Overview of the 3 box model of memory
Information must through two other boxes to get to LTM

Table of contents


3 Key Terms Relating to Memory's 3 Processes

To understand diamonds, you need to know about their four qualities: Cut, Carat, Clarity, and Color--what jewelers would call the 4 C's of diamonds.
To understand memory systems, you need to know about their three qualities: Encoding, Storage (container size and duration), and Retrieval (recovering)--what you could--but shouldn't--call the 3 c's of memory:*

*If you did call Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval "the 3 c's," how would you remember what the 3 terms are really called? Besides, what would people think? Probably that you are no different from those who talk about the 3  K's: Koding, Keeping, and re-Kollecting--except that you can spell.☺

The 3 Key Terms Defined:
  1. Encoding: Putting information in to the memory (converting the information into a code that the memory will accept--as you will see, different memories use different codes. In a sense, different memories speak different languages.)
  2. Storage: Keeping information in the memory (how much can be stored-- and for how long?)
  3. Retrieval: Getting information that is in the memory out of the memory so we can use it (accessing/recovering what is in memory)
If visuals help you, mouse over this text

To help you understand what Encoding, Storage, and Retrieval are and to help you remember that they are memory's 3 active and independent processes, watch this short (26 second) animation.

Point not to overlook when focusing on memorizing definitions of each of the 3 processes: Rather than viewing your memory as just a storage space, realize that storing information is just 1 of  3 active processes that make up what we call memory.

Point that often trips up students: The 3 key qualities are independent--being good at one doesn't mean the memory is good at another. For example, a memory that has good storage capacity will not necessarily be good at retrieval.  To see why,  imagine two memories--one that is like a shoe box, and one that is like a poorly organized attic. The shoe box memory would be bad at storage (not much could be stored) but would be great at retrieval (if something is in the shoe box, it would be easy to find). The messy attic memory, on the other hand, would be great at storage (lots of stuff could be dumped in there) but would be poor at retrieval (it would be hard to sort through all the junk scattered throughout a dark, messy attic to find the one thing you needed). To reiterate, just as knowing a diamond's size doesn't tell you about its clarity, knowing that a memory has good sized storage space doesn't tell you that the memory is good at retrieval.

Take home lesson: If you are having a problem remembering names, class material, or some other information, the first step to solving that problem is to figure out which memory process is failing you. You may be able to pinpoint the source of your problem by asking 3 questions:

  1. Did the information ever get it into my memory? (If not, you have an encoding problem.)
  2. Did the information fall out of memory or get corrupted/damaged in my memory? (If so, you have a storage problem.)
  3. Is the information still somewhere in my memory, but I am failing to find it? (If so, you have a retrieval problem.)

Take a short (just 4 multiple-choice questions) quiz over encoding, storage, and retrieval.

The 3-box model (Your 3 memories as 3 boxes)

You don't have just one memory. Instead, you have at least 3. As you can see from the diagram below, before information can get into your permanent memory (the third box, labeled "Long-Term Memory"), it must get through two other boxes: the Sensory Memory (SM) box and the Short-Term Memory (STM)  box. Put another way, before information can get into permanent memory, it (like Indiana Jones) must pass 3 challenges--each of which is more difficult than the last.

 Three box model

Take home lesson: If you want to improve your memory for names or school material, you should figure out which memory is letting you down. Often, people will blame their long-term memory when the information never got to long-term memory. For example, many "memory problems" are really attention problems (i.e., inattention prevented information from getting into short-term memory, which then means the information couldn't get into long-term memory). So, to identify why you are not remembering something, not only do you have to determine whether the problem is at encoding, storage, or retrieval (as discussed in the previous take home lesson), but you also have to determine which memory box is the problem because encoding, storage, and retrieval are different for each box. To see how encoding is different for each box, watch this 22-second animation.

Terminology note: Synonyms for "memory" include "register" and "store."
So, you may hear sensory memory referred to as "sensory register" or as "sensory store."
Similarly, you may hear short-term memory referred to as "short-term register" or "short-term store."
Guess what two other terms you may hear for long-term memory (LTM)?

  1. Long term register (abbreviated LTR)
  2. Long term store (abbreviated LTS)

Box 1: Sensory Memory (abbreviated SM)-- a very brief, exact copy (a trace) of what you just sensed

Imagine that you are looking at the television, but not paying attention to the program because you are talking to a friend. Suddenly, your friend points to the television set. Thanks to your sensory memory, you can hit a rewind button in your mind that allows you to replay the last little bit of the program.
If you replay the audio from the program, you are using your echoic memory: the sensory memory for hearing that allows you to, in a sense, hear an echo what just happened. 
  Being able to use your echoic memory to replay the last 3-5 seconds of what your ears just sensed, allows you to

If you replay the image that was on the television screen, you are using your visual sensory memory (typically called iconic memory). Iconic memory is, in a sense, a picture drawn in rapidly disappearing ink. See a very short (less than a second) demonstration of how quickly information decays from iconic memory Because pictures in  iconic memory are copies of what you just saw, are "drawn" automatically, and usually fade in less than half a second, it wasn't until

If slides are projected on a screen at a rate of 12 slides or more per second,  the slide on the screen stays in your iconic memory during the gap between slides.
Because you don't see a gap between the slides, you see "moving pictures" (i.e., "movies" or "motion pictures"). 
If slides are projected at a rate slower than 12 a second, the previous image is gone from iconic memory before you see the next image. Because you see a gap between each slide, you see a slide show rather than a movie.

Iconic memory is not just valuable when watching movies. To get a rough idea of how confusing the world be if you didn't have both iconic memory and visual short-term memory, watch this 48-second animation/simulation.

 Iconic memory does not seem to be related to what we consider intelligence:

Key Characteristics of Sensory Memory
Types At least 2: Your sensory memory for vision--iconic memory--and your sensory memory for hearing--echoic memory. You may also have ones for some of your other senses.
Encoding Automatic: To encode information, you just need to sense the information.
Storage Size  Enormous (maybe as much as 14 trillion bits!)
Storage Duration Short--Less than half a second for iconic memory; about 3- 5 seconds for echoic memory
Silly summary "I have a good memory, but it's short" would be silly to say about your long-term memory, but is probably accurate to say about your iconic memory.

Drag and drop matching game to test your knowledge of sensory memory  (Play several rounds of this game; each round gets a little harder. Try to rack up at least 9 points.)

Transition of information from Sensory Memory to Short Term Memory

Most of the trillions of bits of information in SM are held just long enough so that they can be processed enough to let our brain decide whether they might be worthy of our attention. The few bits that we do pay attention to will move on to the next memory: short-term memory (STM). *
*How our attention moves information from SM to STM is complex and mysterious-- how do you decide to pay attention to a thing before you are even consciously aware of that thing? Yet, most of the time, people just assume that the transfer process works perfectly: What we see is what there is. On rare occasions, however, we realize that we must be "seeing" things out of order. For example, surgeons sometimes see a patient bleeding from the cut produced by their scalpel--and then "see" the scalpel make the cut! In those cases, they are not seeing the scalpel make the cut as it is happening but instead are seeing a replay of that event! To experience a case of hearing things out of order, take 40 seconds to try this demonstration.

