How to retain what you’ve learnt

Studying and revising would be so much easier if we knew we would hold on to all of the information we learned. We spoke to a memory expert about how memories form and what we can do to improve our memory and retain information.

We also asked three current and past advanced level students about how they have been managing their studies from home, particularly with relation to being able to remember what you’ve learned when your exams might have been delayed.

How memories form

Jordan Harry, Memory Coach and Co-Founder of StudyFast, explained to us the three functions that have to take place for memories to form and told us his three top tips for retaining information.

For memories to form, three functions have to take place:

1. Acquiring – learning or experiencing something new

2. Consolidating – where the memory becomes stable

3. Recall – the ability to recall that memory in the future

Jordan’s top three tips for improving your memory

  1. Learn a new skill like juggling

German researchers found that juggling increased brain matter in the areas responsible for memory, visual and motor activity.

  1. Imagine a memory palace where you can store information

Experts use this place-based technique a lot for things like remembering number sequences or decks of cards. Create a visual image of what you’re trying to remember and exaggerate it in some way to make it more memorable.

  1. Recall

Try improving and exercising your memory muscle by recalling your dreams in a dream diary, a notebook where you can write down or sketch as much as you can remember from your dreams as soon as you wake up.

Practice, practice, practice

Natasha Payce finished Level 3 in December, passing with Distinction. For her, the key to hanging on to knowledge is practising. 

“I do as many practice questions as possible. Reading and note-taking will only help so much, and it doesn’t click for me until I start applying it to scenarios. If there is content I am struggling to retain, I find it helps to explain it to someone who does not know about accounting. I also keep this in mind when I am doing written exam answers, so I don’t miss making a point because of the assumption of prior knowledge.”

Katherine Packer started Level 3 as part of an evening class at college in September 2019, which was the first time she had been in education since leaving secondary school in 2001. Returning to study was a bit of a shock to the system for her. She is resitting Synoptics in a week’s time and has started Level 4.

“My key to retaining information is repetition. I struggled to get my brain back into an exam-based learning style, and some things just didn’t stick in my head. I’ve not always been the best reader and can have forgotten what I’ve read by the time I’m at the bottom of the page. As a result, I had to find alternative ways of ‘digesting’ the information. I signed up for online free revision sessions run by a company called First Intuition, which were invaluable. I joined every Facebook group I could get into, to hear from people in similar situations with similar problems. I did all of the eLearning I could get my hands on, and practised, practised, practised until it became second nature.”

Mnemonics and colours

Lee Joinson is an Accounts Assistant in Liverpool. He got his successful Level 3 results in August 2020 after starting in September 2019.

“There are two things really that can help you retain information. Firstly, mnemonics. Figure out how you can make something that may seem difficult into your own mnemonic, then share it with others. I also find writing on coloured cards help. Then I pin them on the fridge. We all regularly go to the fridge, so not only will the information being on the fridge be impossible to miss, you can visualise what “colour” card it was on too, so it’s a double whammy on helping you remember things.”

Further reading:

Sophie Cross is the Editor of Freelancer Magazine and a freelance writer and marketer at Thoughtfully.

Related articles