Just because you have learnt something once does not mean that you will always know it. There is a very strong tendency to forget information that is not in current use. Therefore, what has been learnt must be used constantly or it will be lost and have to be re-learnt. Examinations are all about effective recall. Any techniques which improve your recall will enhance your performance in examinations. Examine the following memory curve graph:

From it we can get the following information:

  • When we learn something, like a list of words, we are actually good at remembering it for a few minutes.
  • However, we begin to forget after 10 minutes or so.
  • After a day we have forgotten more than 75% of what we have learnt UNLESS we review it.
  • We can commit nearly 90% of our learning to ‘long term memory’ if we engage in regular review.
  • Some things you do not have to think about (e.g., blessing yourself) before you do them – this is because they are committed to long term  memory. 

It should be obvious from the above graph that without regular review or revision we will fail to do ourselves justice when it comes to exams.

Now examine the following: We remember:

10% of what we READ

20% of what we HEAR

30% of what we SEE

50% of what we HEAR and SEE

70% of what we SAY


What do these statistics tell you about how you should approach your study and revision work?

Unfortunately, many students think that they should know something after reading it once. When they cannot remember it, they get the mistaken impression that they are ‘thick’ and are not good at learning. They do not realize that ‘clever’ people also need to revise something again and again until it is well mastered.

The following tips, many of which have been dealt with already, will help you improve the quality of your recall:

  • Being motivated – wanting to learn.
  • Being interested and curious about the subject.
  • Being confident – believing that you can learn.
  • Reading the chapter before it is covered in class.
  • Asking Questions.
  • Good concentration during class.
  • Making good notes and using them frequently.
  • Preparing well for class tests and end of term exams.
  • Converting linear notes or chapters into mind maps or graphic organisers.
  • Reading your notes or listening to them while reading them aloud or transferring them onto an audio device.
  • Reading ‘old’ homework.
  • Learning definitions, poems, short quotations by art.
  • Frequent self-testing by:

*review and review ‘brainstorms’ while revising today’s class work.

*doing written homework under exam conditions in a limited time without the help of books or notes.

*quiz and be quizzed with a willing partner.


Mnemonics are simple ‘codes’ to help you to recall something that you find difficult to remember. Some examples:

‘Super man helps every one’ or ‘Homes’ – the five Great Lakes of North America: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario.

‘Fat dad’, – the six counties of Northern Ireland: Fermanagh, Armagh, Tyrone, Down, Antrim, Derry.

‘Mr. Grief’, – the seven characteristics of living organisms: movement, reproduction, growth, respiration, irritability, excretion, feeding.

‘Silly old Harry, caught a herring, trawling off America’, the equations for sine, cosine and tan in trigonometry.

‘How I wish I could remember p1 rapidly’, – the number of letters in the words gives the value of pi: 3.1415827.

‘Every good boy deserves favours’, – these are the names of the notes on the treble clef in music.

Try devising your own mnemonics for vital information in your own subjects. This is where their real usefulness lies.

Try to find out which of the above techniques best suit your needs. Remember a lot of time and energy is spent on study, so vary your methods to avoid boredom and staleness. If you take the time to make the effort you will get the results. ‘Life is like a bank account, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it’. The same is true of study.