Box 2: Short-Term Memory (abbreviated STM, also known as "Working Memory")

Short-term memory is small. To emphasize STM's limited capacity to hold information, STM is often compared to other objects that have limited capacity: small buckets,  small funnels, and small sponges. To further emphasize the fact that STM can't hold much information, STM is often referred to as "the bottle neck of the memory system."

Short-term memory is short (it typically lasts about 20 seconds)

The reason information stays in STM for such a limited time seems to be due to the limited size of our STM combined with our limited attention span. Some evidence:

Short term memory (also called working memory) is your conscious mind

Although there are many aspects to STM, in this page, for simplicity's sake, we will focus on  two of STM's roles: (1) holding information in consciousness and (2) being the narrow, shaky bridge through which information goes in and out of  LTM.

Because working memory is limited (it holds, at most, 5-9 chunks [chunks are groups of items]), our thinking and our attention are limited. Specifically,

  1. We can only pay attention to a few things at a time, so multi-tasking can't work.
  2. Examples showing that we can only pay attention to a few things at a time: Analogies to help you understand that we can't multi-task:
  3. Teachers and presenters may overwhelm their audience's STM by going too fast or by presenting too much information on a PowerPoint slide.
  4. The complexity of the world can't fit in STM, so we oversimplify the world, leading to not seeing differences between people, to stereotyping, and to seeing things in terms of absolutes (i.e., seeing things in terms of black and white rather than in terms of shades of gray).

What is chunking and how does it allow us to keep more information in STM?

The way to get around the limits short-term memory's limited size puts on us is to chunk: group several different individual bits into one unit.  For example, U.S. citizens could group the twelve numbers "177  614  922  02  2"  into three chunks:
1776     1492     2022.

In the "1776, 1492, 2022" example, you grouped (re-grouped?) the information into chunks by connecting the presented information to organized units of information that you already had stored in your permanent memory. Specifically, instead of having to remember 12 numbers, you just had to "point" to 3 chunks of information you had stored in your permanent memory. If you can't connect new information to units you already have stored in permanent memory, you will not be able to chunk that information until you create those units (so, for Americans, "FBI" is one chunk, but "BFI" probably is not). You can create a new unit by cementing together isolated information bits and then storing those connected bits as one unit in your permanent memory. For example, you could link together the many individual words that define "iconic memory" and then store those words in your permanent memory as a single unit.  After you have done that, you will be able to hold the entire definition of that term as a single chunk in STM  by "pointing" to the place in your permanent memory where you have that definition stored. Note that when you first encountered iconic memory's definition, it was "too big" for your STM, but now--or soon--it will only take up one chunk of your STM's 5-9 chunk capacity.  So, once you learn a psychological term, you increase your ability to chunk psychological information.

Visual analogies illustrating that chunking makes it easier to keep more information in STM:

But why chunk information? (Why are big chunks better?)

Because chunking, by allowing us to keep more information in STM, lets us think smarter.

To see the power of chunking, consider experts. Experts have formed large chunks of information related to their field. As a result, they can hold a large amount of that information in their head while still having room in their working memory to think about that information. So, when thinking about their field, they can think about many things at once (e.g., chess experts, physicians, and football coaches can quickly absorb much more information about their fields than the average person can--if the experts can chunk that information). Note, however, that if experts are thinking about things outside of their field--where they can't chunk as well--their thinking is much more limited (one of many reasons why supposedly smart people do stupid things).

Some chunks that you may have learned that have made you more expert:

Since students who chunk information when studying get better grades in college (Gurung, 2005), you might wonder how to chunk information so that you could get better grades. One way is to study terms until each term's definition takes up only a single chunk in memory. In addition, you could turn the many terms you have to learn into a smaller number of groups of terms by

STM Myth STM  Fact
Short term memory lasts an hour or maybe even a couple of days. Short term memory lasts about 20 seconds.
Short term memory can hold 5 to 9 items. Short term memory can hold 5 to 9 chunks.
Short-term memory is big enough that people can multi-task effectively.  Because of STM's limitations, people are terrible at multi-tasking.
If information is in STM long enough, it will automatically
go into permanent memory.
Maintaining information in STM  for a long time
does not necessarily move that information to permanent memory.

Review STM

Learn more about STM: To get a better understanding of what short-term memory is and how understanding short-term memory can help you think and learn better, read Scott Young's article on working memory (long, but useful!).

Reflect on STM's importance

Realize that STM, as the narrow bottle neck of the memory system, not only puts limits on how much information you can put into LTM at one time (so professors shouldn't speak to quickly or put too much information on a PowerPoint slide) but also limits how much information you can get out of LTM at one time (click to see visual analogy).  At one level, you know that STM limits how much information from LTM that you can bring up at once: You wouldn't ask your partner to name 20 things they love about you (unless you wanted to be depressed)--and you would certainly hope that a professor wouldn't call on you to name 10 important psychological discoveries. However, you may not have realized that, because all your relevant knowledge about a situation will sometimes be too big for STM to hold, all your relevant knowledge can't always come to mind when you  need it. As a result, you will make mistakes even though you knew--or at least your LTM knew--better.  Note that if you are distracted, preoccupied, emotional, sleep-deprived, or otherwise impaired, you will have less room in STM for information from LTM and thus will be even more likely to make mistakes due to not using what you know.

As you have seen, STM's limitations limit not only what you can keep in STM but also both what you can upload to LTM and  what you can download from LTM. How can you get around these limits of STM? One way is to offload information from your STM to your phone, to a small notepad, or to a 3 X 5 index card. Another approach is to chunk information.

Without chunking, almost everyone can hold between 5 and 9 items in short-term memory. So, when President Trump was given a test in which he had to repeat five words, failing on that task would have been very bad. Succeeding on the task, however, was not terribly impressive. To judge the difficulty of that test, you can see it here.

President Trump implied that he did not use a strategy for remembering the 5 words: "Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV." Instead, he attributed his ability to recall of those words to having a great memory. President Trump could have made it easier on himself  by chunking the 5 individual words into one or two chunks. If you had to remember "Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV," how would you turn those 5 items into one or two chunks?

Most of the questions on the test that President Trump took involved memory. Some of the questions tested short-term memory; other questions (e.g., testing whether one could  identify the animal in a picture as an elephant) tested long-term memory. As you can imagine, if someone did poorly on that test, their mind would be very limited. Indeed, such a test might be used to determine whether a person could live on their own. So, both short-term and long-term memory are important to living a full life. We have discussed short-term memory. We will now turn to long-term memory.



