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Using Memory to Study Effectively | TutorNerds | Orange County

Did You Remember to Study?

At this point in your lives, studying is a huge part of your day. It’s a pretty big task to be able to go to school for six hours and then come home and put in an additional two hours or so. If you are also getting ready to apply for college, or are preparing for the SAT or AP (read out post, “Last Minute AP Study Guide”) classes, those two hours can turn into a lot more. Have you ever thought to yourself that there must be an easier way? Unfortunately there is not an easier way, but there is a better way.


Memory plays a substantial role in how much information we need to keep in our minds and the brain takes on the complicated task of determining which information is important and which is not.

Short term, long term and working memory

There are three primary types of memory: Short term, long term and working memory. Short term memory lasts about 7 seconds, so this part of the brain essentially takes a mental note about important elements and stores them for a very short time. So when do we use this magical seven second notepad? Lets’ say you are sitting in that giant classroom on Saturday morning taking your SAT and the proctor has just said “start”. It’s time to get that short term memory rolling. For example, if you are solving for X in your head and you remember that the partial answer is 8 and you have the then divide that by 3, you are using short term memory.


This presents a problem for students who are tired or overworked. Sound familiar? Sleep is the best way to keep the short term memory sharp but you can compensate for fatigue by writing everything down. Temporary short term memory loss can lead to a lot of missed answers that you really knew so take advantage or your pencil and test booklet in order to give yourself the best chance at success.

Long term memory can potentially last forever. Remember when you rode a bike at age six? Now, ten years later you can not only remember riding your bike but you still know how to do it. That’s long term memory. This will come in handy when you’re asked about a book you read in school two years ago; it will take your brain a bit longer, but it’ll get there.

Your Most Valuable Study Partner: Working Memory

That brings us to working memory. Working memory is your best friend and most valuable study partner when it comes to studying and taking tests. Working memory is similar to short term memory but it can store multiple pieces of information in multiple formats. Essentially your memory is multitasking the entire time you are studying, which is why you feel so tired after doing homework. So how can you use your working memory to study more effectively?

Although we don’t entirely know which tricks work for which people just yet, many students will be able to study more effectively by trying these 5 tips:

  1. Write an outline of what you really need to focus on before you start studying. If you have a list of key words or phrases, your brain can search for them while disregarding irrelevant information. The less multitasking your memory has to do, the quicker it can function. Compare it to cleaning your room. How likely are you to find your favorite pair of jeans if your clothes are everywhere? A quick cleaning at the beginning of the week can make each morning easier. The memory can work the same way.
  2. Eliminate distractions. The memory is already working hard when you are studying so do yourself a favor and turn off the TV, turn your phone to silent and close the door to your room if your home gets noisy. Many students find wearing earplugs helpful.
  3. Socialize. That’s right, talk to your friends. I don’t mean talk to them on the phone the night before a big test, but rather just in general. We have to think all the time and use short term memory when we chit chat and it keeps our brains active while we are having fun.
  4. Eat your fruits and veggies and protein too. Healthy food is fuel for our brains and memory. The more energy your brain has to burn, the quicker it can get things done.
  5. Sleep! I bet a lot of you are up until 1 or 2 in the morning finishing homework. 4 or 5 hours of sleep is definitely not enough to keep the memory running at full speed. Try getting a full 8 hours and see if you can get your homework done faster the next afternoon. I bet you’ll be surprised.

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One last thing, summer doesn’t mean an end to learning. In today’s competitive world of college admissions, it’s crucial students spend the next few months improving and catching up. What better way to do that than with a private summer tutor? We work with student’s schedules so they can still have fun. Don’t fall victim to the summer slow down!