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Apr 12 2007

Techniques for Creating Effective Long-Term Memory for the MCAT-Part II


Author: Dr. James L Flowers
Category: MCAT Prep Tips

Research has consistently shown that information is best retrieved when it has been stored based on several principles and techniques. These are: 1) sufficient preexisting knowledge base, 2) meaningful learning, 3) elaboration, 4) internal organization, 5) your optimal learning method, 6) spaced learning, 7) repetitive learning and 8) automaticity. Automaticity will be discussed at a later date. The essence of all of these is that knowledge which has been stored with the maximal number of connections or nodes and organization will be remembered better and retrieved optimally. Points 1 and 2 have previously been discussed.

3) Elaboration. Another means to entrench your knowledge in your Long-Term Memory (LTM) is by the technique of elaboration. Elaboration is similar to Meaningful Learning in that you have to have some preexisting knowledge in LTM. You can then use that knowledge to enhance or modify the new knowledge you are learning. This creates stronger and more easily accessible connections (nodes) for retrieval into Working Memory (WM).

4) Internal Organization (IO). Internal organization is when you reorganize the knowledge within itself. The Meaningful Learning and Elaboration were forms of external organization, relating the knowledge to knowledge outside of itself. Forms of IO include simply outlining the information, creating a concept map of how the different parts relate to each other or creating meaningful mnemonics. Any manner in which you can reshape the information which makes it make sense and relate to itself will result in more effective storage in LTM.

5) Optimal Learning Method. Whereas this isn’t a specific technique for LTM storage, it is important because all individuals learn information better in one format or another. None-the-less, it results in more effective storage and retrieval. You will have to determine how you learn the best. Visual imagery or depictions is generally helpful to all. But, some individuals may learn better by audio or by kinesthetic methods. For the audio learner, you may need to create your own audio summaries of material that you can listen to. This can be very effective if you commute a lot. If you are a kinesthetic learner, it will be important for you to rewrite the information. This can be combined with Internal Organization methods. Each of these will help store that info better in LTM.

6) Spaced Learning. Ineffective learning is often crammed learning. You will store info more effectively if there is spacing between the learning episodes. You should purposely learn it at one time and then plan to go over it again at some later interval. The intervals vary and you should determine which one is most effective for you. This is one reason to do your MCAT prep over time, probably a minimum of 3 months.

7) Repetitive Learning. Repetition is hand-in-hand with spacing. Repetition is not rote-learning or repeating. Rote-learning, learning lists, is the most ineffective way to learn anything. It is stored poorly and retrieved poorly from LTM. If you use repetition, do it with appropriate spacing and combine it with the techniques discussed above.

For the MCAT, you are better off knowing a select number of concepts very well via the techniques discussed above rather than trying to know a large number of concepts poorly. They will be poorly organized and poorly entrenched in your LTM, and you will NOT be able to retrieve them effectively during test time. If your preparation program does not use the techniques above, you should learn and use them yourself during your study. Your MCAT will improve…guaranteed.