You have 3 main long term memories:

  1. Procedural memory: your memory of how to do things (text, talk, sing, dance, ride a bike, drive, etc.), primarily learned by practicing those skills. When people talk about "muscle memory," they are often referring to procedural memories for a motor skill. However, procedural memories are not limited to motor skills. A writing, speaking, pottery-making, musical performance, acting, critical thinking, or other "skills" class may try to add to your procedural memory--as might a senior-level capstone course, internship, or practicum.
  2. Semantic memory: your dictionary/encyclopedia of impersonal, factual knowledge (e.g., knowing what an elephant is or what short-term memory is). Most of your content courses in college focus on adding concepts to your semantic memory. Trivia games like Jeopardy also test your semantic memory. (Experts are alarmed by American's poor semantic memory for history--only about 1/3 of American adults could pass the U.S. citizenship exam.)  If your semantic memory was working very poorly, it would greatly affect your perception of familiar things. Specifically, you would sense familiar objects, but you would not recognize what they were. You might be like the music professor who mistook his own reflection for that of an ape, mistook parking meters for children, mistook his foot for his shoe, and mistook his wife's head for a hat (you can learn more about his case by reading "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"). To appreciate how much you depend on your semantic memory to understand what you hear, you might watch this 18-minute Twilight Zone episode  in which a person slowly loses his semantic memory for words. 
  3. Episodic (autobiographical) memory: your diary of events in your personal life (what you did last week, your life as a reality show with many episodes). In a sense, episodic memory allows you to travel back in time. Note that, unlike semantic memory, episodic memories are often tied to a place and a time--and recall may feel like a "re-run" of the original episode. For example, when you recall a semantic memory like that George Washington was the first president of the U.S., you don't  recall where and when you learned that fact (it is almost as if you have amnesia for when and where you were when you learned it). However, when you recall an episodic memory like hearing that Trump lost his re-election bid, you may recall  details about where you were, what you were doing, and when it was that you heard that news. 

     Without your episodic long term memory, you would live only in the present plus the few seconds that short term memory would buy you. (To you, your life would be an empty book.) To see how challenging that would be, consider the case of Clive Wearing, a man without the ability to form new episodic long term memories (note that his procedural memory is fine: he can sing, conduct, read, write, etc.). For a thrilling fictional example that demonstrates the importance of episodic memories and the difference between episodic and other memories, watch "The Bourne Identity" in which the Matt Damon character has lost all episodic memories (he doesn't know who he was), but his procedural and semantic memories are intact. If you want to look at cases of extremely good episodic memories, you can watch this 13-minute segment from "60 Minutes" about the approximately 56 people who have been identified as having fantastic episodic memories for almost every day in their lives (from adolescence to now) If you watch that video, consider 5 points:

  1. As would be expected from what episodic memory is, recall of these episodic memories often seems like reliving the past event. That is, these episodic memory wizards often seem to experience the same emotions and sensations they felt when they first experienced the event.
  2. As would be expected from episodic memory being different from semantic memory and from episodic memory being primarily an autobiographical memory, these episodic memory wizards do not have superior memory for things they do not directly experience. Because their semantic memories are not better than the average person, they would not necessarily get better grades in college than other people.
  3. Interestingly, memory wizards' superior episodic memory seems to be due primarily to slow forgetting--the average person's memory for yesterday's events rivals theirs. So, perhaps, with better retrieval strategies, we could all have impressive recall for our past experiences.
  4. The video implies that being able to say what day of the week corresponds to a certain date is a great memory feat. It could be, but a person could also figure out the day of the week from the date without having a great memory. In fact, you can learn to calculate the day of the week from the date using the instructions here. Are these memory wizards using a formula on the date to compute the day of the week and then using the day of the week as a cue for triggering their memories?
  5. Having a tremendous episodic memory can be a blessing (as the video suggests), but it can also be a curse.

* Terminology note #1: Since you can explicitly tell  (i.e., you can declare to ) others the contents of both your semantic memories (e.g., you can declare that George Washington was a president) and your episodic memories (e.g., you can declare that your high school graduation was held in the gym or on Zoom), semantic and episodic memory are often referred to as  types of  declarative memory (also called explicit memory). Since you cannot easily declare the contents of your procedural memories (e.g., you know how to ride a bike but can't tell others what you know that allows you to ride a bike), procedural memory is a type of  non-declarative memory. To make the distinction between declarative and procedural memories clear, psychologists often say that the difference between declarative and procedural memories is the difference between "knowing that" (e.g., knowing that George Washington was president [semantic memory] or knowing that your high school graduation was in the gym [episodic memory])  and "knowing how" (e.g., your ability to text, read, sing, or dribble a basketball). Because procedural memory is acquired through practice and is not verbal, those who can perform a skill often can't teach it. (For example, if you are learning a foreign language, a young child from that country might pronounce the language's sounds better than you do but be unable to tell you how to move your lips and tongue to pronounce those sounds.) Fortunately, you are not always completely on your own when it comes to learning a skill because a good teacher or coach can give you some pointers about what you should be doing. Actually doing it well, however, will still take extensive practice.

If visuals help you, mouse over this text to review STM and the two basic types of LTM: procedural and declarative.

* Terminology note #2: In addition to procedural memory, you have another non-declarative memory: implicit memory. Implicit memory involves, without trying, learning certain rhythms, sequences, or patterns through repeated experience: Your mind is automatically identifying patterns that allow you to know what will probably come next. The patterns that this "nexting" is based on can be simple (e.g., that thunder follows lightning) or can be complex (e.g., knowing grammatical rules such as knowing that when Yoda said "Ready are you?", he should have said "Are  you ready?"). Accurate intuitions, such as a fire chief sensing that a fire is not responding in a typical way, so he orders the squad to flee the building seconds before the building collapses; a wife knowing her husband's mood just from hearing him say "hello" when he answers the phone; or you knowing that a conversation is about to end, are due to implicit memory (for a review of the types of LTM, see this diagram).

Two Problems with Long-Term Memory

Problem #1 with LTM--Encoding: Getting information into LTM

Examples of encoding problems:

    An extreme example of encoding problems--anterograde amnesia: a type of amnesia in which there is an inability to form new memories.
Some people with severe anterograde amnesia are unable to form any new semantic or episodic memories. As a result, they are stuck in the past.
Two well-known severe cases of total anterograde amnesia are

              The case of HM (as you watch that video, note the difference between STM and LTM).  If you want a more dramatic depiction of his case, click here.

              The case of Clive Wearing that was linked to above in the section on episodic memory. If you saw that video but don't remember seeing it, you have probably experienced an encoding failure. Your encoding failure was probably due to not paying attention -- because unless you were black out drunk when you watched it, you are probably not experiencing anterograde amnesia.☺

Movies with relatively accurate depictions of the symptoms and effects of anterograde amnesia:


 Three less extreme examples of encoding problems from your experience that may show that you have failed to encode something you've seen numerous times:
  1. How many red stripes are on the American flag? How many white stripes? (You can check your answer by looking at this picture of an American flag)
  2. See the surprising thing that college students don't know about Apple
  3. Where is the nearest fire alarm to your classroom?
Information must be encoded into STM before it can be encoded into LTM

  As you learned when we discussed STM, you don't pay attention to most of the information your senses pick up, so most of that information doesn't get encoded into STM. If information doesn't get into STM, it won't get into LTM. Unfortunately, research suggests that most students do not get important lecture content into STM. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, research also suggests that most students can easily increase their ability to attend to lectures (and thus get lecture information into STM so that it has a chance to get into LTM) by sitting up front and by keeping their cell phones out of sight.

