• Memory can make learning difficult, but the good news is that you can work to improve your memory.
  • There are three main types of memory: working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. 
  • Working memory and short-term memory allow you to store and use temporary information, while long-term holds your lifelong memories.
  • You can improve your memory (and thus your learning skills) by talking aloud, writing down notes and lists, and focusing on the present moment.
  • Also, you should prioritize exercising your mind and body: play mind games, go to the gym, and eat well to further improve your memory.

Have you ever been told that you have a bad memory? Or maybe you feel as if you’re always forgetting something: Where did I put my keys? What was the homework assigned last week? Did I turn off the burner this morning? The list goes on and on.  

When your memory is lacking, learning can be quite a difficult process. But as with most things, you can improve your memory—it’ll just take some time and practice.

Understanding Different Functions of Memory

There are three types of memory that are important to learning and they are your working memory, short-term memory, and your long-term memory. Each type of memory is used to store different types of information:

1. Working memory: Working memory (while sometimes used interchangeably with short-term memory) refers to the structures and processes for temporarily storing and using information. Short-term memory is just one component of this.

2. Short-term memory: Short-term memory allows you to remember and process pieces of information at the same time. That means it’s enabling you to read and understand this right now!

3. Long-term memory: All of your life-long memories are held here. Think: How you walk, how you talk, and your treasured memory of our birthday this past year.

The Science Behind Different Types of Memory

Charissa Andreotti, Ph.D. goes into the science behind these three types of memory, and discusses how each affects the way you learn:

The functions of short-term and working memory lie in our prefrontal cortex and are thought to be limited to a capacity of approximately 7 items. As we are presented with new information, it is initially held in short-term storage. Old information is then either pushed out or consolidated into long-term memory in the hippocampus through rehearsal and connections to existing memories. This is why individuals who have weaknesses in short-term and working memory often have difficulty learning and applying new information. 

“These issues may be seen in ADHD, learning disorders, and dementia. For example, short-term/working memory helps us remember and summarize written information as we read it in order to learn new concepts from a textbook that we can then commit to long-term storage and answer questions about on an exam. In the fascinating case of H.M., a man who underwent surgery on his hippocampus to treat severe epilepsy, he was able to learn new skills and pass working memory tests. However, he was not able to remember new information over the long-term.”

Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Memory

If you’re someone who is constantly forgetting what you need from the grocery store or details about your trip to the lake with friends, apply some of these tips to improve your memory:  

1. Talk aloud: The more you hear something, the easier it is to remember. Try repeating a task or reminding yourself of something out loud.

2. Leave yourself notes and lists: Not only does writing something down give your brain extra time to see the information, but if it does in fact slip your mind, at least you have it on paper!

3. Slow down: In today’s society, everyone is going 100 miles a minute—take a step back and focus on the information you hear or see right now. Taking a little extra time to do so can improve your memory.

4. Exercise your mind: Read, do puzzles, play mind-boggling games.  Exercise your mind—it’s just as important as exercising your body. 

5. Keep up with your nutrition: Going off of the previous note, the healthier your body is, the healthier your mind is. Stay up on your nutrition and make sure you’re fueling your body with what it needs to stay wholesome.

The more time you spend improving your memory, the better it will become. Remember how many times you had to fall off of your bike and get back up to try again? Your memory takes time to develop, just like other skills in life. Don’t take short cuts—give your memory the time it deserves!