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When I am studying biology or history or any type of subject that requires one to memorize a lot of facts, I usually read my assigned text and type up the notes on my computer. Then I would re-read the notes over and over again so I remember those facts.

Unfortunately, my study technique is not very useful since I forget a lot of facts when it comes for an exam. I was wondering if anyone knows of a more effective way of memorize facts and processes such as meiosis, mitosis, krebs-cycle, photosynthesis ... Sometimes I feel like I take too many notes on my computer and when I am rereading, I felt like I just copied and pasted what was in the textbook onto the computer.

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

You should look into spaced repetition and active recall techniques of learning. This means that as you're studying new information, whatever facts you want to retain you format into small question / answer nuggets. So, for example, if I wanted to retain what mitosis is, I would create two question / answer nuggets:

  1. What is mitosis? The process where the paired chromosomes in a eukaryotic cell divides
  2. What is the splitting of chromosomes in cells called? Mitosis

These question / answer nuggets are then fed into spaced repetition software. People follow regular patterns of forgetting information and the software is programmed with algorithms to ask you these questions at optimum intervals. The best time to revise a fact is just before you are going to forget it. If you study it after you've forgotten you have to learn it all over again, and if you study it muc before, you're wasting time studying things you already know. The software will manage all of this for you so you don't even need to think about it. The more times you remember something correctly, the longer you can take before looking at it again. This means that even if you create thousands of questions, you don't need to revise thousands every day - the software will decide what specific areas you need to focus on today.

The active recall part comes from the software only displaying the question. It'll say "What is mitosis" and you must actively think of the answer. When you're ready you click "show answer" and it'll ask how well you remember and will schedule when next to ask you based on your response. This is much more efficient than passively reading over your notes. When I was studying how you study now, I might as well have been asleep rather than 'studying'! My eyes would move across the words on the page, but I wasn't taking it in. You simply cannot get away with this if you're studying with active recall. It is also much more analogous to a test / real life scenario where you're required to actually come up with a response to a question.

There are many software solutions for spaced repetition and active recall. Personally I use Project Memoryze but there is also Anki and Super Memo. Project Memoryize is web based, Anki desktop based, and SuperMemo is commercial. They all offer what I talk about above.

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The first question goes against the principle of having as little information as possible on a card. There no reason why the information whether it's eukaryotic or prokaryotic cells should be on the same card that says something about mitosis being about the division of paired chromosomes. – Christian May 20 '12 at 16:41

I hate facts. I prefer associations. Therefore, when I need to memorize facts, I look for some meaningful association to make.

I mention "meaningful," because I don't find the arbitrary associations suggested by some brain-power books to be helpful -- techniques such as thinking of tickling your sister with your toe when you want to remember "mitosis," as example.

For biology, I find a rudimentary knowledge of Latin and Greek to be immensely helpful in forming meaningful associations. For example, "mitosis" is from the Greek mitos, or "thread," and one can imagine the long, thready DNA molecules separating.

As for history, I try to remember stories, which is another form of association. If I need to recall the date of a particular event, I try to understand the sequence of events leading up to that in connection with contemporaneous, but disconnected, events. For example, when Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Act in 1970, I was a sophomore in high school.

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I really like the memory palace method for memorizing lists and terms. The idea is you think of a place you know really well (your house, room, office, school, the palm of your hand etc.) and you place objects there that represent what you want to learn. The more obscure (and often erotic) the object is, the easier it will be to remember.

Let's say you want to remember mitosis. So what you can do is imagine yourself walking into your front door. Right there to your left is a giant foot (toes sticking in the air) but it's not just any foot, it's your foot! All of a sudden your big toe begins to split down the middle and another big toe is sticking out the side of your foot. One toe has an X painted on the toenail while the other one has a Y. You think in your head "My toeses" (plural toes, not really but it works for this example) And because the toes split that is how you can remember mitosis.

You then can continue walking around your house in you mind and placing things in various rooms/places that don't belong there. When you want to recall the items/terms, all you have to do is walk through your house to remember the things you place there.

This method is one method for how many memory champions quickly remember decks of cards, names, and random words in their competitions.

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