There are lots of nifty little tricks you can make use of to help get your memory muscles working for you, and two of the easiest are “acronyms” and “acrostics”.
Acronyms are combinations of letters, each being a cue to a particular idea or word. We see them all the time, used humourously and not, and they are common when shortening company or organisation names to easy, bite-sized chunks. You could, for example, take the first letters of the names of thinkers covered in a philosophy course, and make a word out of them. For example, you’re taking a course on Greek philosophy and the major thinkers covered are Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. You could use the word SAP to make an acronym of the first letters of their names.
Acrostics, on the other hand, are sentences where the first letter of each word is a cue to an idea you need to remember. An example you’re probably very familiar with is “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge”, which we use to remember the notes E, G, B, D, and F, found in musical notation.
Some courses — ones that require the use of mathematical equations, for example — work on a building block basis; this means that what you learn tomorrow is based directly on what you’ve learned today. When taking a course, if you get stuck on any point, don’t go beyond that point until you’ve sorted through it. Going beyond something you don’t understand will make it harder for you to understand what follows, or even remember what follows. Think of all those adages about houses on shaky foundations; your knowledge can work the same way.
Any kind of repetition of the material you’re studying will help keep it on a more solid footing in your long-term memory. This is why note-taking, summary writing, teaching others, self-testing, continual review, re-reading lecture notes, etc., are good ways to help retain what you’ve learned – the more you repeat something, the more likely it is you’ll remember it for longer periods of time. When you’ve completed some reading for a course, ask yourself questions like: Can you explain or write it in your own words? Can you work the problems without looking? If yes, then your memory skills are improving. This is a good thing.