Five simple science-backed tricks to boost your memory instantly

Rob Waugh

Can you actually learn things – and make them stick – without doing dull stuff like shuffling index cards around and chanting things to yourself?

There are certainly a few tricks which can help you remember things rapidly and accurately – backed by serious science.

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By the way, none of these involve forking out lots of money for ‘brain games’ – or paying for ‘superfood’ diets, both of which offer dubious benefits at best.

1) If you want to remember something, ‘replay’ it in your mind

Researcher Chris Bird at the University of Sussex says that if you want to remember something, you should ‘replay’ it, in order, in your mind.

Bird asked students to lie in a brain scanner and watch short YouTube clips – and with some of the clips, the students took 40 seconds to replay the scene in their minds afterwards.

Just doing so doubled the accuracy of their recall of the scene when asked a week later, Bird found.

2) Draw a picture

Jeffrey Wammes of the University of Waterloo got students to either draw a word, or write it out repeatedly for 40 seconds – for a whole list of words.

They were then given a surprise memory test – and the students who had been drawing words recalled twice as many as students who had been writing them.

3) Turn off your smartphone


Columbia University research showed that when people know that they’ll be able to find information online easily, they’re less likely to form a memory of it.

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing Our Brains, says, ‘
‘What psychologists and brain scientists tell us about interruptions is that they have a fairly profound effect on the way we think.

‘Technology definitely has an effect on our memory. If you’re constantly distracted and taking in new information, you’re essentially pushing information into and out of your conscious mind. You’re not attending to it in a way that is necessary for the rich consolidation of memory.

4) Tell someone else about the thing you want to remember

Researchers at Baylor University found that students who were given information, and then told someone else about it, remembered the details better.

Student volunteers were shown 24-second clips from 40 films – and some of the volunteers told others about what they had seen.

The technique meant that the students remembered the details far more clearly, up to a week later.

Baylor University’s Melanie Sekeres said, ‘This has to be actively replaying or re-generating the information — for example, by telling someone the particulars, as opposed to just simply re-reading the textbook or class notes and studying it again later.

5) Don’t just do the same thing over and over again

Instead of simply repeating the act over and over again – the traditional way of mastering such skills – you should mix things up, scientists found.

Researchers at John Hopkins University found that slightly changing the task meant that lessons were more likely to ‘stick’.

The researchers tested their theory with groups of volunteers who were trying to master a computer task where they moved a mouse by gripping.

They found that if they changed the task slightly as people practiced, they did twice as well as volunteers who had repeated the same task for the same amount of time.

Lead researcher Pablo Celnik said, ‘What we found is if you practise a slightly modified version of a task you want to master, you actually learn more.’

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