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Of all the mental operations employed by the student, memory is probably the one in which the greatest inefficiency is manifested. Though we often fail to realize it, much of our life is taken up with memorizing. Every time we make use of past experience, we rely upon this function of the mind, but in no occupation is it quite as practically important as in study. We shall begin our investigation of memory by dividing it into four phases or stages--Impression, Retention, Recall and Recognition. Any act of memory involves them all.
There is first a stage when the material is being impressed; second, a stage when it is being retained so that it may be revived in the future; third, a stage of recall when the retained material is revived to meet present needs; fourth, a feeling of recognition, through which the material is recognized as having previously been in the mind.
Much of the poor memory that people complain about is due to the fact that they make first impressions carelessly. One reason why people fail to remember names is that they do not get a clear impression of the name at the start. They are introduced in a hurry or the introducer mumbles; consequently no clear impression is secured. Under such circumstances how could one expect to retain and recall the name? Go slowly, then, in impressing material for the first time. As you look up the words of a foreign language in the lexicon, trying to memorize their English equivalents, take plenty of time. Obtain a clear impression of the sound and appearance of the words.
Education as it takes place through the agency of books and instructors; most learning depends upon the eye and ear. Even yet, however, you learn many things through the sense of touch and through muscle movement, though you may be unaware of it. You probably have better success retaining impressions made upon one sense than another.
The majority of people retain better things that are visually impressed. If you find that you have greater difficulty in remembering material impressed through the ear than through the eye, reduce things to visual terms as much as possible. Make your notes more complete or tabulate things that you wish to remember, thus securing impression from the written form. If, on the contrary, you remember best the things that you hear, you may find it a good plan to read your lessons aloud. Many a student, upon the discovery of such a preference, has increased his memory ability many fold by adopting the simple expedient of reading his lessons aloud. It might be pointed out that while you are reading aloud, you are making more than auditory impressions. By the use of the vocal organs you are making muscular impressions, which also aid in learning.
To improve ability to form visual images of things, practice calling up visions of things. Try to picture a page of your history textbook. Can you see the headlines of the sections and the paragraphs? To develop auditory imagery, practice calling up sounds. Try to image your instructor's voice in saying something. The development of these sense fields is a slow and laborious.
Another important condition of impression is repetition. It is well known that material which is repeated several times is remembered more easily than that impressed but once. If two repetitions induce a given liability to recall, four or eight will secure still greater liability of recall.
After you have impressed the poem you are memorizing, do not immediately follow it by another poem. Let the brain rest for three or four minutes until after the first impressions have had a chance to "set."
In memorizing material like the poem of our example, should one impress the entire poem at once, or break it up into parts, impressing a stanza each day? Most people would respond, without thought, the latter, and, as a matter of fact, most memorizing takes place in this way. Experimental psychology, however, has discovered that this is uneconomical. The selection, if of moderate length, should be impressed as a whole. If too long for this, it should be broken up as little as possible.
According to another classification, there are two ways of memorizing--by rote and by logical associations. Rote memorizing involves the repetition of material just as it stands, and usually requires such long and laborious drill that it is seldom economical. True, some matter must be memorized this way; such as the days of the week and the names of the months; but there is another and gentler method which is usually more effective and economical than that of brutal repetition. That is the method of logical association, by which one links up a new fact with something already in the mind. It is sometimes thought that if a person stores so much in his memory it will soon be so full that he cannot memorize any more. This is a false notion, involving a conception of the brain as a hopper into which impressions are poured until it runs over.
The fidelity of memory is greatly affected by the intention. Students make a great mistake when they study for the purpose merely of retaining until after examination time. Intend to retain facts permanently, and there will be greater likelihood of their permanence.
We retain facts after they are once impressed. The ability of retention purely depends upon the way it is impressed onto the brain. A well impressed fact may retain for longer time than improperly impressed fact.
Recall is the stage at which material that has been impressed and retained is recalled to serve the purpose for which it was memorized. Recall is thus the goal of memory. When you are memorizing anything to be recalled, make part of your memorizing a rehearsal of it, if possible, under same conditions as final recall. In memorizing from a book, first make impression, then close the book and practice recall. Imagine yourself facing the audience. Practice aloud so that you will become accustomed to the sound of your own voice. The importance of the practice of recall as a part of the memory process can hardly be overestimated. One psychologist has advised that in memorizing significant material more than half the time should be spent in practicing recall.
Whenever a remembered fact is recalled, it is accompanied by a characteristic feeling which we call the feeling of recognition. It has been described as a feeling of familiarity, a glow of warmth, a sense of ownership, a feeling of intimacy. As you walk down the street of a great city you pass hundreds of faces, all of them strange. Suddenly in the crowd you catch sight of some one you know and are instantly suffused with a glow of feeling that is markedly different from your feeling toward the others. That glow represents the feeling of recognition. It is always present during recall and may be used in great advantage in studying.
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