How to Put What You Learn into Long Term Memory

Have you ever felt frustrated when you try to commit something to memory but you just can’t seem to remember it after a few days or weeks? Have you ever read a topic over and over only to find that it has disappeared from your mind when you try to recall it?

If you’ve been busy preparing for the MCAT like I have, you have probably come across the new Psychology and Sociology sections. Fascinating stuff! One of the topics I enjoyed reading was how our memory works. We have short-term memory as well as long term memory. Our short-term or working memory can only hold up to about 7 items at a time and is usually brought about by repeating things over and over in a rehearsal type fashion. The problem with this approach is that the information in short-term memory is easily forgotten as more information comes in and displaces it. The better approach would be try to get the information into your long term memory for more effective retrieval in the future. How does one go about this?

Well, as I have been learning from my MCAT studying, you need to assign “meaning” to whatever it is you are trying to memorize, in order to get it into your long-term memory. One way that I go about this, particularly for topics that have a lot of details to remember, is to come up with a crazy scenario that I just can’t help but remember simply because it’s so ridiculous or hilarious. This can be applied to whatever you are trying to memorize (not just MCAT material). For example, if you meet someone for the first time and you want to make sure you remember their name, try to assign some meaning or association to their name such as an unusual facial feature or a funny word that rhymes with their name.

For the MCAT, let’s take the example of the brain. The brain is a magnificent organ of the body that we do not yet fully understand. There are many names and functions to learn for the MCAT. Let’s take the example a step further and try to learn the functions of the brain-stem. In the brain-stem, we have the mid-brain, pons and medulla. What does the pons do? Here’s my crazy schematic for remembering the function of the pons which communicates between the motor cortex and the cerebellum:

My ridiculous cartoon for remembering the function of the pons in the brain stem

My ridiculous cartoon for remembering the function of the pons in the brain stem (Click for an expanded view)

Now you may say, “I don’t have time to draw silly cartoons, I have tonnes of MCAT material to get through!”. ‘Tis true what you say however by finding a way to get material into your long term memory, you won’t have to keep reviewing the material over and over to make sure you remember it. Drawing a cartoon or thinking up some other funny way to help you remember does not actually take that long and will save you time in the long run. Cartoons or funny stories can be used in conjunction with mnemonics to get that MCAT material into your long term memory where you can retrieve it come exam day. Happy studying!

Studying on the deck

When studying, try to find a comfortable place where you can concentrate. I like being out on the deck where there’s lots of light.

6 thoughts on “How to Put What You Learn into Long Term Memory

  1. Can you remind me what this article is about? I’ve forgotten . . . Helpful stuff as usual Kurlz! An additional resource that you (and your fans!) may want to check out is It’s a memory-aid system that builds on your exact premise of creating memorable images. I used it as an adjunct resource for Step 1. Creating your own cartoons is even better . . .

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  2. I definitely remember my MCAT studying days! I will be starting medical school this fall and I am definitely excited about it. I am blogging my medical school journey too. If you have some time, feel free to check it out: I wish you good luck and happy studying with your own journey to medical school!

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