    *Besides not encoding information into STM, students may incorrectly encode information into STM. So, in addition to not hearing, students may mishear or misinterpret what is said. Sometimes, incorrect encoding is caused by "false friends": terms that sound like English words but have a different or more precise and technical meaning (e.g., statisticians use the words "random" and "significant" in ways that are very different from the way the average person uses those words).

Consolidation--Getting information from STM to LTM-- involves 2 steps: One mental, one physical

  But even if you pay attention to something and therefore encode that information into STM, you may not get that information into LTM. Getting the information from STM to LTM involves both your mind and your body. As you'll see, your mind will often have to do some mental work to encode information into LTM. After that, your brain will need some time to complete the encoding. In a sense, forming a solid memory is like making jell-o. To make jell-o, you do the work to assemble the ingredients, but the jell-o becomes solid only after setting in the refrigerator for a while. Similarly, to make a solid memory, your mind needs to do the work to integrate the information, but the memory becomes solid only after it has set in the brain for a while. The process of rewiring the brain to form a solid memory is called consolidation.  (An alcohol blackout--in which a person doesn't remember what happened while the person was drunk--is a case of alcohol disrupting consolidation, as is the inability of a concussion victim to remember what happened shortly before being hit in the head.) The need for consolidation has two implications for studying:

  1. Your memory will  benefit by taking a 15-minute break after learning information.
  2. Getting enough sleep is very important for consolidation and thus for being able to remember information.

Problem #2 with LTM--and the most serious problem with LTM --Retrieval: Getting information out of LTM.

Information is often available in long term memory (it is in the long term memory box), but not accessible (you can't get it out of the memory box at the moment you need it).

An extreme example of retrieval problems--some cases of retrograde amnesia: an inability, for a while, to retrieve what you once knew. Often, retrograde amnesia only affects episodic memory--it often only hurts the ability to remember some or all of one's personal past.  Retrograde amnesia is a key element in the plots of many soap operas and movies (e.g., "Overboard," "Bourne Identity," "Forgotten," "The Long Kiss Goodnight," "Regarding Henry," and "Who Am I?). Real life examples of severe retrograde amnesia are rare, but here's one a short newspaper report of someone who had retrograde amnesia:  Missing Delaware woman turns up in Toronto homeless shelter.

Retrieval problems must be to blame in retrograde amnesia cases in which the memories eventually "return." Obviously, the memories did not "come back" in the sense that they left the person and then returned. Instead, the memories were there all along,  but the person could not retrieve them.  However, if the retrograde amnesia is permanent, the problem may not be a retrieval problem. In those cases, suspect that the "forgotten" memories do not exist, especially if
  1. Retrograde amnesia is limited to failing to remember events that occurred shortly before a concussion or to events that occurred while drinking. In that case, suspect that the memory problem is due to disrupting consolidation (consolidation is the process of rewiring of the brain to form permanent memories). If consolidation was disrupted, the memories were never permanently stored.
  2. There is extensive brain damage due to injury or illness. Brain damage may completely destroy memories. See below for two such cases:

Common examples of retrieval problems (of information being available [stored] but not accessible [retrievable]). Note that many of these examples involve being able to recognize the information but not being able to recall it:

If you can solve the encoding and retrieval problems, long term memory, you can take advantage of LTM's virtually limitless storage capacity to do some amazing things--like this guy has done).

LTM Encoding: From STM to LTM

 Solving the encoding problem: How to get information from STM to LTM (Hint: The key is to actively transform the information).

The way to solve the encoding problem is not by using Type 1 (maintenance/rote) rehearsal: things over and over.


Evidence that Type 1 rehearsal (also called maintenance rehearsal) is not effective for moving information to LTM: In some studies, repeating things over and over does not improve recall. For example, even though you have seen pennies thousands of times, you may not be able to draw one from memory. You may not even be able to pick the correct penny out of a line-up of fakes. (So, maintenance rehearsal is a tried--but not true--way of remembering information. To slightly overstate things, what some students call "memorizing" isn't memorizing!)

Reason that Type 1 rehearsal is not effective for moving information to LTM: It does not recode the information to make it meaningful or visual. (This short animation may help you remember that Type 1 rehearsal usually recycles information back into STM rather than moving that information into LTM.)

     To get information into LTM efficiently, you must connect the new information to information already in your memory. As psychologists would say, you should encode the information by using Type 2 rehearsal (also called elaborative rehearsal)

Specifically, in elaborative rehearsal (Type 2 rehearsal), you think about the information to add to it (to elaborate on it) in one of two ways:

1. Make information 
attempt number   

Implications for aging and memory:

  • As you get older, your semantic memory should improve because it should be easier to make information meaningful. It should be easier to make information meaningful because making information meaningful involves connecting new information to old information and, as you age, you should have more old information to which you can connect new information. Partly for this reason, some schools prohibit juniors and seniors from taking introductory courses.
  • Similarly, studying hard in your introductory courses should make it easier for you when you need to learn new information in your advanced courses (because you have more "old information" to connect to the new information).

Implications for in-class behavior and note-taking:

  • Because making information meaningful involves both (a) working to connect new bits of information to each other in a way that makes sense to you and (b) working to connect the new information to what you already know, borrowing someone else's notes (even the professor's!) is no substitute for being in class and taking your own notes. If you skip the mental work of elaborative rehearsal, you miss out on retaining the information.
  • Because elaborative rehearsal involves thinking, unless the professor is going pretty fast, do not just copy down what the professor says. Instead, think, then write--and realize that what you do write down without thinking will be worthless until you think about it. So, if you skip thinking about something in lecture, be sure to make up for that lapse by thinking about that information especially deeply when you study it.
  • To encourage elaborative rehearsal during class, be mentally active in class by trying to (1) think of the answer to any question the professor asks,  (2) think about how the information in the lecture relates to the information in the previous lecture, and (3)  think about how a professor's story, example, or demonstration connects to an important point.
  • To make the information meaningful, relate the lecture's ideas and examples to yourself or to people you know.

