Self Improvement

8 Science-Backed Ways To Hack Your Brain To Remember Stuff, So You Can Win At Exams Or Life

Science-backed memory hacks


While some are lucky to have photographic memories, most of us struggle to just even remember our login passwords. There’s no shame in having a poor memory, but we certainly would want to put a halt to the mental blocks that we face at school or the workplace. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of useful hacks out there to help remember things. These eight memory hacks are scientifically-proven to improve your memory recall by leaps and bounds. With visual techniques and mnemonic devices, you’ll be a whiz at obscure history dates and timely credit card payments soon enough. 


1. Space out your learning sessions with 5-min breaks


We’ve all resorted to cram sessions at one point or another, but the best way to retain information isn’t by mugging throughout the night and burning the midnight oil. Since information enters your long-term memory when you revisit the same material over time, downing your exam notes in a short period of time means that you’re only wasting your time. 

Instead, try spacing out your learning sessions with breaks. Known as the spacing effect or the spaced repetition method, this technique has proven to work wonders for your long-term memory. After you’ve absorbed your fair share of information, it’s best to take a well-deserved break before revisiting the same material. 

Pro tip: You can also try the Pomodoro method, a nifty tactic that many struggling scholars and employees rely on for productive learning sessions. This means working for 25 minutes straight before taking a 5-minute break – it’s said to improve your concentration, and ultimately, your memory work. 


2. Make use of brain training apps & games


No one would’ve thought that spending more time on your smartphone helps your memory storage and recall performance. But with the array of brain training apps and games out there, you can always take the chance to sharpen your mind with problem-solving puzzles and memory games. 

Image credit: Jessica Lai

Some of the more popular apps include Lumosity for its timed puzzles, Elevate which tests your everyday skills of communication and maths, and Neuronation which has over 30 memory exercises. 

Now, there is plenty of research out there on brain-training apps, with some dead set on the effectiveness of these apps while others slam them as useless games. While this is still up in the air, there’s certainly no harm in trying – it’s still better than simply watching Netflix for hours on end. 


3. Use mnemonic devices like visuals and rhymes


Since we were kids, we’ve had clever tricks up our sleeves to help us remember things – so we wouldn’t flunk our primary school spelling tests. The thing is, we didn’t always know that these hacks we used are what’s known as mnemonic devices

While mnemonic devices generally refer to any technique used to help with memory recall, there are some visuals, acronyms and rhymes that have been crucial in our learning and development. When I was a kid, I could only remember the directions of a compass based on this acronym: Naughty (N) Elephants (E) Spray (S) Water (W), moving in a clockwise direction. 

Try using mnemonic devices the next time you have to remember something important. Whether it’s pegging bits of information visually to an object or creating catchy rhymes, it’s an effective way to store new material in your memory.   


4. Tap into your inner Sherlock with the Memory Palace Technique


With a fancy name like Memory Palace Technique, it sounds a lot more challenging than it is. It’s also known as the method of loci, in other words, basing your memory on a location. All you have to do is mentally walk through a “palace” – a location that’s visually familiar to you that you can easily bring up in your mind, such as a route you pass by daily, school or workplace. 

If you need to pick up your everyday groceries, you can first visualise walking by a carton of milk on your bed and a dozen eggs on your study table. 

Known as a location-based technique that Sherlock Holmes frequently used in his detective work, this is especially useful in remembering a specific set of items. These days, you can even see how engaged and responsive your mind is with all the new technology out there. 

To more accurately see how active your mind is as you acquire new knowledge, research institutes like the National Institute of Education (NIE) use infrared spectroscopy to assess your brain’s blood oxygen and activity levels during learning processes. Since the Memory Palace Technique creates a multi-sensory experience, applying it will ensure that your brain will be actively engaged enough for you to remember things like your grocery requirements and lengthy to-do lists. 


5. Teach someone else from scratch


It’s time to play teacher for a while, since teaching someone from scratch is proven to have plenty of benefits when it comes to memory work. By putting pointers in your own words and explaining it to someone else, you’re more likely to get the information to stick for yourself too. 

