For a university student, a heightened memory is a valuable skill to have since success in most courses is largely dependent on the student’s level of understanding and memory. In the following article, The Medium examines the effect of drawing on memory retention and a few other memory encoding strategies.

A study conducted at the University of Waterloo and published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology says that drawing has an advantageous influence on memory. Lead author Jeffrey Wammes, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology states that, in their study, drawing always resulted in better recall as compared to other encoding strategies. He attributes this benefit to a “cohesive memory trace” created by drawing. The memory trace integrates visual, motor, and semantic information and therefore, causes the memory to be better retained.

For instance, drawing out a concept involves understanding the topic to think of an appropriate illustration, the motor movements of actually creating the picture, and the resultant visual image. The multi-modal nature of this process has a more beneficial effect on memory retention than simply reading information or writing it out.

Wammes affirms that participants often recalled words they had drawn twice as much as written words. Wammes, fellow Ph.D. candidate Melissa Meade, and Professor Myra Fernandes, furthermore tested whether adding visual details such as shading to the written word or creating a mental image would affect the results. Other strategies tested were listing physical characteristics and viewing a picture of the object represented by a word.

The researchers also found that the quality of the drawings did not impact the extent to which the word was recalled. Even if the participants had four seconds to draw a picture, their memory later was still positively influenced. Since the experiments tested single words only, Wammes, Meade, and Fernandes are now testing whether the drawing effect can be applied to different types of information.

A second paper which provides supporting evidence to drawing’s beneficial effect on memory describes another recent study conducted by Wammes, Meade, and Fernandes at the University of Waterloo. The researchers showed a set of 30 words to two groups—24 undergraduate students and 24 adults over the age of 65. Participants were instructed to draw half the words and write down the remaining and each task had to be completed within forty seconds.

Both undergraduate students and seniors recalled words they had drawn out better than those written. While younger adults remembered more words than the seniors overall, the level of retention was similar between both groups for the drawn words. Therefore, researchers believe that drawing words out can be useful even for dementia patients.

Alongside drawing, there are other strategies to boost memory while studying. According to Dr. Richard C. Mohs, the Chief Scientific Officer for the Global Alzheimer’s Platform Foundation, there are three main ways to improve one’s memory: actively recall while learning, reviewing the information consistently, and by overlearning the material. He recommends being actively involved when reading such as by asking questions, noting interests, and reading out loud. Acronyms and personalizing the information by relating it to a personal anecdote have also been found to greatly improve memory.

For textbook readings—which are often regarded as the hardest component of studying—Dr. Mohs suggests following the PQRST method. The method entails five steps: Preview, Question, Read, Self-recite, and Test.

Prior to commencing the reading, previewing the entire chapter by skimming the chapter introduction, section headings, and summaries at the end of the chapter, provides you with a general overview of what you are going to be covering. During the reading, asking questions helps the brain become actively involved in synthesizing the information. Moreover, while reading, think carefully about the meaning and relate the material to topics you already have learned before. When finished reading, try and recite the main ideas you have learned to yourself. If you find that you are unable to, go back to the section and ensure you have learned it properly. Lastly, test yourself and review the material once again. While these steps may seem tedious, many research studies have proven their high efficacy.

Another effective memory strategy is the chunking technique which involves grouping individual pieces of information into larger, meaningful units. This process improves the amount of information you can remember. Memory encoding strategies such as drawing, the PQRST method, and the chunking technique can be useful in increasing memory recall and should be considered when studying for an exam.

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