Implications for studying:

  • Because elaborative rehearsal involves making information meaningful, read through your notes shortly after class to make sure they make sense. If parts don't make sense, try to fill them in using the book, the internet, or a friend's notes.
  • Because elaborative rehearsal is an active process that requires hard mental work, you should study in a place without distractions and at a time when you have energy and focus. So, studying in bed is a bad idea--and, for many students, studying during the day is much more effective than studying at night (However, a quick review of the information before going to bed may help consolidation). Similarly, studying right after you get up is usually not very effective--you will usually need  to be up for at least an hour before your mind fully wakes up.
  • Because memorizing often involves making information meaningful, understand information before trying to memorize it. (To see an example of how making a paragraph meaningful makes it more memorable, read this short blog entry or try to memorize this story). In other words, a friend's well-meaning advice-- "Don't understand it, just memorize it"--is bad advice because meaningless information is very hard to remember: Imagine having to learn pages of  words from a language you didn't know (like this) or having to learn pages of "nonsense syllables" like these: "XOV" "BEF", and "KUQ". (For an example of how hard meaningless information is to memorize, see the man who couldn't remember his wife's name.)
  • Should you listen to the lecture first or read the text first? To answer this question, realize that  (a) you need to understand information to make it meaningful and (b) you usually need to make information meaningful to memorize it. So, if you are having more trouble understanding the text than understanding the lectures, you may wish to hear the lectures before reading the text--although I would still advise at least skimming the chapter before before going to class. If, on the other hand, you are having more trouble understanding the lectures than you are understanding the text, you should definitely read the text before coming to class.
  • Thinking critically about what you are studying will help your memory for that information because elaborative rehearsal is thinking.
  • Skim the chapter before reading it so you can see how the chapter's information might be meaningful and so that you can activate memories for information already in your memory that you will be able to associate with information in the chapter.
  • Because meaningful information tends to be specific rather than general (In some studies, participants are twice as likely to remember specific statements rather than general statements), refine your notes by converting abstract, general statements into concrete, specific examples.


3 general strategies for adding meaning to course material.

1.Come up with your own   as well as coming up with or finding analogies that make sense to you (e.g., think of LTM as being like a library).

Attempt number          

2. Ask questions such as how is the new information    to and how is it different from what you have already learned?
For example, ask "How is Sensory Memory similar to STM--and how it is different?" or "How does this information relate to the last lecture or last reading assignment?" You could also ask "Why is this information important?", "Why should I believe--or not believe--this?", or "Is there a better way to organize this information?" In general,  asking and answering "why" and "how" questions will help you--especially in more advanced classes.

Attempt number

3.  Make the information personally meaningful by putting the new information in your own words. One way to force yourself to put information in your own words is to tell other people what you have learned. So, the next time your parents ask you about school, you can study by telling them what meaningful things you learned in class. In addition to putting information in your own words, summarize it. Summarizing material forces you to think about what the most meaningful and important points are. 


2. Make the information
attempts =

Two implications for how you should study:

  1. Making simple diagrams or even making almost illegible doodles of concepts can help your memory for course material (so don't be afraid to add doodles to your notes or flashcards). More elaborate visuals, such as cartoons, timelines, infographics, concept maps (also called "mind maps"), and sketchnoting can be even more helpful.
  2. Do not skip diagrams and visuals in your text. Instead, go through the chapter at least once looking only at its visuals.
Quotes to motivate you to add pictures to what you are learning and to help you remember "picture power":

To impress yourself by seeing your own mind's amazing ability to remember images,

Other evidence for the power of images:

(I will discuss mnemonic devices in more depth later, but you can skip ahead by clicking here. )
As you have seen, the more you think about the information (i.e., the more you recode information or add to that information), the more likely it is to get into memory. The depth of processing approach (also called the levels-of-processing approach) focuses on the memory benefits of thinking deeply about information. For example, levels-of-processing research has made it clear that deeper processing of words--thinking about a word's meaning and its relevance to you-- leads to better memory of those words than shallow processing (e.g., superficial processing such as merely noticing whether the word is in all capital letters, has two vowels, or rhymes with another word). Some advocates of the depth of processing approach have acted like there is just one memory system, but that shallow processing puts the information on the surface of memory where it can easily be blown away whereas deeper processing anchors the information deeper in memory. That is, rather than thinking of you having information in 3 different memories (sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory), some people would think of you having one memory in which information can be planted at different depths in memory--and  the more deeply information is rooted, the longer it will be remembered.  Looking at this diagram will help you see the idea behind the one memory with different levels approach.

LTM Retrieval: Getting information to LTM from STM


 Like real banks, it is easier to make deposits into our memory banks than it is to make withdrawals (Much information is forgotten, but not gone). Below are 3 examples of retrieval--but not storage-- failures. In technical terminology, the following 3 examples illustrate that information available (stored) in memory is not always accessible (retrievable).

  1. Tip-Of-the-Tongue (TOT) phenomenon (words are not actually on the tip of your tongue--they are in memory, but can't be retrieved)
  2. Recognition is generally easier than recall (e.g., it is easier for you to recognize the names of the 7 dwarfs than it is for you to retrieve all 7).
  3. Savings scores: Relearning is faster than learning (to revise an old saying, "You can quickly re-teach an old dog old tricks"). For example, suppose you needed 20 minutes to learn the 7 dwarfs the first time, but now you can't remember a single one. The good news is that it might take you only 5 minutes to learn them them all the second time-- a savings of  15 minutes (which, using the formula for savings scores as time saved/original time spent, results in a savings score of 15/20 which is 75%). Similarly, even if it seemed that you "forgot" everything you learned in a course, you  could  relearn that information much more easily than when you learned it the first time. Indeed, when taking advanced courses that have introductory courses as prerequisites, you will probably quickly relearn what you learned--but seemed to have totally forgotten--from those introductory courses. (So, although you can question whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if nobody is around to hear it, an encoded memory does leave a trace [detectable by recognition and savings] even when it cannot be retrieved.)

Because retrieval is such a big problem (and because tests ask you to take information out of memory rather than put information into memory), much of your study time should focus on retrieving--not merely recognizing!--information. Specifically, you should

What causes retrieval failures?

Not simply the passing of time (Despite recent attempts to revive decay theory, the idea that memories decay from LTM is pretty much dead.)

Evidence that retrieval failures are not due to time alone:

  1. Grandparents can have vivid and accurate memories for long ago events while having hazy and inaccurate memories for recent events.
  2. Hypermnesia: Under certain conditions, people can have better recall for information a week or longer after they learned the information than they had shortly after they learned the information. Usually, those "certain conditions" involve being repeatedly tested on the same information without ever seeing the information again. In a typical study, a participant might be given a list of 24 words to remember. A few minutes later, when asked to recall the words, the participant may recall 18 of the words. A week later, participants return to the lab and are again asked to remember the words. On the first attempt, the participant may recall only 1 or 2 words. But, with more attempts, the participant will recall more words. Indeed, by the 6th time the participant tries to recall the words, the participant may recall all 24 words--even though the participant could only recall 18 words when tested right after being given the list! Hypermnesia is possible because some of the "forgotten" information doesn't go away; it is just hard to find. As a result, when participants keep looking, they find much of that "forgotten" information.
(To see a diagram of a typical hypermnesia experiment, mouse over this link.)
Typical Hypermnesia Experimental Procedure and Results
Typical Procedure Study List of 24 Words. Recall words Experimenter: "Experiment is over, but would you like to come in next
week for a different memory experiment?"
"Recall words from last week."
Recall 1
Recall 2 Recall 3 Recall 4 Recall 5 Recall 6
Typical Number of Words Recalled   18   3 6 11 14 18 24


So, on the one hand, time, by itself, does not cause retrieval failures.

