Everyone dreads studying for exams. I know that I dreads studying for exams. My girlfriend, Shayla, can remember everything she learns from her text book. One day I asked her, “How do you remember everything?”. Shayla looked at me and said “I make the information in to sentences that help me remember the concepts.” I still think she is super human for being able to memorize so much so quickly and easily but after learning about how encoding can help us retrieve information from our memory I began to understand this concept more.
So let me start at with encoding. Encoding is the way that we gather information and transfer it into our memory. For example Shayla uses encoding by placing words she needs to remember in to complex sentences. By placing words in complex sentences it helps create more connections between the word and the other things in the sentence. The other words in the sentence also help cue the retrieval of the word when Shayla needs to retrieve the words for her exam. You may wonder what retrieval means in this context. The process of remembering information stored in our long term memory and transferring it back to our working memory is what we call retrieval. (Goldstein, p.173) So for the example of Shayla, she accesses some of the information she encoded to help her retrieve the information from her long term memory.
Recently I have been trying to find ways that I can help information remain in my long term memory until I need it for my classes and exams. I have begun to try a new technique that I have learned from my great memory with directions. I am great with directions because I am good at remembering visual images. To help me use this in my classes I started pairing the information I was learning with images. This is another form of encoding that influences my retrieval performance. Take for example if I needed to remember the words head phones and cantaloupe. Separately remembering these words would be difficult for me to remember just as plain words but if I picture a cantaloupe with over the ear headphones on, I am much more likely to remember these two words. Forming visual images to create a connection with words can enhance memory.
I am still not a fan of exams and I still cannot use the same type of encoding as Shayla. One thing I have come to realize from our lessons about encoding and long term memory is that encoding can affect retrieval. The important part of this is that the way you encode information when you learn it is going to affect if you can retrieve it from your long term memory. Try both types of encoding that Shayla and I use and see if they work for you.
Goldstein, E. B. (2011) Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience 3rd Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.