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Notes and Remembering

Most Simon’s Rock classes are discussion-based seminars rather than lecture presentations, so note taking here has a different character than it would at a large university.  Most courses at Simon’s Rock are not heavy on rote memorization either, though significant memorization is inevitable in science, foreign language, and certain other classes.

Interest and intentionality are essential to memory.  Sometimes we remember things we wished we could forget, but most often in course work one has to decide to remember, and set about the memorization with strong purpose and positive attitude.  If you find the material interesting and relevant, and if you can connect it with your prior knowledge, you will have a better chance of committing it to memory.

Limit and organize what you need to memorize.  Divide and group what you intend to learn. Unless you have the gift of a photographic memory, you will need to consciously select and organize the information or vocabulary that you intend to memorize. 

Some people swear by the 3 by 5 flash card system in which a question is written on one side of a card and the key points or words of the answer are listed on the back.  This method of enhancing memory works even for studying for essay question exams.  Stimulated by the question posed, your brain will immediately recall the key points you want to cover in your essay answer. 

The repetition of information is essential in study as it strengthens the neural connections.  You are actually laying down synaptic connections, like thought highways in your brain.  Information can be repeated through recitation or visualization.  Connecting the information with as much sensory information as possible strengthens memory.  Try walking rhythmically as you work to memorize something.  

If you are an auditory learner, it is key that you speak those points you want to remember out loud and often. Let your ear hear repeatedly what needs to be recollected. Auditory learners often have success with the mnemonic trick of setting the items to be memorized within a rhyme or to a familiar tune.  Rhyme and meter enabled ancient peoples to remember and share amazingly long historic poems and stories crucial to their culture in preliterate times.

Visual learners are well served by charting and diagramming information.  They often have luck with the mnemonic device called “method of loci.”  This tactic is reported to have originated with Plato and to have been used by the Greek orators to remember the order and presentation of their speeches.  After you have organized your material or isolated the list you intend to memorize, associate each item or point with a specific physical location on a path or in a room well known to you. In your mind’s eye you can later move through the room or along the path and each sequential stop will be associated with an idea or term to be remembered.  

Acronyms and acrostics may also be used as mnemonic devices, but some experts imply that though these methods can serve rote memorization, they often do not further understanding.  They can take on a life of their own and remain after the information they were once associated with has disappeared from memory back into the void.  Here is an acronym; turn your memory into A VCR to play the film of memory.

A   Associate, make connections, find relationships

V   Visualize, make pictures, create visual associations

C   Concentrate, focus, intend

R    Repeat, recite, review, reinforce

Learning theorists agree that most people’s span of concentration is only 50 minutes.  Take breaks.  Study for fifty minutes then relax for ten.   The ten minutes will refresh your ability to concentrate.     

References and Resources for further study:

The Four Learning Styles  Suzanne Miller, 2000.

Memory Principles  

Memory Tricks  John H. Hoover, St Cloud University 

Note taking Systems  This website gives a good introduction to a variety of note taking systems, but the presentation is somewhat geared to taking notes in lecture classes and so not always appropriate to the predominantly seminar style classes at Simon’s Rock.

Remembering What You Read  

Rules for Effective Note-taking