Everyone is different, including when it comes to learning and memorization. The world can be split into three learning styles: visual learners (65% of the population), auditory learners (30%), and kinesthetic learners (5%). Visual learners need to see things in order to understand them, e.g. via written notes, pictures, and diagrams; auditory learners need to hear things, e.g. via lectures or as a song; kinesthetic learners need to have physical movement with practice. Do you know which category you belong to?
Think of your past lectures. Did you pay attention but not take notes? (Ahem…auditory.) Did you take precise notes of practically every word the prof said? (Yep, you’re visual.) Or did you chew gum or click your pen or tap your foot in a beat to the monotone rhythm of your prof? (Last one—kinesthetic.)
So let’s start with some memorization tips for visual learners. You need to see information in order to memorize it. Easy—take all your lecture notes and rewrite the main facts. This activity will help force the material into your brain, so you’ll practically have it memorized by the time you finish writing. Another, more fun idea would be to create mental images for the facts you’re memorizing, then put those images together into a mental movie. This would be good for subjects like history or English, because it’s easier to picture scenes based on people rather than math formulas.
For auditory learners: you tend to remember things when they’ve been said out loud. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a friend who’s willing to read all your notes out loud to you (multiple times) or you can do it for yourself. One option is to use a tape recorder (do those still exist? There’s probably a smartphone app for that) and record yourself reading out your notes/the textbook and then listen to it.
If you have a song stuck inside your head, re-word it with whatever you’re trying to memorize then sing it out loud. Make sure you don’t burst into song in the middle of your exam, though. That usually doesn’t get you an A.
Kinesthetic learners need physical activity to memorize things. One suggestion: imagine actions that relate to what you’re memorizing. You can act them out while you’re studying (once again, keep still during the exam). You could also bring your notes to the gym and get on a treadmill. Work out while you read over the notes, combining movement with memorization. Not only will your brain get oxygenated, making the information stay put, but time will go faster so you’ll be off the treadmill before you know it, while having studied for longer than you would sitting at the library. (This tip is helpful for anyone; exercising is good for more than just losing that holiday weight.)
Some memorization tips apply to all of us: psychologists have said that environment makes a big difference to quality of memorization. Exams are held in quiet rooms, so you should study in a quiet space. Listening to music with lyrics isn’t helpful because the words are a distraction to what you’re trying to study. Either replace the lyrics or cut out the music all together. If you’re really desperate, listen to classical music (all right, all right, stop whining). Music without lyrics, like piano sonatas, provides good background noise and little distraction while studying. So take these tips into consideration when midterms roll around, and hopefully you’ll find one that works!