On the other hand, however,  retrieval failures are often linked to time as Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve illustrates (see the graph  below).


* If you just focused on the rapid drop during the first part of Ebbinghaus' forgetting curve, forgot about savings (that relearning is much faster than the original learning), and did not realize that meaningful information is retained much longer than the nonsense syllables that Ebbinghaus used in his forgetting studies, you might think that this comedian's idea for a 5-minute university was a great idea rather than just a great comedy routine.

After noting that the forgetting curve starts off as a sharply falling line, but then becomes a curve as forgetting levels off, answer the following three questions. Then, check your answers by clicking on the buttons below. 

  1. What bad news about memory does the forgetting curve reveal?

  2. Answer: You can forget a great deal of information in just an hour, and you can forget about 2/3 in less than a week. This is why you must continue to test yourself over the material even after you know it. So, you need to review your class notes regularly, and you can't assume that the information you knew for the quiz is information that you will remember for the final.

  3. What good news about memory does the forgetting curve reveal?
    Answer: After a week, for most practical purposes, you stop forgetting.

  4. Does the forgetting curve support or go against the idea that we should have year-round schools to prevent the forgetting that occurs over the long summer vacation?
    Answer: Since almost all forgetting occurs in the first week, it really doesn't matter whether summer break is 2 weeks or 12 weeks.

But if time doesn't cause retrieval failures (as suggested by hypermnesia and people having good memories for long ago events), why are retrieval failures often linked to time--as you know from the forgetting curve and your own experience? To answer that question, let's first ask: "Why do retrieval failures happen at all?"

3 proposed reasons:

  1. Interference: getting sidetracked by bumping into similar, but wrong information. This skit from SNL dramatizes how information that is perceived as similar to what you want to remember can interfere with retrieval of the desired information. 
  2. Cue-related forgetting (lacking the right cues): not knowing where to look for the information (as you'll see, being without cues--being "cue less"-- may result in being clueless when it comes to recalling information).

  3. Repression (unconscious motivated forgetting): unconsciously not wanting to remember the information.

We will now look at each of these three explanations for retrieval failures in more depth.

#1. Interference: If you just throw stuff into your memory like you would throw stuff into a garbage dump, you may not be able to find what you are looking for because other stuff  is in the way.  If some of the other stuff resembles what you are looking for, it may be that you have two or more memories competing to be retrieved--and the loser may be the one you wanted to retrieve.

Really a problem when information is perceived as 
Attempt number  

So, when studying information, you should try to make the information different from what you already know before you try to memorize it. Similarly, if you are using imagery to memorize something, you might try to make your image unusual in some way, such as making it much bigger than such normal objects really are.

2 types of interference:

Proactive interference: Old (Previously learned) information hurts retrieval of new information.

Classic experimental set up for  demonstrating proactive interference:


Group 1Learns
List A
List B
Tested on
List B
Group 2Learns
List B
Tested on
List B

Results: Group 1 does worse than Group 2 because proactive interference from List A acts to interfere with Group 1's recall of List B. How much worse? That will depend on how similar the two lists are-- the more similar, the worse Group 1's recall.

Think of other examples of proactive interference. Hints:

Retroactive interference: Newly (Recently) learned information acts to hurt memory for old information ("retro" means "backwards").

Classic experimental set up for  demonstrating retroactive interference:

Group 1Learns
List A
List B
Tested on
List A
Group 2Learns
List A
Tested on
List A

Results: Group 1 does worse than Group 2 because retroactive interference from the recently learned List B acts to interfere with Group 1's recall of List A. Will the act of learning about retroactive interference recently act to interfere with your memory of proactive interference? Have your more recent phone numbers, addresses, and passwords interfered with access to your old ones?

Animation to help you understand the difference between proactive and retroactive interference

Practice distinguishing proactive interference from retroactive interference

A phenomenon that shows both types of interference and also shows how passing of time can't account for forgetting--the serial position curve:

Serial position
Graph Courtesy of Creative Commons License 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Questions to think about when looking at the serial position curve

Given that recall is good for the beginning and for the end, but poor for the middle (e.g., we can easily remember the first U.S. President [Washington] and, despite what repression would predict, the last former President [Trump], but may have trouble remembering middle presidents like Chester Arthur), what does this mean in terms of

Your knowledge of interference can help you refute lies. The problem with trying to refute a lie is that to refute it, you usually repeat it--and repeating it may actually make people remember the lie. The solution is a "truth sandwich" in which you state the facts, refute the lie, and then state the facts again. That way, the lie is subjected to proactive interference from your first statement of the fact and retroactive interference from your final restatement of the fact. In short, just like with the serial position curve, people will remember the beginning and the end of what you said (the fact) rather than what you said in the middle (the lie).

Short (less than 1 minute) video to help you understand interference and the serial position curve.

Short (one minute) animation showing the implications of interference for how you should study.

Look at some terms that you might have trouble remembering because of interference

#2 Cue-Dependent Forgetting: Inadequate cues as a cause of retrieval failure

        Cues trigger memories. In a sense, the cues you have for retrieving the information are like hooks that help you fish for information: The more hooks, the more likely it is you will catch the information. Given the importance of cues, it is not surprising that much forgetting is due to not having the right cues. Not having cues, like not having the address of a person you want to visit or not having the file name for the computer file you want to access, makes it unlikely that you will find what you need.

((See additional possible explanations for childhood amnesia)

Using what we now know to understand how you can improve your memory by using mnemonic devices (systematic memory aides).

Most (memory systems) work by solving the 2 major problems with LTM:

1. They usually solve the encoding problem by using imagery, a way of doing Type 2 rehearsal. (They elaborate on material by adding pictures to it.))

2. They solve the retrieval problem by building in retrieval cues. Because the cues are built in, you don't have cue-related forgetting. Because you know where to look (you look where the cue is), you aren't bumping into the wrong information, so you may not have interference problems (Interference, however, can become a problem. To understand how, click on the following link:  Why aren't mnemonics used more often? ).

Two examples of mnemonic devices:

Example 1: The method of loci (the method of places) in which you (1) encode each piece of information by creating a mental picture that links the information to a place along a familiar path and then (2) retrieve the information by taking a mental walk along that path.

