How to study for my psychology exams? Part 3 - Strategies to improving memory

In this post, we will look at some techniques that will help in improving your memory for storing your exam information. The list is extensive and can consist of anything you can think of, so this is just a short list of ideas that you can try to use.

Before you read any further, please make sure you read on the preparation for exams and recognition/recall for different types of exams. If you have not prepared well for your exams, the suggested techniques would not be as effective. These techniques are based on cognitive psychology, where we learnt about encoding and retrieval in the chapter of Memory. Hence this is what this post is all about: Encoding and Retrieval. 

Strategy 1: Levels of Processing Model (Craik &Lockhart, 1972)
Are you doing encoding, just purely by rote memory, or do you go into a deeper level of processing where you think about the information in a different way, creating associations and connections to what you already know or learnt?
Conclusion: The deeper the level of processing, the easier the information is to recall.

Strategy 2: Serial order effect (Ebbinghaus, 1913)
I believe you would definitely have read or studied about the serial order effect, which the two main effects are the primacy and recency effect in retrieval.
Question is: How can these effects be applied to studying for exams?
Answer: For coordination of timing of study sessions

Imagine counting from today (30th Nov), you have two exams on 10th (Subject A) and 13th (Subject B) Dec respectively. So how are you going to plan your revision days from today till then?
Suggestion 1: Take the first 4 days (till 4 Dec) to study everything you can for Subject B, then the next 5 days (till exam on 10 Dec) to study Subject A, and come back to revise for Subject B again between the exam days. This creates the primacy effect for Subject B, and recency effect for Subject A.
Suggestion 2:  Create blocks of 3 days from today till 10th Dec. Revise Subject A for the first 3 days (till 3rd Dec), and then Subject B for the second block (till 6th Dec), and then followed by Subject A for the remainder of days. Obviously, finish off with Subject B between the exam days. This creates a repeated pattern where relearning takes place the second time you go through the material, and hence will increase your memory with the recency effect done on the subjects.

Strategy 3: Use of retrieval cues and mnemonic devices
Retrieval cues are cues of associated information put in place that help you to regain complex memories for later use, while mnemonic devices are memory aid strategies that aid encoding in special ways, such as associating locations (things in your bedroom) with a list of things you want to remember (method of loci) or forming mental images to link the information that you wish to memorize (peg system). In both mnemonic methods, a new piece of information gets pegged to something that is already known.
Using these retrieval cues and mnemonic devices, they help in both MCQ, short-answer and essay-answer exams. However the important thing is that you have to remember the specific cues that you used to create the association. It is just like a key for the room of information you locked away in your long-term memory, and often, the associations that you formed at the time of learning are typically the most effective retrieval cues.

Strategy 4: SPAR method (Kalat, 2010)
Survey – get an overview of the material.  (See Step 4 of Part 2: Preparation)
Process meaningfully – read the material carefully and think about how it relates to your other knowledge and experiences. (see Strategy 1 above)
Ask questions – use the review questions included with the material, or create your own and answer them.
Review – wait a day or so, and retest yourself. (see Strategy 2 above)
This is the whole general idea of revision, from the first day you start your revision for your exams. However,  asking questions, though not been covered before, may be the strongest step in the SPAR method. This is because asking and answering others' questions is a very good reinforcer of memory, using both the encoding and retrieval techniques.

Hope you will try out these strategies! And good luck for your exams!

Make sure you read Part 1 and 2 as well!!!

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