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Tips for improving memory?

  1. Sep 6, 2009 #1
    I'm headed back to school again this fall at the ripe old age of 30 and I'm discovering that my memory isn't what it used to be (not that it was spectacular to begin with)! It may have less to do with age, and more to do with a chronic illness that I suffered from in my late 20s that I have recovered from with treatment and physical therapy - so I'm hoping that the deficits may perhaps be temporary. In any event, I'm wondering if anyone has any tips for improving memory function, particularly for math and science topics? For instance, in physics, I feel it's important to remember the derivations of various important principles like the wave equation and Kepler's laws, for example. However, usually after a day or two from refreshing my memory on some topic, I find I can only remember bits and pieces of it and it starts to slip away. Does anyone has any particular exercises or methods that you to improve retention?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 6, 2009 #2


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    With math and physics I find that it's most important to make sure you understand a concept first. Equations and laws are a lot easier to remember once you understand how they are derived from first principles.

    Other tips:
    - practice, practice, practice
    - get adequate, regular sleep
    - eat a properly balanced diet (I've heard lots of antioxidants help)
    - get regular exercise, cardio in particular
    - hang around people who discuss physics and math topics outside of class
    - try to come up with problems outside of those assigned for homework
  4. Sep 6, 2009 #3
    Teaching/talking about what you learned to your (non scientist) friends is useful, I have found. It might bore them but that's what friends are for

    Improve brain activity by eating regularly and healthy (complete, nutritious meals should come every 3 to 4 hours instead of eating a lot of junk randomly)
  5. Sep 6, 2009 #4
    Yeah like Choppy said, the first step is understanding the concept really well. Once you've actually solved a few problems using a particular concept, it's usually pretty hard to completely forget the basic principles or formulas involved. Even if you can't solve a problem immediately, you should still have some good ideas and approaches, and these should ideally involve the very concept you are trying to retain.
  6. Sep 6, 2009 #5


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    I have used a program called Mnemosyne for this purpose (google it, it's open source). Basically, it's a flash card system, but with the benefit that you can score cards and if you hit "5" (meaning that you know something really well), the time until it's rescheduled grows exponentially. Thus, it stops showing stuff you know well pretty quickly and some cards only start showing up like once every few months.

    I use a simple diary where I right down all kinds of insights I've had during the day. Each evening I type them into the program together with the main points of all proofs and problems I've worked on during the day (it supports latex as input). Every morning I spend about 15-30 minutes going through the cards it shows me. What you want to write down depends, but I write down everything from the main points in proofs to some interesting non-standard ways of thinking about some concept. I also try to isolate themes in proofs of similar results and write those down. The same applies for different tricks (e.g. clever invariants etc.) that I encounter in some proofs.

    Thanks to this system, I can pretty much prove from the definitions every theorem I've had in a course since I started doing this. Sometimes, I also spend up to a day e.g. deriving some major theorem just to check how well I remember how the foundations are built.

    Of course, it can be argued how useful it is to be able to remember everything, but I don't think it hurts...
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