Memory Strategies | GUTS Tip

Memorizing content and information for tests and other examinations is a large component of the student experience. How can we improve our memory and recall to get the most out of the process? This article describes some memory strategies that you can begin to use to improve your memorization and transfer what you learn today into your long-term memory for the future.

Spaced Practice

Spaced practice is the opposite of cramming. This strategy involves spacing out study times over an extended period of time. With cramming you may study the day before for eight hours. But, with spaced practice you would begin studying four days before the exam for two hours each day.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
8 hours EXAM
Spaced Practice
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
2 hours 2 hours 2 hours 2 hours EXAM

Also, splitting the content into smaller segments to focus on each day makes comprehension and recollection easier. Instead of working on all of the chapters in one period, such as with cramming, focus on one or two chapters each session. This practice will help you stay focused since you do not feel rushed to learn all of the material at once.

Why is this useful? The shorter and segmented, but repeated practice allows the information to consolidate in your long-term memory. Over time, after the first study session, you forget what you learned. But, when you return to that material, the new study session jogs your memory and you can recall what you learned during the first session. This process of forgetting and retrieval helps establish the new knowledge in your mind.


Overlearning is continuing to work on the material even after you have learned it. Reviewing the learned material in different ways will create new associations between concepts which will help you improve your memory and recall of content.


It takes time to master a skill, and it is the same with remembering and being able to apply a concept/information. During studying, you should repeat practice problems and vocabulary, continuing to retest yourself over the information and how to use it. This process will move the information into your long-term memory and make it easier to recall for tests and assignments.

One of the best and easiest ways to recite is write, recite, and think. First write down the information from a lecture or textbook, recite that information, and then think and reflect on the information. Following this process, more of the information will make it into your long-term memory.



Mnemonics (or mnemonic devices) are techniques that help you form associations with the material that you are learning. When used correctly, you will be able to recall the mnemonic and its associated information.

Mnemonics are very useful in remembering disorganized or unstructured information since they provide the structure that is lacking which makes the information easier to recall.

Acronyms, catchphrases, and associations are all mnemonics that are discussed below.


One of the mnemonics is acronyms, which are words made from the first letters of a series of words. Some acronyms and their meanings are below.

Acronym Full Name
GUTS Greater University Tutoring Service
CFYE Center for the First-Year Experience
SQRRR (SQ3R) Skim, Question, Read, Remember, Review

Thinking about your acronyms will help you in identifying a full term/name or a series of steps in a process.


catchphrase is a sentence consisting of words beginning with the first letters of other words. It is similar to an acronym, however together it creates a whole phrase or sentence, rather than a word. These are useful for information that cannot form an easily remembered acronym. It is also useful for steps in a process, causes and effects, and key points for essay questions.

An example of a catchphrase for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (instead of its acronym: NASA) is “No Astronaut Stays Around”. “No” begins with N like “National” does. The same with “Astronaut” and “Aeronautics”, “Stays” with “Space”, and “Around” with “Administration”.


Sometimes similar or closely-related information can cause more confusion than anticipated. Forming associations between this information and something that is easily memorable can help activate your memory during an exam.

An example is longitude and latitude. These concepts are closely-related and can be hard to distinguish for some people. An example association to help you remember these concepts distinctly might be to relate the letter “n” in longitude to the word “north”. Thus, when you see the “n” in longitude, you will associate it with north and remember that longitude lines run north to south. Similarly, you may want to remember that “lat” from latitude rhymes with “flat”; this helps because latitudinal lines appear flat or horizontal when viewed on a map.

Written by Cole Navin

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*This is an opinion post. While the topics described here are mostly based on research, please keep in mind not to assume all of the information described above is factual.

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