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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Retention

Characteristics

A lack in motivation or acquisition of knowledge will definitely inhibit retention of new information to be learned. But if motivation and acquisition have been addressed, there are additional techniques and strategies that can enhance the retention of new information. Sometimes all the understanding in the world is not enough to help you remember a set of names or a sequence of pieces of information.

Strategies (numbered, but not sequential): Pick one or more that you wish to implement and assess any changes.

  1. Advertisers have known for a long time that repeated contact with information helps us retain it longer. Thus, if you practice reviewing the new information using the questions and answers you marked in your text while study-reading, any notes you made, and homework or test questions, you can greatly increase your ability to retain the new information. If you see something 80 times, it may be yours for life; the point is, the more contact and practice, the better the retention.
  2. If you have used a key word method (MSWord doc) for taking notes from lectures, simply review your notes by covering the right side, showing only the key words and phrases you have added in the left margin. See if you can remember the critical parts of the notes you made.
  3. Vocabulary cards can be a very powerful strategy and can be used to learn pieces of new information, such as new words, formulas, rules, steps, or any pieces of information you want to learn. They can be a great way to prepare for a test, pulling anticipated questions from review questions, notes, texts, lectures, presentations, and any information learned in relation to a class. To make the vocabulary cards:
    • Simply write a key word, formula, etc. on one side and the answer on the other side of the 3x5 card.
    • Take the cards with you and pull them out whenever you have a few minutes (i.e., waiting at a doctor's office, waiting for a ride, or any other time you have a few minutes). (Sometimes children might love to quiz you while you are driving or fixing dinner.)
    • Once a day, go through all the cards and pull those cards out that you know the answers for; only carry the cards you missed.
  4. Lists or steps can be remembered easier by creating a mnemonic (nee-mon-ic, the m is silent) for the information to be remembered. Following are a few more common mnemonics:
    • The colors of the rainbow in order are ROY G. BIV.
                                    Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet
    • The five Great Lakes create the word HOMES.
                                Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior
    • The order of operations in solving equations in algebra is Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, which stands for Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication or Division, and last Addition or Subtraction.
    • Often the sillier the mnemonic, the easier it is to remember. (final example: the lines of the treble clef is EGBDF and the mnemonic is either Every Good Boy Does Fine or Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.)
    • Mnemonics work well as vocabulary cards.
  5. Anticipate test questions as you are listening in lecture and jot them down. Also when study-reading, capture anything that seems like it would be good as a test question. Review sessions, homework assignments, and end of chapter summaries often have much of the information that will be included on a test.
  6. Whenever you take a break, use the first minutes back to review what you did and where you are to better retain the information. Frequent breaks when learning new information can be critical to understanding and retention. We tend to best remember what we started working on and what we ended on, but much of the middle tends to be lost. Remember:
    • Breaks can be moments or minutes.
    • A quick break may be simply looking up from a text, scanning the room and focusing on something pleasant or treasured for a few moments to give your mind and eyes a rest.
    • Be careful of the trap of turning on the TV, cleaning, or doing other tasks that can distract you from your learning/study goal.
  7. Once a day, formally or informally practice information you need to retain by reviewing study-reading notes, class notes, or vocabulary cards.

As with the other strategies in motivation and acquisition, the ones above can help arm you with a set of tools to better retain new information which is key to the last step of performance. As you become comfortable with one or more, feel free to try any others from above that seem logical and doable.

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Last update: July 15, 2007
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