When you’re in school and studying hard, you may be excited by all the knowledge and information that you’re learning and absorbing. There’s just one problem, how are you going to keep it all in your head long term? This problem is called “retention.” How can we better retain the material that we’re studying both in the short term and in the long term? 

Below are some tips to help you with this problem. In the short term, better retention will help you achieve more within your education institution. In the long term, remembering more of what you’ve learned will be valuable when trying to impress future employers. 

Tip 1: Teach the Knowledge to Others 

One way to retain the knowledge is to try and instruct another person in the same knowledge. When you do, you are forced to not just use the knowledge but think about it from different perspectives and how to explain each part in sufficient detail. At the very least, when you try to teach or explain a concept to another person, it highlights the gaps in knowledge you have, so you can also review the subject and strengthen your own foundations. 

Don’t misunderstand this suggestion. We’re not saying that you have become somebody’s tutor or gained a formal teaching position. It’s an exercise you can try where you’re taking information from your mind and talking about it. It’s not dissimilar to how you start using new English words in conversation. You instantly retain them more effectively than when you memorize them for a test. 

Tip 2: Learn and Review Difficult Concepts in the Morning 

For most people, the morning is when they are most receptive to new information and learning. For this reason, many schools put math classes in the morning because students are often tired and lethargic after lunch. So, whatever major or topic you are studying, you should reserve the mornings to read and review your most challenging materials. 

When you’re learning at your most receptive and alert time, you will retain the information more effectively than if you do so at other times of the day when you are more tired. 

Tip 3: Get Methodical — the Leitner System 

If you want a practical and well-tested system to try and improve your retention of the studied material, you could try using the Leitner System. For this, all you need are some note cards and at least three boxes to sort the cards into. That’s it. 

You can write down questions or other prompts that ask you to recall and explain information that you’ve already learned on your note cards. On your three boxes, label them as follows: “Every Day,” “Tuesday and Thursday,” and “Friday Only.”  

Go through all your cards once, noting how well you respond. Then, start your practice on a Monday. 

  • If you respond confidently and accurately, place the card in the “Tuesday and Thursday” box.  
  • If you hesitate or have to look things up, place them in the “Every Day” box. 

On Tuesday, you’ll test yourself again, starting with those cards in the “Tuesday and Thursday” box. If you still know the information and are as confident as before, then ‘promote’ them to the “Friday Only” box. If you hesitate or have to go back to your notes, ‘demote’ them back to the “Every Day” box. Your goal is to get so familiar with the content day by day that you feel comfortable only practicing that information once a week on Friday. 

Tip 4: Institute a “No-Cramming” Zone 

“Cramming” means when you leave all of your reviews and studying to the last minute and try to learn and remember everything right before the test. Cramming is sometimes enough to get some people through their test or exam, but the information is almost always gone a very short time after the exam is over. 

Instead, try to spread your review across a longer time period, working on smaller chunks of material each time. A good habit is to review the previous week’s work as part of this week’s homework assignment. If you do that, then you’ll be continuously reviewing and familiarizing yourself with the materials all semester long. Then when it’s time for your final exams, you can just do a quick review and feel the pressure melting away. 

Tip 5: Take Breaks to Do Other Things 

Have you ever noticed how often you can spend a whole evening wondering what to do about a problem? Then, you go to bed and sleep through the night, waking up the next morning, and the answer comes instantly into your head. Isn’t it weird? The brain needs downtime and recreation time in order to properly process and sort the input it has received. Studying for longer and longer hours won’t help you get more done because the things you learn in that extra time won’t be processed properly. 

So, every couple of hours or so, get up from your desk, drink some water, exercise, go out for a walk, read a book, or do anything you like to get your mind off the tasks you’re working on. Then, when you return to study, things will invariably be clearer in your mind. If you couple this habit with Tip 4, then you’ll have a winning combination for preparing for final exams. 

What’s more, you’ll have a study method that will continue to work for you all of your life, and you’ll remember far more of what you learned in your current study program. 

At CSI, our instructors care about your success. Contact us today to get started on the path towards your next career.