No matter what you are learning – vocabulary, historical data, or the human anatomy – all of these require you to memorize information. Learning is always connected to memorization: How are you supposed to learn a new language without memorizing the vocabulary or how can you analyse historical events without remembering the dates they occurred on? A doctor cannot perform heart surgery if he or she doesn’t remember where the heart is. Even though this sounds pretty reasonable, it doesn’t mean that it makes memorization more fun. But there are ways that make your life easier without demanding additional effort from you.
1. Contextual learning
Learning will be most successful when the environment which you learn in is similar to the one you have to recall the learned information in. For example, if the test you are studying for will take place in a classroom, the ideal place to study for it would be in that same classroom. This makes sense as the more associations you can connect with the content you are learning, the better you will remember it. Scents are a good example for this: As soon as you smell a certain scent that is associated with a particular memory in your brain, you can’t help but immediately think of this memory. Learning works in a similar way. The seemingly irrelevant information that surrounds you while you are studying (e.g. noises or the smell of a room) are absorbed and stored by your memory just like the actual content you are learning (e.g. vocabulary) and will later help you recall that content.
So next time you are studying for an exam or need to memorize information, be sure to study in the same room that you will have to recall the information in. An interesting experiment shows just how significant your performance increases with this. Published in the British Journal of Psychology, it was conducted in a diving school in 1975 with divers as participants . Their task was to memorize words and recall them again at a later time. The experiment took place in 4 different conditions: learning the words on land and recalling them on land; learning and recalling under water, learning on land and recalling under water; learning under water and recalling on land. The results show a clear trend: when learning and recalling took place in the same environment, the participants’ performance improved by 50% compared to when learning and recalling did not occur in the same environment. The divers were able to recite 13.5 words in the land-land condition but only 8.6 words in the land-water scenario (of a total of 38 memorized words).
2. Medium-level activation
You can store information especially efficiently if your body is activated on a medium level . The degree of activation consists of different components, such as your pulse and alertness amongst others. But why does a medium degree of physical activation represent the most effective state for you to study in? Well, think of a state in which you are completely relaxed, a state of low activation. When you are watching TV for example or doing something else that requires little attention. Being in this state signals to your body and mind that it is now time to relax and save energy because nothing around you demands your alert attention. As you can imagine, trying to effectively study and memorize information in this state will not bring the best results: Your body does not classify the information you take in here as valuable. The same is true for a state of high activation: This is a state which puts you under high tension. Witnessing a crime or physical violence could be such a situation. In this moment, your body will be highly tense as it detects danger and threat to you. Here, your body will only think of one thing: How to get you out of the danger zone as quickly as possible. Understandably, in this situation, body and mind have more important things to worry about than memorizing vocabulary for your next exam. Their only concern will be to get you into safety.
What we can take away from this is that the most effective learning is done in a state of medium activation. Next time you feel tired or inattentive, we recommend you first reactivate your body (and therefore your mind) with a little physical exercise, such as knee bends or a few push-ups, before getting into your study session.
3. Trail Mix
What makes trail mix so special for your brain is their main ingredient: Nuts. They are generally known as brain food, which is great for giving your grey cells a boost. How do they do that, you ask?
Nuts are a great source of protein, which is found in certain amino acids. Protein plays a vital role in the process of information transfer in the brain and the amino acids containing protein act as so-called neurotransmitters (information messengers), either directly or via in-between steps. Fish and legumes but also dairy and nuts contain a great amount of protein. Particularly nuts have proven to be very beneficial to the brain. On top of being a great source of protein, they are also a superior supplier of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the well-being of your brain . Therefore, make sure to always keep a bag of trail mix near you when you’ve got a long study session ahead.
1: Godden, D. R., & Baddeley, A. D. (1975). Context-Dependent Memory In Two Natural Environments: On Land And Underwater. British Journal of Psychology, 66(3), 325-331.
2: Duffy, E. (1957). The psychological significance of the concept of “arousal” or “activation”. Psychological Review, 64(5), 265-275.
3: Raji. C., Erickson, K., Lopez, O., Kuller, L., Gach, M., Thompson, P., Riverol, M., & Becker, J. (2014). Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss.