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Short-term vs. Long-term Memory: How to Study Effectively

Dec 1

Short-term vs. Long-term Memory: How to Study Effectively

With final projects nearing completion, it is essential to understand how best to approach the mammoth task of preparing for your final exams. What is the best way to remember material covered over 3 months? While it may be tempting to watch one of the Holiday specials on TV instead, it is important to begin planning now to best spread out the workload for a successful exam period. This is of course due to the differences between short-term and long-term memory.

Short-term vs. Long-term Memory
Just as the name implies, short-term memory is used only to retain information for short instances without establishing neural pathways that would allow for later recall. With long-term memories, however, the neural pathway has been established to allow information to pass through so that it can be recollected at a later date. The difference between these two memory systems is most apparent when in a test scenario; it is always easier to recognize an answer when presented with it than it is to recall information without any options present. Last minute “cram” sessions in which you try to read a lot of information quickly will only make it to the primary short-term form of memory; neuroscientists believe that the few minutes used to actively review material is the minimum amount of time necessary for information to be processed into secondary long-term memories.

Effective Studying for Creating Long-term Memories
In order to effectively bring a memory from the primary form to the secondary form, you must actively and deliberately encode the information in a way that you will be able to best recall it later. The most important key to this is through understanding the material. It is often mentioned by teachers that rewriting notes in your own words is a good way of doing so; this is because if you are able to explain a concept to someone else, then you truly understand it. It is much more difficult to recall a clear and correct memory if you do not understand many details of it. This is why it is always important to ask questions in class and actively learn to ensure that it can be better recollected later.

It is also very important to consider your own learning style: whether you are more of a visual or auditory learner. Visual learners benefit the most from visualizing every detail of a concept as it may occur in their mind, so that they can re-imagine it later. Students that are audio learners benefit the most from reciting ideas quietly. It is then easier to recall the information by remembering by listening or seeing the memory created.