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Exams: Memory Aids

Useful tools and techniques to help tackle exams. Advice on revision techniques, memory aids, and how to reduce exam stress


This page presents some techniques to help improve your memory to study for exams. 

Short and Long-Term Memory

Most ot the information we are exposed to only makes it to our short-term memory. After few seconds, we forget about it. Some information, however, gets recorded into our long-term memory.

Think of it, what do you remember best? What does the trick for you? 

It's generally something special, meaningfulshocking, funny, sad, that has a strong impact on our senses (graphicdelicious; particularly scented; melodic), that connects with something we already hold in our long-term memory, that we come across more than once...

To remember for your exams you can try similar strategies:

  • Association, by associating new information with information you already know. 
  • Chunking, reducing the space information will take and using the power of logic, connections, association.
  • Involving the senses and actively doing something with our body.
  • Using exaggeration, by making the information over the top, out of the ordinary or more than it is. 
  • Using mnemonics, that is, memory aids that generally translate information into more remarkable formats.
  • Repetition, by repeating a piece of information over and over again.


Try remembering this list:

  • Book
  • Tea
  • Tree
  • Chair
  • Milk
  • Computer
  • Cat
  • Bicycle
  • Apple

Now try remembering this list:

  • Book, Computer, Chair
  • Tea, Milk, Apple
  • Cat, Tree, Bicycle

Do you find the second list easier to remember? It's because the second list is "chunked"!

Chunking is a useful technique of dividing information up into manageable chunks to remember. For example, if you are trying to remember a list of items or words, you could start by putting them into smaller groups of words that may be related to each other or share similarities, which will then make it easier for you to remember. An everyday life example may be a shopping list, which you might break down into smaller groups based on the categories of vegetables, fruits, frozen food, tins and so on.

Effective Chunking Techniques (adapted from verywell mind):

  • Look for Connections: As you are creating groupings, look for ways to relate units to each other in meaningful ways. What do the items share in common? You might group items together because they share a similar purpose, colour, start with the same letter etc.
  • Associate: Linking groups of items to things from your memory can also help make things more memorable. You might be more likely to remember that you need eggs, baking soda, and chocolate chips if you associate the items with the delicious cookies that your mother used to make.
  • Incorporate Other Memory Strategies: For example, you might use mnemonics as a way to chunk different units of information. If you are going to the grocery store and need bananas, eggs, nectarines, and tea you can create a word out of the first letters of each item you need—BENT. Once you remember the keyword, you will then be better able to recall the items represented by each letter of the acronym.

Use Your Senses and Be Active

Your sense of sight: according to the "picture-superiority effect", images are better remembered than words. So try stimulating your visual memory by:

  • Drawing pictures, mind maps, diagrams, graphs on the materials you wish to remember. As the literature suggests, drawing also "requires motoric as well as elaborative processing or coding to create one’s unique, personal depiction of target information" (Fernandes, Wammes and Meade 2018, p302-303). Therefore, it is an active learning and revision technique;
  • Observe diagrams, graphs etc. that you find in your learning materials;
  • Observe the page where your notes are written.


Drawing by Amy Stubbing

Your sense of sound: Isn't it sometimes easier to remember a conversation than something we have read? Isn't it generally easier to remember the words of a song than the words of a poem? This is the power of sound and music, and you can master it to remember. For example:

  • Record key points you need to remember;
  • Sing what you need to remember to a tune;
  • Repeat out loud;
  • Talk to a friend - or pretend to!



Your sense of smell: Have you ever found that smell can trigger a memory? The same principle applies here! Try dabbing your wrist or a tissue with a particular perfume, lotion, relaxing oil, or lavender each time you revise material for a particular exam (using a different smell for each exam), and then when you're sitting the exam put on the same perfume etc and see if this helps to trigger your memory, or at least help you to get into the exam head space. In theory, it can help transport you back to when you were learning the information and help trigger your recall.

Use a combination of senses: we remember much better what we hear AND see!!!


The concept of mnemonics involves the translating of information into alternative forms that enable you to remember the information in an easier way. Thus, mnemonics are memory aids or systems that improve and assist memory. Follow some key techniques that may be useful forms of mnemonics for you to incorporate into your revision strategies. Be imaginative: the best mnemonics are be funny, noticeable, bizarre!


Acrostics are helpful when trying to learn information that is grouped together. An acrostic may be a poem, or a sentence in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. For example:

Every good boy does fine" may be used to memorize the lines of the treble clef, representing the notes E, G, B, D, and F. .


Rhymes and Alliteration

Making a rhyme with the information you need to learn can sometimes make it easier to remember. The rhyme that many are taught from a young age to remember how many days there are in each month is a great example of how rhymes can be effective memory aids: 

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November,

All the rest have thirty-one,

But February's twenty-eight,

The LEAP YEAR, which comes once in four,

Gives February one day more.

You could try using rhyming couplets, or creating a rap or a funny story. Whatever you do, make sure that the rhyme is easy to remember! 


An acronym is a word that is made up by taking the first letters of all the key words or ideas you need to remember and creating a new word out of them.

For example:

–The word “HOMES” to remember the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.

– CRAAP test for assessing the literature: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose

Improving your Memory Video

Memory is not a finite resource, and with techniques like repetition, association, and visualization, you can improve your memory before it starts to fade. This course shows viewers of all ages how to improve their recall. It explains how and when to employ tricks such as mnemonic devices, rhymes, stories, and alliteration. And it explains the best methods for different situations, like remembering names, important dates, passwords, to-do lists, quotes, and more. These techniques will prove invaluable, whether you're memorizing facts for a test at school, points for a work presentation, or trivia to impress your friends.

List of references

Fernandes, M. A., Wammes, J. D., & Meade, M. E. (2018). The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(5), 302–308. Available from [Accessed 2 December 2019]