How memory works is complex, but while it may be tough to understand, it may be tougher not to! It’s important to have an understanding of memory because it is crucial - it is the basis of so many applications, including studying and learning. By having an understanding of the main concepts in memory, you can work to improve yours.
Memory has long been studied by a number of disciplines, including but not limited to psychology and neuroscience. From a neurobiological perspective, the transmission of sensory information along neural pathways via synapses results in temporary storage of information, or short-term memory; this process is known as encoding - when information is held in short-term working memory before consolidating into a cohesive representation of knowledge.(2)
Psychologist George Armitage Miller posited that working memory is limited; we can only hold a handful of items in our working memory for a short amount of time. Consolidation is the process that reorganizes and stabilizes memory traces, gives them meaning, and makes connections to past experiences and to other knowledge already stored in long-term memory.(2)
Long-term memory has a greater capacity than short-term memory, so what can you do to strengthen your ability to consolidate memories into long-term storage?
Read the list below for ways to maximize your memory:
1. Help your brain help you!
Encode information using mnemonics. This isn’t just the use of acronyms - although those can be helpful! Try other methods such as visualization and also chunking. “Chunking” is a method that was developed by Psychologist George Armitage Miller; it is essentially grouping pieces of information into larger meaningful units or “chunks” which can improve your capacity to remember information.(7)
2. Spend 15-20 minutes a day playing brain games!
As busy vet students you may think you don’t have 15 minutes to spare (and that actually might be true depending on the time of the year and the curriculum!), but if you can find the time either between classes or while waiting for the bus, I encourage you to play some brain games! This practice can strengthen your neural networks and result in better memory skills.
Dr. Merzenich, a Professor at UC Davis that studies neuroplasticity, developed Brain HQ- check out this website to see how it works! (1)
3. Eat food for thought… literally!
There is a lot of research about the beneficial effects of certain types of food on brain function. Green/leafy vegetables, fish, berries, tea/coffee and walnuts have all been implicated...check out this Harvard article to read more about why they are helpful for memory!
Also, know which supplements are brain friendly! With so many different supplements and nutraceuticals on the market, it can be overwhelming to know which ones may be most helpful.
The same Harvard article suggests that omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins and antioxidants are helpful for memory.(3)
However, it is also always wise to consult your family doctor and/or nutritionist before starting a new supplement!
4. Exercise is good for your brain,too!
Your body isn’t the only one benefiting from the effects from exercise - your brain is too. In his article, “7 Tricks to Improve your Memory,” Dr. Mercola, an Osteopathic Doctor, explains that, “during exercise, nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors.
One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions.”(1)
5. Give your brain a break!
In our busy world, it’s easy to feel that doing multiple tasks at once is productive. But, in an article in the Psychological Science journal, mindfulness (which is tending to a task without distraction) improved cognitive function and increased working memory capacity.(5) Another type of down time - sleeping - is also very helpful for memory consolidation.
Not only can sleep improve the associations you want to remember but it can also decrease associations you don’t need to remember.(5) With so much information presented in vet school, this may be particularly helpful for focusing on what you really need to remember long-term!
Interested in knowing more about memory, learning and studying? Download our eBook “2019 Vet Student Study Strategy: How to tackle studying in the new year for veterinary students”.
- “7 Tricks to Improve your Memory.” Mercola: Take Control of Your Health. Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/04/24/memory-improvement-tricks.aspx
- Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel. Make it Stick: the Science of Successful Learning.Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England.The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2014.
- “Foods Linked to Better Brain Power.” Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from
- Mrazek MD, Franklin MS, Phillips DT, Baird B, Schooler JW. (2013). Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Journal of Psychological Science. Doi: 10.1177/0956797612459659
- “Strategies to Improve Memory.” Lane Community College. Retrieved from https://www.lanecc.edu/sites/default/files/disability/memoryimprovementstrategies.pdf
- The Psychology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained.New York, New York. DK Penguin Random House.