Memory Improvement Techniques Part 1

In this video I discuss several memory concepts which can be applied to improve recall and enhance the effectiveness of your studying. These include organizing material and creating a structure, using distributed review rather than massed practice, taking advantage of the serial position effect, testing yourself rather than simply reviewing or rereading, and overlearning material you feel you already know.

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Video Transcript:

Hi, I’m Michael Corayer and this is Psych Exam Review. In this video and the next few videos, I’d like to look at how we can use research on memory to improve our memory and improve our ability to recall information.
One of the first things that we’ll look at I talked about previously, this is the idea that organization is important for memory. I talked about organizational encoding, we saw this idea that if you were trying to remember a list of numbers, for instance, it’ll be easier to remember if you could break those numbers up into chunks. This is the type of organization known as chunking but the idea here is that any time you want to recall something you want to have an organization to the information. You want to have a structure. We don’t really learn well when it comes to just random isolated facts but if we have a structure to that information it’s bit easier for us to learn it.
Now the next thing, I want to return to some ideas from Hermann Ebbinghaus I talked about in a previous video. The thing that we looked at for Ebbinghaus was the idea of the forgetting curve and this is the idea that Ebbinghaus tested himself using these random syllables, he tried to remember lists of them and he found that his recall was really good immediately after he studied a list but it dropped very quickly and then it sort of leveled off. The idea of the forgetting curve is that each time you review the information you’re sort of raising that curve back up. You’re starting here again and it gradually falls over time and it levels off but you’ll know a little bit more than you did before and then, you know, if you study again eventually the idea is if you study it enough times you end up with this sort of high flat version of the curve where you recall a lot of the information for a long period of time.
That’s really ideally what you want when you’re studying for a class. You don’t want to just know it for an hour, hopefully you want to know the information long-term and we can see from this forgetting curve that the way to do that is to review repeatedly and this is called distributed practice or distributed review. This is going to be more effective at remembering information long-term compared to what we want to avoid which is known as massed practice. This is like cramming.
So massed practice is what you want to avoid. It’s trying to study everything all at once because if we look at this forgetting curve, you know, no matter how much, even if your recall is close to a hundred percent right after you’re studying something, it’s going to drop very quickly. The only way to prevent that from happening is to review that information over and over and over again until you have this nice high flat version of the curve. Now I want to talk about another thing that Ebbinghaus looked into in his study of these nonsense syllables. What he did was he took two consonants and then he put a vowel in between them so he’d end up with words like you know dut or fip.
So we have these nonsense syllables and he tried remember long lists of them and what he found when you look at these lists of words is that his recall was good for the first few words on the list and then it dropped. He was most likely to forget the ones in the middle and then the ones near the end of the list his recall improved. This is known as the serial position effect. This is the idea that the position of the information on the list actually influences recall and it’s easier to remember things at the beginning of the list and at the end of the list.
So this serial position effect, there’s really two effects here. The first one is called primacy, so that’s referring to the idea that we remember things at the beginning of a list better and then the things at the end of the list, this effect is referred to as recency. OK, so what does this have to do with our study habits? Well, again if we return to this idea of distributed review we can see another benefit, the other benefit, comes from this serial position effect.
So you can imagine that if you were to study for, you know, let’s say this is a two hour cram session here. Well, you’re going to have the primacy effect here and you’re going to have the recency effect here and then you can have all this information in the middle that you’re more likely to forget. Now if we take that same two hour period but we break it up into a number of shorter study sessions not only do we get this distributed review, we’re reviewing the information many times over, but we also have this additional primacy and recency effect at the beginning and end of each of these little sessions.
This means we have less information that’s sort of sitting in the middle, this area where recall is probably going to be the lowest, and we have more of these beginnings and endings and those are hopefully going to improve our recall of the information. Now another way that you can use this serial position effect is remember to mix up the information. So you want to break things into groups, into short sessions with lots of breaks but you also want to mix things up and what I mean by that is you don’t want the same information always being in the middle of your study session.
If you always, you know, start, if you just reread the chapter over and over again you’re gonna probably know the beginning of the chapter pretty well and the end of the chapter well and all the stuff in the middle is going to be lost. But if you mix that up and sometimes you start your reading in the middle of the chapter, just flip to a random part of the chapter and start reading, now that’s at the beginning of the session instead of always being in the middle.
This is part of the reason why flash cards are a pretty effective strategy is that you can shuffle the cards up so each time you go through your flashcards hopefully they’re in a different order and so different information is going to be first and different information is going to be at the end and the things in the middle are going to change and that’s hopefully going to help you get this serial position effect where the information is sometimes at the beginning or the end of a list rather than always being in the middle.