This learning-by-teaching effect has been touted as one that keeps the student’s mind active and engaged, resulting in a higher level of knowledge retention. This might even level up your working memory. 


6. Try chunking information together


Whenever you have a long list of things to remember, it’s best to try chunking information together. This means taking a whole lot of information and making smaller bits of it. We’ve all done it before, whether consciously or subconsciously. 

One of the more common ways is taking a phone number and to better remember it, we “chunk” it, such as splitting the random mobile number 93876172 to 938-761-72. It’s just easier for us to digest. It also works for everyday items like grocery lists and important dates, when you can break down information into smaller groups and categories. 


7. Get an “average” amount of sleep of seven hours


It’s been preached to us, usually by our concerned mothers, that we all need to sleep more. But as a study by Harvard shows, there can be such a thing as too much sleep. For our memories to best operate, we should aim to get seven hours of sleep per day – no more, and no less. 

Those who slept five hours or less per night or nine hours or more performed poorer on brain performance tests. Academic studies suggest that it’s more about the quality of sleep than the duration but chances are if you’re sleeping too little or too much, the quality won’t be all there. 

So it’s no surprise that quality sleep is directly related to the amount of sleep you have, to help your mind absorb and retain information better. 


8. Make sure to actively test yourself


If you’ve ever felt that you’ve sufficiently memorised your exam notes or business colleagues’ names, it’s time to actively test yourself, just to make sure that it’s all sunk in. By constantly testing yourself, you’re retrieving information from your memory throughout the learning process.

This is known as active recall, where you’re shifting information from your short-term to long-term memory so it’s easier to draw upon in the future. As would many studies show, this particular research piece from Purdue University proves that testing yourself just once works better than reading a text four times over. 

The effectiveness of active recall is also dependent on one’s focus and attention span as you acquire new knowledge. NIE, being the institute for teaching and learning, even uses an eye tracking device to determine a student’s focus as well as visual stimuli while learning, which is a useful way to find out how effective certain classroom practices are.  


Understanding the Science of Learning with NIE’s new programme


With these eight science-backed memory hacks, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to remember details and facts. Those interested in finding out how the brain reacts to knowledge and memory acquisition can check out NIE’s latest Master’s programme that delves right into the Science of Learning

Master of Science (Science of Learning) programme

Suitable for experienced working professionals, especially those in the field of training and development, the Master of Science (Science of Learning) programme, also called the MSL programme, will boost your ability in developing and designing progressive learning solutions for Singapore’s future-ready workforce. 

Image credit: NIE

For this, NIE has partnered with the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine to offer an interdisciplinary programme, combining education with learning experiences in neuroscience, biology, psychology and engineering. 

Through understanding how the brain works, there’s no doubt that you’ll be mastering the scientific connections between learning and behaviour, but here’s a bonus: some modules like Educational Neuroscience and Learning Analytics will even give you insight into AI and neuroscience. These modules are also available as standalone courses that one can stack towards the NTU MiniMasters™ in Mind, Brain and Education.

Since the MSL programme approaches learning practices with academic rigour, you can be sure that you’re on the right path towards a fulfilling career in teaching and training. You can apply for the inaugural January 2022 intake starting 10th May 2021 online – make sure to apply before 5th July 2021

For those interested, you can join in NIE’s virtual Postgraduate & Continuing Education (PG&CE) Fair 2021 on 15th May 2021. Held at 10AM and 4PM, you’ll get the chance to have a one-on-one chat with friendly programme reps for more information on NIE’s programmes and courses. Registration is available on their website.

Whether you are looking to develop as a healthcare practitioner, a training and development professional, or simply to further your postgraduate research studies, you’ll be one step ahead as a Master of Science (Science of Learning) graduate when it comes to modern, revolutionary practices of learning and teaching. 

Find out more about NIE’s Master of Science (Science of Learning) programme here


This post was brought to you by NIE. 

Pailin Boonlong

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