Memory

Much mathematics is a matter of practicing procedures until they are understood, rather than memorized.

However, the learning of mathematics does require some memorization of formulas, definitions and theorems, much like learning a foreign language.

Memory involves: 

  • registration: inputting the information into your mind
  • retention: keeping the information in your mind
  • recall: accessing the information previously stored

Pay attention to all of these aspects of memory as you try to improve in this area.

Here are some suggestions for memorizing your math: 

  • Decide that you want to memorize something. Your intention and attention to what needs to be memorized is critical your ability to do so. 
  • Study math every day. Memory requires repetition spread out over a long period of time. Studying math only once or twice a week is usually not sufficient to remember much. 
  • Make lists: vocabulary, formulas, properties, theorems. Look at these lists every day. Add to each list as you read through your textbook. 
  • Organize your lecture notes, examples, homework and other course materials. Sorting, classifying and organzing information is important to memorization and academic success in general. 
  • Make flash cards to carry around with important information that needs memorization. Look at the flashcards frequently throughout the day. 
  • To memorize a fact, test yourself: 
    • Ask your self the question. For example, "The area of a circle is...?"
    • Then write out the answer, and speak the answer aloud as you write.
    • If your answer is incorrect or if you don't remember, then write out the correct answer 10 times, speaking it aloud as you write.
    • Repeat this process a few times per day until you always get the correct answer. Then practice less frequently.
    • If you are a kinesthetic learner, then walk around or dance while studying your math.
    • This technique engages your eyes, ears, hands, mouth and body. The more that you use all of your senses, the more your mind will remember.
    • Be aware of what things you know and what you things you don't know. 
  • Pay attention to detail. Write your symbols and words carefully and precisely. 
  • As you work through the math course, look for patterns. The more patterns you recognize, the less you need to memorize. 
  • Make connections between new concepts and processes and properties that you have already learned. Synthezing information and seeing the "big picture" will help you to remember. 
  • Explain ideas to other people. Your memory is strengthened when you have to teach someone else. 
  • Practice! Practice! Practice! 

More memory strategies can be found at these websites: 

Some scientific information about how memory works can be found here.