Learning Facts

Improve Your Memory


You have just one minute to name the 7 dwarfs....

Why can we not remember?

Is it because we never learned properly to start with? Or perhaps it was so long ago that other information has pushed it 'to the back of our minds'? Some things, however, we don't forget, no matter how long ago we learned them .....certain rhymes, e.g. "Thirty days hath September, etc." which help us know how many days in the month. So what prevents us remembering the names of the 7 dwarfs?

It is possible for even older learners to improve memory by using some aids or tricks to assist recall.


Halonen (in (From Halonen, J. (1995) The Critical Thinking Companion, Worth Publishers) suggests that there are 3 stages of remembering:

  1. : when we first learn and register the knowledge in memory. It must stand out among the variety of other information stored there.


  1. : repeated short-term memories are encoded for long-term storage. We make a conscious effort to rehearse information when we think we will need it again.


  1. : long-term memory is huge and a lot can hinder retrieval -
      • interference from other similar data;
      • not enough information to locate what we want to retrieve;
      • repression of certain painful memories.

So which of the above prevented total recall of the 7 dwarfs?

Was it an encoding problem: How we learned and registered the information in the first place?

Was it perhaps a storage problem - not revisiting or rehearsing the information?

Or was there a problem with retrieval or extracting the data from storage?

(Solution: Dopey, Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc)

There are a number of tricks or aids to help memory when you absolutely cannot avoid having to learn information "off by heart". We will look at some of these presently.

A basic rule of thumb, however, is that any memory aid will be enhanced if you can ensure that:

  1. You know why you want/need to learn the information
  2. You concentrate fully and with an open mind when you are receiving the data
  3. You seek to understand and make sense of the information

If these conditions don't exist then forget about trying to remember!

Think about why you are spending time on this site and ask yourself if this information is useful to you. What prevents you concentrating, listening or reading and how can you work around this? Click on any of the link buttons above to get help with these issues.

Some people use a 'system' to help them remember facts. Perhaps you have developed such a system without realising it? Are you the kind of person who remembers better by 'picturing' the information or by 'sounding it out'? There are a variety of ways to help us to remember facts. Here are a few:

  1. : By relating facts to other facts or associating them with something funny or even better something sexy, you are more likely to remember them. This is a basic piece of psychology used by advertisers so it must work! Here are some of the ways people make connections.

    : In the case of the dwarf names, combining all the personality-types together- dopey, sleepy, grumpy, happy, bashful, and then the 'medical' group of sneezy and doc, all makes it easier to remember two groups than 7 separate names.

    : Combining things that go naturally together is a good way of remembering: e.g. for a shopping list - cheese and wine, bread and butter, meat and veg., etc.

    : For remembering words in another language, e.g the Hindi word 'hart' means 'arm' - and both are parts of the body. For the ECDL I.T. Theory test you will need to know about

    RAM and ROM, e-Commerce, Hardware and Software, Different types of Software, Input and Output devices on a computer, etc.

    How would you use this method to help you remember?

    : Picture something you are interested in and imagine an image of the thing you wish to remember either made of it or associated with it. The dafter the connection the better you will remember it.

    : To remember all the input devices for a computer, make up a story connecting them together. It doesn't have to make sense! Have a go... at making some connections to remember all the different elements that can improve the performance of your computer.

2. : This is a method we all learned at school and probably still practise. There are several different ways of remembering by repetition -

Writing it out a number of times;

Saying it aloud a number of times;

Listening over and over to a tape;

Reading over and over again and testing yourself

Try repetition as a way of remembering the steps involved in what to do when you try to print and it won't work.

3. : Sometimes the things you want to remember have important key words. Taking the first letter of each key word you can make a new word or sentence or sound (remember, the dafter the better). The Made-Up word helps you to remember the whole original thing, for example

Many people have learned the piano notes on the music scale, EGBDF, through the expression "Every Good Boy Deserves Fanta". J. Bransford proposed the IDEAL problem solving device through the mnemonic

I - identify the problem/s

D - define them precisely

E - explore a variety of strategies to fix

A - act on those strategies

L - look at the effects and evaluate if it worked

(Bransford, J. & Stein B.S. (1984) The Ideal Problem Solver. New York: WH Freeman)

This is a very useful way to remember the steps involved in solving problems.

Try this approach to remembering

4. : This method of remembering can be traced back to Simonides in 500bc Greece who used vivid mental imagery and orderly arrangements to remember the people who died when the roof collapsed at a banquet.

This technique uses every room in your house (which you know off by heart) from the entrance hall to the upstairs rooms, to associate/link with each of the things to remember or the steps to take. For example, when you need to make a shopping list you can mentally walk through every room in the house to see if there is anything you need for each space. Or you could remember all the steps you need to, say, change a car tyre or a plug by linking each step with a room in your house.

Try this method to help you remember the stages involved in sending a file as an attachment to an email.

We hope you found this useful information to help you to improve your learning. The site has been developed by G.Kelly as part of an integrated approach to using ICT to help learners in learning how to learn. The work will form part of a thesis for an MSc. Degree in I.T. in Education at T.C.D.

Your feedback would be welcome email the site developer

Last updated March 2003