Short Term Memory

As everyone know exams are coming in a week and they are approaching quickly. If you are anything like most college students , then you will spend at least one night or day trying to cram the information into your head before you take the test. However, this may be even less reliable than you think. I decided to try and find out just how expansive is the memory in the short term.
A study done by Peterson and Peterson hypothesized about the duration of the short term memory, or how long you retain that information if it is not stored in long term memory.
They conducted an experiment where they had volunteers to to remember random groups of three letters. The independent variable was the amount of time between when the participants heard the letters and the time time they had to recite them. The independent variable was the accuracy of the volunteers. The researchers found that short term memory declines sharply within seconds if there is no rehearsal or repetition. With three seconds in between hearing the letters and saying them there was 80% accuracy of recall. However with 18 seconds between hearing the letters and saying them, only 10% of their answers were accurate. That’s less than half a minute!

If you are still not convinced you can’t rely on your short term memory for exams, you can actually test it for yourself. If you follow the example given by Kendra Cherry, a psycho-social rehabilitation specialist, you can look at a group of around 25-30 words for a minute. Then when you are done see how many of the words you can recall without looking. Kendra says that the words can’t be alike or be related because the brain uses grouping as a memorization skill. So the task would be harder if the words were “Bed, Dinner, Worm, etc” as opposed to “Baby, Bottle, Crib.”
My suggestion is that if you want to do well on your exams, give yourself enough time to repeat, rehearse, and practice the information.



4 thoughts on “Short Term Memory

  1. Crystal Courtain-tharp

    Interesting Post! Although I am not usually a procrastinator, there have been a handful of times where I waited until the last minute to study for an Exam. I think most people think that cramming in a ton of notes right before a test will keep it all fresh in their brain. The times where I tried to study all my notes in a couple of hours for a test made me forget more than I learned, and I second guess myself on questions which made me get a low grade. This was because the role of short-term memory is to file information for temporary usage. If it is not consolidated, it is discarded. Your brain gets overloaded with thousands of pieces of data. According to author Thomas H. Mentos in his book, you’ll only remember twenty percent of quickly learned material. You’re losing about eighty percent of what you thought you learned—because of cramming. Cramming stores information in short-term memory but doesn’t create a long-lasting connection. Researchers have found that your brain can only store four pieces of information in your short-term memory at a time, so it’s not wise to try to remember a large amount of new information all at once. I performed better on my exams when I studied small amounts everyday over a course of three weeks and retained all the information I learned.

    I think that while studying, what’s important is retaining information for long-term use. Which brings me to Long-term memory (LTM), the final stage of the multi-store memory model proposed by the Atkinson-Shiffrin, providing the lasting retention of information and skills that will ultimately help you succeed on exams. More specifically, semantic memory which is a part of the long-term memory responsible for storing information about the world. This includes knowledge about the meaning of words, as well as general knowledge. For example, London is the capital of England. It involves conscious thought and is declarative. The act of moving information from short-term to long-term memory can be done in a variety of ways. Learning information initially is critical, but you must also find ways to organize information based on meaning and store that information into long-term memory for later retrieval (Sousa, 2001). “Going over” a reading will not store that information in a way that allows you to retrieve the information later.

    So, what will enable your brain to store information in long-term memory? “Rehearsal” and “repetition” are both terms that refer to the act of practicing your recall of information. Quizzing yourself using flashcards and doing random practice problems until you can do them correctly are examples of repetition-based recall practice. When you’re studying, you can create stronger memories if you engage your visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses. Information stored using more than one “sensory mode” will be easier for you to remember and recall later (Cuseo, Fecas & Thompson, 2007). Lastly, sleep is vital to the memory storage process because the transfer of information into long-term memory occurs during the REM stage of sleep (Sousa, 2001). If you want to engage in effective studying, your time spent studying needs to be spaced out over multiple sessions on different days, with periods of rest in between. Studying in shorter sessions with more breaks focuses your concentration and attention, both of which are important for encoding and storage. Short-term memory and long-term memory play an important role in remembering, learning, and creating. It is safe to say that without memory; human progress would not exist.

    Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 2, 89–195.

    Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(1), 87–114.

    McLeod, S. A. (2010). Long-term memory. Retrieved from

    Phillips, Richard C. “The Memory Process.” The Memory Process, Dec. 2015,

    Engaging the Rewired Brain, by David A. Sousa, Learning Sciences International, West Palm Beach, Fla., 2016.

  2. Patrick Ryan

    That’s an interesting topic to write about because I forget to do things but then my long term memory seems to be pretty decent. I like how you talked about the different variables because it helps the reader understand the study that was performed a little better. Its nice to see that you can incorporate things we’ve learned in class to an outside topic. Check out this website for more about other ways you can actually improve your memory…

  3. Madelyn Erin Peikin

    This post was very interesting and relatable. Although I am not proud to say it– i am definitely a procrastinator. I need to change my habits because I always find myself cramming for exams, tests, quizzes, and projects. I do put a lot of effort into my work but i think it would be a lot more beneficial to me, especially according to your post, to give myself more time to study and work. I did some research on procrastination because I feel it relates and found that 20% of people actually look for distractions! I don’t know if i am included in that percentage but i’d like to think i’m not. Here is the article I found:
    Thanks for sharing!

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