Memory in a Nutshell

To remember something, there must be meaning in it for us. Meaning cannot be achieved unless we have understanding so understanding comes first

If you spend a couple of minutes thinking about your favourite and your most disliked subjects at school, you may see that the subjects you liked least simply did not make sense. Without understanding you probably were not able to enjoy and achieve in these areas.

Of course, understanding is linked to what we already know and what we have in our memory stores to connect with new information. This is the principle of association.

It follows that expanding our general knowledge base gives us a broader foundation on which to build and therefore an increased ability to recall information.

Similarly, the greater our experiences of the world, the more sense we can make of new information.

For example, if we can relate a key revision point to a real-life occurrence then we are more likely to be able to make sense of and recall it. Trainers often capitalise on this prior knowledge/experience technique by using anecdotes to illustrate learning points with a view to creating a “hook” for the learner’s memory, as well as interest and meaning.

State of mind and attitude has a significant influence on memory. An attitude of reluctance, negativity or scepticism will greatly affect our ability to learn and remember.

We must see the importance of having a positive attitude, an open mind and a willingness to absorb information if we are to increase our memory skills.

Whilst we are all different, our minds are designed to take on board only a certain amount of new information at any one time. It takes a while for new information to be absorbed; our short-term memories are able to soak up about five to seven pieces of new information in one go.

To maximise the chances of remembering you can consider the following items:

  • Expose yourself to “chunks” of information in a managed or gradual way – you can do this by being selective, learning the most important information first and then building on this foundation
  • Allow time for your brain to digest new information, perhaps by revisiting or reviewing new information after you have first discovered it
  • For effective consolidation of material, take regular breaks and do not attempt to deal with really difficult material in large chunks of time
  • Learning which involves memorisation begins slowly, then goes faster, and finally levels off. This is best achieved by taking a short break after a period of learning and reviewing the new information before starting again

Activity 1
Outline a list of questions that would aid the creation of association when being exposed to new information.


Your list of questions might include items like these:

What does this remind me of?
Do I know someone who does this already?
Can I remember doing this before?
Can I think of another example of this?
Can I identify a visual image or other trigger for this?

Activity 2
Based on what you have learned about the principle of consolidation, make a list of ideas for constructive consolidation.


Your list might include:

  • Taking notes and then reviewing them
  • Asking questions and making notes based on the answer
  • Reading a paragraph and noting down a question about it, then finding the answer to the question later