will come a point when we only remember a small amount of the initial detail, but that small amount will be quite resilient. It is unlikely that we will forget any more.
To combat this fall off in recall, one thing you can do is to review information regularly in your mind. If you review the experience immediately after you have it, the following day, and then schedule a series of further reviews at increasing intervals - say after a week, then a month, then three months and six months, this will help fix all the details in your long-term memory and you will be unlikely to forget it any more.
It makes sense that we would all like to read more quickly than we actually do. There will always be more information out there that we would like to know, more books to be read. One solution to this is to read more quickly. The question is, to what extent is this possible?
As with any human activity, people will have a range of abilities. Some will naturally read faster and understand more of what they read than others. However, with training it is possible to increase reading speeds.
In speed reading competitions people are tested to see how quickly they can read an unfamiliar passage and are then questioned on it to see how much of it they have understood. In these competitions reading speeds of between 2,000 and 3,000 words per minute with comprehension are often recorded. This is about five to eight pages of a novel. The physiology of the eye suggests that it is unlikely that we can read much faster. However, given that most people only read at 200 to 400 words per minute, increasing your reading speed to even 1,000 words per minute (3 pages) would be a huge improvement.
Exams can be one of the most stressful situations that we find ourselves in. Stress and memory are not good bedfellows. We are more likely to remember what we want when we are stress free and relaxed.
One of the causes of exam stress is the fear that we will forget everything before we have the chance to commit it to paper. This is one situation in which mind maps are ideal. Their use of key words, key ideas and the logical connection of related concepts makes them a perfect aide memoire for exam situations.
They can be used for revision: when revising make an initial mind map of all the information you want to learn and then revise by putting that mind map to one side and attempting to reconstruct it. When you have done this, compare your new mind map to the original to see the areas where you are strong and those areas that require further attention.
In the exam itself, spend the first few minutes doing quick-fire mind maps of the question you intend to answer. This should be a kind of memory dump. This will mean that you have all the information you need to recall on the page in front of you and so your mind will be freed up to concentrate on the questions themselves without the added stress of trying to remember.
When we debate a problem one of the factors that can underpin a disagreement is a mutual failure to understand what precisely is being discussed. The person speaking may intend a word or phrase to mean one thing and the listener may understand it to mean something else.
The problem arises because it will generally be obvious to the speaker what they intend their words to mean and it will be equally obvious to the listener that their words have another meaning. We understand words in part by the web of associations they create in our minds but this web will differ from person to person. To some people picturing the word spider will bring them out in a cold sweat, while for others it will conjure up associations of an interesting and harmless animal. It is this difference in associations that can lead to misunderstandings in the meanings of words.
If you suspect that someone you are debating with might mean something different from what you understand, ask them to stipulate what precisely it is that they mean. Point out to them that simply because it is obvious to them what they mean, this does not mean that it will be obvious to everybody else.
We would all like to think of ourselves as rational human beings, but our brains can often let us down. We can reach conclusions based on our prejudices or because we are tired, hungry or emotional, or because we only see what is in front of us but fail to see what is not there but should be.
Try taking a friend or family member out for a walk with you. Walk at a slightly faster pace than normal. Then ask them to perform a not too easy but not too hard mental calculation such as 14 x 13. You will probably find that they stop talking, slow down or even stop momentarily while they try to work it out.
Even for a relatively straightforward mental problem like this our brains can easily get overloaded meaning that we cannot carry on with a straightforward task such as walking. When thinking about any problem which involves ascertaining the truth about a situation, or considering a course of action or pondering what is the right thing to do, allow your brain space to think. Go for a quiet walk where you will be undisturbed and try to think through the problem in an even-handed and unbiased way.
The answer by the way is 182.
It’s interesting to think that when we learn to read at school we reach a stage where we are deemed to be able to read and unless we have specific problems we receive no further tuition. This is a shame because if the skills of speed reading were instilled into us at an early stage it would be so much easier.
One thing that normally happens when we learn to read is that we use our index finger to help keep our eye on the word we are reading, but as we get better we are encouraged to stop doing this and read without a guide. However, our eyes do read better with a guide. Anyone who has had to add up a column of figures will know that it helps to have a pen or pencil on the page to aid and guide the eye.
If you want to read faster, one thing you can try is to use some kind of visual guide. A pen will do. Simply move it smoothly along the line of text that you are reading. After initially seeming a little strange you will get used to it. It will help keep your eye focused on the right place because your eye will naturally track a moving object. Over time, you can gradually speed up the pen’s movement and speed up your reading.
There are times when we all find that our memories fail us. Often this happens at the most inopportune moments, such as when we meet up with someone that we have recently been introduced to but simply cannot remember their name.
It might seem depressing then to learn that throughout human history there have been many people who have had prodigious memories apparently beyond the hopes of ordinary mortals. One example out of many is ex-world memory champion Dominic O’Brien who was able to remember the order of every card in 52 shuffled packs. However, people who can perform feats such as these are generally no more intelligent than average and do not have genetically superior memories. They have simply trained their memories to work for them.
If you want to improve your memory, rather than try and remember ideas as abstract concepts, make vivid mental pictures of them, allow trains of thought to link them to other thoughts and memories you already have, use systems such as memory palaces, where you link new memories to specific locations that you are already familiar with and reinforce your memories by returning to them regularly.
Most people imagine that when they read their eyes move smoothly from one word to the next and that when they reach the end of a line they move smoothly to the beginning of the next line.
But when our eyes move relative to what we are looking at, that object will be out of focus. Try it when you are next in a car. Look out of a side window and keep your eye still. The edge of the road will be out of focus and blurry. The eye operates a little like a camera. It is only able to capture a sharp image when it is still in relation to what it is focused on.
When you read, your eye can only focus on text when it is still. This means that your eye moves in a series of jumps and pauses. It is during the pauses that you take in information. These are called saccadic eye movements. There are usually four or five of these per line of text for a normal book. If you learn to control these movements by using a visual guide, such as a pen or your finger, you will speed up your reading.
One of the reasons for using mind maps is to help with making notes of other peoples work - such as books but also articles, lectures, presentations , TV shows and podcasts. In other words any situation where you are hoping to absorb and understand somebody else’s ideas.
In many cases what you may try to do is to write as many notes as you possibly can to ensure that you don’t miss out anything important. However this approach can be exhausting as you will be writing all the time and you might find yourself so focused on what you are writing that you are not really paying attention or thinking about what is being said.
Not everything in the book or lecture will be of equal weight or importance. There is a great deal of redundancy in our use of language. When making notes, you should try to write down only key words and key concepts. These are the ideas that are absolutely essential to the meaning. Try it with this article. Print it off. Go through it and see how many words you can cross out while still retaining the underlying meaning. Whatever is left should be the key words and key ideas.
How well we read is determined both by our eyes and our brains. We are more likely to read quickly and understand what we read if our brain is properly set up to absorb whatever information will be coming our way. Preparing our brains to absorb information is known as priming.
You are probably already familiar with this. If you have a favourite book and you re-read it, you will be able to read it much more quickly and take more in the second, third or fourth time around because you already know what is coming. Although you probably won’t remember everything when you sit down to read it again, you will remember enough to ensure that you get more out of it on subsequent occasions.
If you are reading a new book you can prime yourself in a number of ways. If it is reading for work or a project you can write down what your aims are. This will help you notice what is important as you read. If you have some knowledge of the subject, you can brainstorm that knowledge beforehand noting down everything you already know. This will set up hooks for you to attach new information to. You can also flick through the book at a page a second. This will give you a quick preview of what is coming your way.