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How can I improve my memory and concentration skills?

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With school bells ringing, now is the time to develop proper study habits. Consider these tips to improve memory and concentration skills.

  • Reduce external distractions by taking the phone off the hook or turning off the cell phone, getting away from background noise and telling others to take time out from talking to you. Accept responsibility for your study activities. Avoid daydreaming. Put a paper next to you to record distracting ideas that can be taken care of later. Set aside a location that is only for studying, and if possible, study at the same time each day.
  • Take sides on issues you read about to help create interest in what you're studying. Find relationships between old interests and new materials.
  • Study small sections at a time to master specific ideas rather than trying to master large sections of material in a short time. Take planned, short breaks as a relief and reward. Give yourself long-term and short-term rewards as incentives for accomplishing a specific learning activity.
  • Study the most difficult material when you are the freshest. Eat appropriately and sleep enough so your study time is focused and used most profitably. When possible, study with others in small, focused groups.
  • Learn proper memorization techniques. There are two ways to memorize: by rote (mechanically) and by understanding. Multiplication tables and telephone numbers are learned by rote. Ideas, concepts and theories are best learned by understanding. Never be satisfied with a hazy idea of what you are reading. If you are not able to follow the thought, review the reading. Relate new ideas to your current knowledge.
  • Survey the reading. When studying, break the material into parts, but keep the whole in mind. Experiments indicate that a quick survey of the material headings and summaries before reading gives an orientation that increases retention.
  • Recite the material. Rapid forgetting is common after a reading session (up to 60 percent), but can be significantly reduced by spaced verbal or written reciting of the material. Reciting can take place as you read each section or paragraph and should be in your own words. Read aloud passages you find difficult.
  • Make up illustrations of the material you've studied. Your own examples will be easier to remember at exam time. Flash cards are useful when studying languages. Outline a chapter or lecture and fill in key words, concepts or write in examples. As you write the material, you will know immediately whether you have learned the information.
  • Review information immediately. The best review time is soon after learning has taken place. The beginning and the end of material studied is the best remembered, so pay close attention to the middle as you study. Review the material to refresh your memory before going to bed, unless you are physically or mentally overtired. Freshly learned information is better remembered after a period of sleep rather than after an equal period of daytime activity.

Posted on 10 Aug 2006

Terry Teigeler
Director of Ogden-Davis Area Center

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