College would be a lot easier if memorizing material was as easy as reading or hearing it once. But aside from the very small minority that can do this, most of our minds require a little more help than that. When your photographic memory and perusing your notes alone isn’t doing the trick, or you’ve got too little time to learn far too much, the following tricks can help your memory come exam-time.
The most popular method of memorization is the usage of mnemonics, associating more memorable images and ideas to material you need to remember in order to remember it. One popular childhood example is using the acronym HOMES to remember the five Great Lakes: H is for Lake Huron, O is for Lake Ontario, M is for Lake Michigan, E is for Lake Erie and S is for Lake Superior. The letters in the acronym tie with the first letter of each lake, helping you remember them when the actual name otherwise slips your mind.
You can also tie familiar images to items you need to remember, or come up with a silly sequential visual to help jog your memory. For example, the Spanish word for bathroom is ‘el bano’. To remember this, you can create an image in your mind of a banjo, with a big L on the panel, sitting on a toilet could help you remember since ‘banjo’ is spelled and sounds similar to ‘bano’ while the L can help you remember that the preceding article is ‘el’.
This is just one example: There are countless ways you can associate words and images with items. Play around with different ideas. Take unfamiliar terms and think about what words or ideas come to mind first, even if they have nothing to do with what you need to learn. They can make the best images to associate with the terms you need to learn, since they’re the mental images that come to mind most quickly. By associating unfamiliar material with familiar ideas, you bridge the gap to learning these new terms.
It’s best to start doing this as you’re first learning material for class rather than at the last minute for obvious reasons: You need time to commit the images to memory (though they make remembering things easier), and you certainly need time to figure out what images and acronyms you’re going to associate with the items you need to remember.
In the long run, you’ll probably need to move beyond just remembering vocabulary and terms and learn how to practically apply the information you learned. But word association tricks and other mnemonic devices are a fine starting point for committing basic terms to memory so that you can focus your energies on other important issues with your studies, such as applying the things you memorize.