Ok, now the hardest part about applying this strategy is that when you take lots of breaks you have to remember to actually get back to studying after. That’s probably the biggest downfall for a lot of students. They say okay “I’m gonna study and then in 15 minutes I’m gonna take a break” and then that break that’s supposed to be five minutes ends up, you know, half an hour later they’re still reading things on Facebook and they realize “oh yeah I should probably get back to studying”. So when you apply this, you want to try to have a system and then structure to your time managemen. That will sort of force you to get back to studying.
Okay, so let’s look at another way that you can improve your studying and this one you might not like to hear. This is the idea that tests are actually a good thing and this is referred to as the testing effect. The idea here is that testing yourself on the material will actually help you to recall it better than simply reviewing. So the testing effect is that testing is more effective than reviewing. So you’re better off testing yourself on a chapter rather than just rereading it.
Ok, so why is this? Well, part of the reason is that there’s a difference between recall and recognition. Recognition is much easier so if you look at some term from the chapter when you read the definition, there’s a tendency to be like “yeah I knew that” right? Like I recognize that that’s the definition of that term versus if I asked you to define the term right now we’re looking at recall. This is much harder to do.
For instance if we look at some information that I’ve talked about recently, the seven sins of memory, now if you look at a list of this you know Daniel Schacter’s “seven sins of memory” you’ll probably recognize all of them because if you’ve been watching these earlier videos you’re familiar with them. So you look at them “oh yeah I recognize all of those” and you feel kind of like you know them. But that’s very different than if I said what are the seven sins? Write them down, come up with the list.
That’s going to be a lot harder but if you do that, if you force yourself to try to recall the information, you’re going to remember it better. And also, a part of this recognition, this relates to a bias that I think I’ve mentioned in a previous video, oops, and this is called hindsight bias. All right, this is the idea that we think we knew something all along, right? Something happens we say “oh yeah I I knew that was going to happen”. Well that can happen with this sort of recognition where you look at a term and its definition you say “oh yeah I knew that” like “I’m good on that information” when in fact if you were forced to try to recall it you probably didn’t know.
So test yourself frequently. And this doesn’t have to be by yourself. One of the best ways to do this is to study with a friend and test each other. So you can ask them, “explain this experiment to me” or “can you tell me why this, why does this study matter? What was the purpose of that?” or “can you tell me the Schacter seven sins of memory?”. And if you force each other to try to come up with the information, what you’ll find is if you’re explaining to each other and you’re testing each other you’ll probably have a much more effective review session. It’s also a little bit more interesting than simply re-reading the chapter over and over which will bore you to tears.
Alright so that’s the testing effect and you want to try to apply that in your study as well. The last thing that we want to look at you probably also don’t want to hear but it’s true. This the idea that when you think you know something and you’ve learned it well, don’t stop there. This is also something that Ebbinghaus found with his lists of nonsense syllables, that if he studied the list that he thought he already knew he actually got better at it and he was able to remember it even longer.
This is referred to as overlearning. The idea of overlearning if you want to review the information even after you know it and this will extend how long you can remember it. It will improve your recall of this information. So don’t stop when you think you know it. You want to continue to study after you know it, continue to study known material.
Now in my own case I certainly experienced this because I’ve overlearned a lot of introductory psychology knowledge. I’ve read books and I’ve taken classes but then when I was teaching, of course I had to cover information that I already knew but I was covering it again that meant I was reading about it again, I was talking about, answering questions from students, I was tutoring people in this knowledge and as a result I have a really firm grasp of this information.
Now you might think this seems like a lot of work to overlearn You know, “I only have so much time to study and why should I spend that time studying stuff that I already know”, right? It might seem like it’s inefficient that way but it actually is more efficient and what I mean by that is it allows you to learn new material more quickly.
For instance in my own case, I have, I think, a pretty good grasp of introductory psychology knowledge and if I learn something new about psychology I sort of already have this firm network to attach that information to. Whereas if you only study something enough to know it for a little while and then two weeks later or a month later you’ve forgotten it, now when you learn something new it’s like you’re starting all over. You don’t have anything to connect it to. When you have a really firm base and you’ve overlearned that initial material, now you learn something new and you can connect it to the things you already know and you can actually learn the new information faster.
So it seems like a lot of work at the beginning but in the long term it allows you to learn new information faster and so that’s why you should try to engage in this overlearning. Review the chapters that you already know, review the material that you think “I don’t need to study this for the test because I already know it”. Review it anyway and it will actually make the information that you’re not so sure on easier to recall later.
Ok, in the next video we’ll look at a little more detail on this idea and we’ll see how our memories are sort of connected in networks and how we can use that to improve our recall. I hope you found this helpful, if so, please like the video and subscribe to the channel for more.
Thanks for watching!