Example 2: The peg-word mnemonic: A method is which you

  1. form mental images of and then memorize a list of "peg words" -- a list of words that are easy to visualize and that you can put in order (e.g., a common system ties each peg word to a number: "bun" for one, "shoe" for two, etc.), then
  2. encode information by forming, for each new item, a picture that includes both the new item and the relevant peg word (e.g., for your first new item, you would form an image of the new item interacting with your first peg word),  and then
  3. retrieve the information by going through your list of peg words in order.
Look at the table below to see an example of how you might go through the 3 steps to use a peg-word mnemonic.

Step 1 (Set up your cues) Step 2 (Encoding--link the new information to your cues) Step 3(Retrieval--Go to your cues)
Get an ordered list of peg words. Normally, your first word should be associated with "1", your second word with "2" etc. (examples of number-based peg lists) If, however, you hate numbers, you could choose a list of peg words in which the first word is associated with "A", the second with "B", etc. (examples of  some alphabetical lists of pegwords).

Then, visualize your peg words and memorize them in either numerical or alphabetical order.


Link new material to peg words using imagery.

Picture the first new item interacting with first peg word,  the second new item with second peg word, etc. You may need to use some creativity to (1) make an image representing each new item and (2) getting each new image to interact with its corresponding peg word (ideally, in a vivid and bizarre way).

Go through the pegs (your cues) in order. Start by picturing the peg word associated with "1." Your first item should pop into your head. Keep going until you have gone through all your peg words.
Example "1" as "bun"
Example: Connect bun to your image of sensory memory (in this case, the image of "sensory register" is a cash register that senses with its ear). The interaction (not pictured) is that the sensory register wants to eat the bun.
  Example: Visualize the peg word for "1" (bun) and you should see sensory register trying to eat the bun. 

**Note that you only need to do Step 1 once. After you have set up all the pegs, you don't have to do that ever again. So, once your system is set up, you will be able to remember items in order by just doing Steps 2 and 3.

If mnemonic systems are so powerful, why aren't mnemonics used more often?

Two important similarities between LTM and a library:

  1. Encoding: Getting information into either system requires effort and skill. Dropping books off at the library will not automatically get information into the library's collection. Instead, you will need to bring the book to the librarian's attention and convince the librarian that the book would be a meaningful addition to the library's collection (otherwise, the book will be thrown out or sold at the library's book sale). Similarly, to get information into LTM, you have to pay attention to the information, and you will probably need to make the information meaningful or visual.
  2. Retrieval: Getting the right information out at the right time requires organization. Whether you are talking about a library or a memory, it is hard to find one particular item among many items unless the items are organized (organized information is stored with a cue so that having the cue gets you to the information).

Two important differences between LTM and a library:

  1. Reconstruction: A book in the library is stored as a complete unit-- every word has already been written. All the pages of the book exist whether you check it out or not, and every time you check it out, you are checking out the same book. If and when a book is revised, we know the book has been revised: No librarian would mistake a 2nd edition for a 1st edition. An event stored in memory, on the other hand, can be revised without you knowing it--and is often not stored in its entirety. Instead, of an entire event being stored, often only a few bits and pieces of the original event make their way into memory. So, why does it seem like you remembered the whole thing when you only stored an incomplete outline of the event? Because when you recall an event, you  use what you know about how the world works (i.e., your semantic memory) to turn that bare bones outline into a vivid memory that seems complete.  (See 17-second animation)
    Four amazing facts about reconstruction: the process of using your knowledge of how the world works to take some bits of stored information to create a "complete" memory.
    1. When you reconstruct a memory, you don't realize that you are "writing" much of that memory: Instead, you think you are just copying what was already written in memory.
    2. You are not very good at knowing which bits of your recall of an event is what you copied from what was originally written in memory and which bits you just made up. Your not knowing which part you made up makes makes sense given you didn't realize that you made up any of it. However, it creates a problem: There is little relationship between how sure you are about a memory and the memory's accuracy (As you will discover when you and your partner both claim to be 100% sure of correctly remembering a detail of an event, but you both remember it differently. Warning: When your partner says, "I know I'm right because I'm sure," pointing out that science shows that their being sure doesn't mean they're right may not help you win the argument.).
    3. You may continue to rewrite your memory every time you recall it, so memories may get revised without you knowing it. One implication:  That 5-foot jump shot you made to win the game may, after telling the story numerous times, be remembered as  a 15-foot jumper.  Or, as basketball great Connie Hawkins said, "The older I get, the better I used to be."
    4. Memories are not copies of reality but instead are recreations, so memories aren't as accurate as we would like to think. 

    Experimental evidence for reconstruction The bad news about reconstruction: Because memory, rather than being like a video recorder, relies on reconstruction, memories that we are confident about can be wrong. Examples:

    The good news about reconstruction: By noting what you can reconstruct and memorizing only what you can't, it can seem like you have remembered everything without memorizing much. If visuals help you, mouse over this text.

    So, oddly enough, the key to seeming like you have memorized more is to memorize less! For example, imagine that a friend tries to memorize every word of a 30-page chapter whereas you boil down that chapter to less than a page of notes from which you can reconstruct the chapter. You will memorize less than a page of notes but appear to know much more than your friend. But can you really summarize an entire chapter in one page of notes? Yes. In fact, one highly paid memory expert advises his clients to finish the term with one page of notes from which they can reconstruct the entire term's information.
    How do you boil down a long chapter to less than one page of notes?
    1. Preview the chapter to start thinking about (1) what information in the chapter you could reconstruct from what you already know and  (2) what the main points are from which you can reconstruct the rest of the chapter.
    2. Keep in mind that you should be able to reconstruct most of the chapter, so either do not highlight anything--take notes instead--or highlight only the most important information on the page and go back later to try to reconstruct the rest of the page from the few words you highlighted. (Students who use highlighters to paint their books are obviously not being selective and thus are not taking advantage of reconstruction.)
    3. Realize that condensing a chapter down to less than one page of notes may not happen in one step. You may have to rewrite your summary several times, shortening it by (1) eliminating material in the previous summary that is either redundant (e.g., two examples of the same thing) or material that you could reconstruct and (2) replacing relatively narrow principles with broader principles.


  2. Need for overlearning: In a well-organized  library, books don't get misplaced. So, if you retrieve a certain book once, you can always retrieve it (as long as the book is in the library). Your memory, on the other hand, is not so well-organized. As a result, even if you have retrieved a certain piece of information from your LTM before, you may not be able to retrieve that material later. The solution is to overlearn: Study after you already know it. Effective overlearning is practicing retrieval even after you have recalled the information perfectly (Since most people overestimate how much they know, you can't rely on thinking that you could recall the information:  The only way to know that you can recall the information is to actually recall it).

Why do you need to overlearn? You need to overlearn--which should be called "Super Reviewing"-- to defeat the forgetting curve. (Perhaps it was the forgetting curve and the power of overlearning that caused Quintilian to write, "Nothing is so much strengthened by practice, or weakened by neglect, as memory.") Put another way, since retrieval is the big problem in LTM, you need to practice retrieval. For students, this usually means taking practice tests and quizzing each other.  In a sense, practicing retrieval is like mowing the memory's retrieval path. Because of the need for overlearning, you should retrieve newly learned information at least 3 times after learning it (e.g., a day after learning it, a week after learning it, and a month after learning it).

