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A College Student’s Guide to Retaining What You Learn

Tired upset female college student suffering from strong chronic headache migraine or memory loss at school
Written by CB Community

Have you ever spent hours studying a chapter or section only to forget most of it a few days later? If so, you can take comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only student to have experienced this. Most people struggle to retain large chunks of information during their entire academic education.

While this may seem like a rather bleak situation, there is a silver lining. This is because it isn’t your memory that is at fault here. Rather, it is the fact that you aren’t studying in a way that is helpful to your long-term memory.

So, what does this mean? Well, it shows that if you change the way you absorb information, you can remember it a lot more easily. If you want to know just how you need to change up your study tactics, check out these techniques below:

Ditch the Laptop

Most college students these days rely on their laptops and this makes sense. It is often easier to take (neater) notes, and even when studying, it is much easier to have just your computer than a number of textbooks. While laptops may be making your life simpler, they could also be interfering with your information retention.

Researchers have found that people who read from physical books rather than a digital format are more likely to remember the content. What’s more, these individuals also do better recalling specific details from the text as well.

While they haven’t determined an exact cause, there are some deductions that can be made. For instance, it was found that when people read physical books, they were less likely to skim through the content. Instead, they take the time to read each word carefully. Naturally, they were able to remember what they read a lot better.

Make It Meaningful

Think about this for a moment: is it easier to memorize all your best friend’s favorite foods or to learn the list of countries in Central America? This is fairly easy to answer – you would be able to recollect your friend’s food preferences without too much trouble.

So, why is this? Why do people remember certain things so easily and then forget other facts quickly? Well, it appears that there is an answer. Humans are more likely to retain details if they attach some kind of meaning to them. This facilitates the movement of the information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory.

When you study, though, you are most likely repeating the information over and over again, trying to keep it in your mind. This doesn’t help with forming long-term memories, however. Instead, try to add some kind of meaning to the facts and figures that you want to learn.

For instance, if you are learning about human biology, think about how it relates to your own body. Or, try to add some kind of interesting twist to the material so that it will be more straightforward to absorb.

Study Consistently

If you were to be quizzed on what you learned in a lecture promptly after it is over, you will probably remember quite a bit. Nonetheless, if you were asked the same questions a couple of days later, your memory will not be quite as clear. In order for your brain to hold onto information, it needs to be reminded of it on a regular basis.

This is why you need to organize your study sessions a little better. If you are studying a particular subject, make sure to go through the material every few days. This way, you will constantly be prompting your brain with the details. In turn, it will be a lot more difficult for you to forget it.

Put Your Knowledge to the Test

Let’s be honest – one of the main reasons that you study is so that you can pass your exams. While the idea of exams can be terrifying, they can actually help you study. Understand, every test has a particular format and thus, you are expected to answer each of them in a certain way.

This is why studying alone will not help you to retain the knowledge needed to pass the exam. No, you are also going to have to take practice tests so that you can learn how to use this information in a meaningful way. In turn, you will remember the details more clearly.

Thankfully, this is relatively easy to manage thanks to websites such as TestMaxPrep that offer such materials. Thus, this is something you should make use of whenever you are studying for a particular set of exams.

Learn in a More Directed Matter

There is no denying that there are some topics that are harder to understand than others. Thus, you may struggle to retain any of the material you have looked at. In this case, it is time to tackle the problem from a different angle.

The first thing to identify is what you are having a problem with. So, make a list of all the concepts or subjects that are tripping you up. Then, try to find out why you are struggling to understand the material.

By doing this, you may be able to figure out how to approach the topic differently. For example, if your problem is that a concept is too complex, then it is time to go back to the basics. Visit the fundamental aspects of the topic and then slowly work your way back up to the main idea. Then, you will have a better grasp of the material.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways to overcome your retention issues while studying. Some of these tips may take a while to get used to as they do involve changing the way you learn and study. However, you should be able to notice some drastic differences within a short period of time. After that, your improved grades will be all the proof that you need to make sure you are on the right track.

For more great tips on all things college, check out the other blogs on College Basics.

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CB Community

Passionate members of the College Basics community that include students, essay writers, consultants and beyond. Please note, while community content has passed our editorial guidelines, we do not endorse any product or service contained in these articles which may also include links for which College Basics is compensated.