 How can you use overlearning to do better in school? One way is to repeatedly write out answers to essay questions based on course material. If you tire of writing out answers, you could say your answers aloud to a critical friend or to a recording device. Alternatively, instead of writing entire essays, you could outline answers to essay questions or develop rubrics for grading answers to those essay questions (if you have a study partner, you could use your rubric to grade your partner's essays). If sample essay questions aren't available from your text, your professor, or online, you could create your own essay questions or you may be able to get them from the Psychology Problem Solver series.  

Another way to practice overlearning is to repeat parts of lectures to your parents, a stuffed animal, or a recording device. Tutoring also provides a chance to overlearn. Note that since everything you need to overlearn is already in  your head, you can practice overlearning almost any time. For example, you can recite answers to questions or recite the main points of a lecture while walking between classes or while waiting in line.

7 Memory Myths That Hurt Your GPA
(Myths that may explain the surprisingly weak relationship between time studied and exam scores)

Myth Fact
1. Repetition alone is an effective strategy for getting information into LTM. Repetition (Type 1 rehearsal, also called maintenance rehearsal) is not an effective way to get information into LTM. Common ways of wasting study time by using maintenance rehearsal include
  • Typing up your notes or recopying them.
  • Repeating definitions word-for-word that you do not understand.
  • Not understanding what you are studying.
  • Rereading--unless you are selectively rereading sections you did not understand.
  • "Going over" notes or flashcards by merely rereading them.

Instead of using Type 1 rehearsal, you should do things that will encourage Type 2 (elaborative) rehearsal

  • Make tables, diagrams, outlines, sketches, and concept maps so that you think about the information and organize it.
  • Explain how similar concepts differ from each other.
  • Make up concrete examples of the concepts you are learning.
  • Make or find an analogy (e.g., thinking about long term memory as a library) that can help you understand and thus encode the information.
  • Think CORE: Connect (information to your personal experience or to other things you know), Organize, Recode (into a visual form), and Effort (no effort, no encoding)
  • Make the information relevant to you or to your future self.
2. Cramming is effective. Spreading out your studying (spreading out your studying is called distributed practice) is much more effective than cramming (cramming is called massed practice), especially for (a) complex information and (b) long term retention. So, cramming might help you on a quiz, but it will get you in trouble if you need to know the information for the final exam, for a later course, or for your future career.
3. Highlighting your text is an effective memory strategy. Passive strategies are not effective.  Memorizing involves thinking--not mindlessly coloring your book with a highlighter. So, stop highlighting.* Instead, take notes on your book that engage you in a conversation/argument with the author, such as notes starting with "What you mean is _____,"  "I disagree with you because ______," "But earlier you said ____," "The main point is _____", and "Would ____ also be an example of _____?"  The key is not to copy material from the text (that's just highlighting the hard way) but to reflect and then write.  So, if you are writing something about a paragraph before you have finished that paragraph, stop, finish reading the paragraph, and then, if you can justify doing so, write your note. 
*If you can't break the habit of highlighting, commit to (1) highlighting only important points (or going back later with a different color highlighter to highlight the important points) and (2) going back and reviewing what you highlighted, either by trying to reconstruct the rest of the page from your highlighting or by writing notes based on what you highlighted.
4. It is wasteful to skim a chapter before reading it. Before reading a chapter, you should figure out how that chapter is organized, what the main ideas are, and what you will learn by reading it. So, to  preview the chapter, read the chapter outline (if there is one), read the chapter's introduction, look at the major headings, and read the chapter summary. These "pre-reading/ previewing" activities will help you in three ways. First, previewing the chapter makes it more likely that you will engage in elaborative rehearsal when you read the chapter because you will be more able to make the material meaningful and you will be more likely to access relevant knowledge you already have that you can connect to the text's information.  Second, previewing the chapter to see how the chapter is organized makes it more likely that you will organize what you read.  Organizing what you read--by storing connected chunks of information rather than many isolated bits of information and by having cues that will help you retrieve that connected information--will help you recall that information. Third, previewing the chapter, by giving you the big picture, should make it easier for you to figure out which information is important and must be memorized  (e.g., a main point) and which information is less important or capable of being reconstructed (e.g., a second example of the same point). 
5. Testing yourself over the material before the exam is a bad idea. Testing yourself over the material is the most effective way to learn the material. Research shows that testing yourself, if you answer yourself aloud or in writing, is about 6 times more effective than re-reading and that students' grades are positively correlated with how much they recite.
6. "Don't try to understand it, just memorize it." Understanding information makes information easier to remember. (It is hard to remember "S hortt ermm emo ryih ol dsev  nks " until you see it as "Short term memory holds seven chunks.")
7. "You have to memorize everything word for word." "
  • Only memorize what you can't reconstruct: If asked to remember what will happen when you go to a restaurant, you would not spend time memorizing facts that you could reconstruct (e.g., that the restaurant had tables, chairs, and menus). Instead, you would focus on things you couldn't reconstruct (e.g., the waiter broke a glass). Similarly, if you were asked to memorize "2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30," you would just memorize a rule that would allow you to reconstruct the series ("even numbers between 2 and 30") rather than memorizing each individual number. So, be like a good student who spends most of their effort figuring out what the main principles are that will allow them to reconstruct most of the examples rather than being like the hard-working but unsuccessful student who sees everything as equally important and may end up memorizing supporting details and examples instead of memorizing main points.
  • Being able to replay, like a video recorder, word-for-word what was said  in class--a perfect episodic memory about what happened, when it happened, and where it happened--might still result in a failing test score. You need to have semantic memories of the concepts covered. These semantic memories will probably not be word-for-word memories and will not be associated with when the you learned the concept, where the you learned the concept, or, indeed, with any specific event. Instead, those semantic memories of concepts will be associated with related concepts.
  • Creating an example of a concept that you can visualize (a mental youTube of the concept) will be more memorable and useful than memorizing the exact wording of an abstract definition. Indeed, a vivid, specific example is worth 1000 definitions.


10 Additional Review/Explore/Apply Activities

  1. Match memories to their characteristics using this interactive table.
  2. Master this interactive outline.
  3. Take a fun memory test that will review key concepts and give you some studying tips.
  4. Look at the study tips page and see how that page's tips apply the memory principles you have learned --or see how to apply memory principles to remembering names and jokes.
  5. See how to be a better student by looking at this diagram.
  6. Explore mnemonics at this site.
  7. Take this short memory quiz
  8. Read superlearner Scott Young's "The Complete Guide to Memory"
  9. Listen to "Memory Tips" podcast or watch a "Discovering Psychology" video on memory or have some fun at this site.
  10. Complete the study grid below.

Study Grid: Long Term Memory
Stage of processing Example(s) of problemsHow can problems be prevented?







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