How to Memorize for a Test – The Complete Guide

First – some Quick Tips – Then some serious memory techniques – The Memory Cloud Technique and Using Mnemonics 


Tip 1 – Over-learn the material

Rather than learning it just well enough to pass the test.  If you’re like most students, you’re probably tempted to study material until you get a single error-free recitation of it.  But to really memorize it well enough to ensure that you know it for the test, you need many error-free repetitions.

Tip 2 – Use the word-substitution method. 

This is good for memorizing information which is difficult to visualize.  For instance, the word thermodynamics could be turned into the two words, Thermos and dynamite. Now you can create a visual image of a piece of dynamite carrying its Thermos to work–to remind you that thermodynamics is the conversion of energy and heat to do work.

Tip 3  – Create your own handouts.  

Did you ever wonder why your instructors give you handouts with maps, outlines, diagrams, etc.?  It’s because visual aids help solidify information in your memory.  So even if they don’t give you the necessary handouts, you can create the same effect by making your own handouts.

Tip 4 – Desecrate your textbooks.

Your textbooks are not collector’s items; they’re made to be used and abused.  So underline, highlight and jot down important key words as you read through the chapters.  Just don’t go overboard with it.  Remember:  emphasizing everything emphasizes nothing.

Tip 5  – Create practice tests and take them before the real thing.  

This does more than to check if you’re ready for the real exam.  It’s a known fact that your memory is enhanced when you engage in retrieval practice (recalling data from your long-term memory).  And taking a test is an excellent retrieval practice.

Tip 6 – Teach the material to somebody else.  

Set an appointment with a friend, preferably from the same class, when you will teach him some challenging material from the unit and when he will teach you something else challenging.  Knowing that you have to teach it to someone else makes the information more important to you.  And it’s a known fact that we remember the things we consider important.

There are other things you can do to improve your memory, but these six should do a lot to make sure that your study time is effective time.

The Memory Cloud Method

As you study for an exam, make sure that you read the material two or more times to ensure that you understand and have totally absorbed the material.  From your reading, create a list that outlines the most important points in the material.  The second time you read the material, your brain will naturally more easily absorb this important information.

Now expand the list by adding more points.  Read again and your brain will more easily absorb these new points….and then you look for new points to add to your growing cloud.

Label Significant Points

After you’re sure you’ve finished reading and taking notes, create labels for all significant points.  Rewrite the list in an ascend / descend order, with the most important items at or near the top.  Number these items, because as you do so, your brain will associate each item with a number, giving you an improved chance of remembering that information.

Draw a Cloud with a Distinctive Shape

Finish your cloud by drawing in a physical cloud.  Try to give it a distinctive shape that will be easy to remember. The cloud will serve as an additional aid to bring the points back to your remembrance.  The cloud works on several levels.  First, the act of taking notes and then re-reading solidifies information in your brain. The numbering adds another memory tag, and the visual element of the distinctive cloud gives you something to try to recall as you take the exam.

There are some memory techniques that work well with groups. The Cloud is not one of them.  That’s because it relies on you taking notes on what YOU considered important. Plus it relies on you creating a cloud image that is memorable to you.  This takes some practice, but once you get the hang of the memory cloud, you’ll find yourself coming back to the memory cloud over and over again.


How to Memorize Using Mnemonics

Mnemonics are tricks to help you remember information. Mnemonics come in several varieties, allowing you to choose what works for you. Some mnemonics enjoy widespread use because they are easy and effective, but you can always make up your own.

Memorization is very important for a content test where you are tested on what you know instead of your ability to answer tricky questions (aptitude test).  Most certification exams, such as Nursing Certification,  are content test and cover a lot of material.

Types of Mnemonics
Visual – Visual mnemonics involve creating visual images that sound like the information that is to be remembered. The image should be in some way related to the information. For example, if you are trying to remember that an event took place in Chillicothe, Ohio, you could visualize a cup of coffee sitting in a freezer (chilly coffee). The cup could have a picture of the state of Ohio on it to help you in remembering that Chillicothe is in Ohio.

o This can be helpful in learning another language also. For example, rey is the Spanish word for king or monarch. You could visualize a crown with rays of light coming out from it. The Spanish verb caminar means to walk, so you could visualize an old El Camino model of car that is broken down, forcing you to walk.

Acronym – Acronyms use the first letter of each word to be remembered to create an easy-to-remember word. A well-known example of this is ROY G. BIV. The letters stand for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, which are the colors of the spectrum in order.

o A variation of the acronym mnemonic is to use the letters to create a simple sentence. In the case of the spectrum colors, students in Britain often use Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain – as their memory device.

o  A variation of the acronym mnemonic is to use the letters to create a simple sentence. In the case of the Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach represents Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species (taxonomy classifications, often appear in biology).
o  The order of sharps in music can be remembered with Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battles. Reverse that to Battles End and Down Goes Charles’ Father to get the order for flats.

o RAVEN stands for Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun. This is used to remember the difference between affect and effect.


Journey – Also known as Method of Loci, journey mnemonics simply involve taking a journey with the information. Basically, you walk through a familiar area and visualize the information in prominent locations. For example, you may walk through your home, from the entrance to your bedroom. Throughout your walk, you see famous paintings or sculptures along the walls, floor, or on the doors. By mentally retracing those steps during your art history exam, you are able to remember the artists and their works.

o This method does not have to be used with paintings, sculptures or other obviously visual items. You can combine this method with the visual technique to use it for any subject. For example, the crown with rays of light coming out of it may be hanging on your bedpost, while the El Camino is parked outside your window.

Rhymes – Rhymes and catchy phrases are an excellent mnemonic. They don’t have to be complicated and can be used for anything.

o I before E, except after C. This spelling mnemonic also comes in variations like I before E, except after C, and weird is just weird – or I before E, except after C, or when sounds like A, as in neighbor and weigh.
For weather, the rhyme “Red skies at night, sailors delight; Red skies at morning, sailors take warning.”
o This group includes simple phrases like There are 3 e’s buried in the cemetery.
For stalactites and stalagmites, remember that as the mites go up, the tites (tights) go down.
Principle and principal –  To remember which one you find in a school, use the saying, The princiPAL is my PAL.
o How I wish I could calculate pi. The number of letters in each word represents one digit of pi (How=3, I=1, etc.), giving you 3.141592.

Associations – Another way to remember information is to associate the information with something easy to remember. While associations can be loosely grouped with other types of mnemonics, they are actually a little different.

o Stalactites and stalagmites can be remembered by remembering G for ground and C for ceiling.
o Dessert and desert – In strawberry shortcake and dessert, the letter s appears twice. In Sahara and desert, the letter s appears once.
o For a physical take on associations, look at your hands. Starting with your left pinky knuckle, name the months. The months that fall in the spaces between the knuckles have 30 days, except for February, and the months that land on knuckles have 31. *Note-When you get to the index finger, you move to the knuckle for the index finger on the right hand. July and August both have 31 days.
o Another physical mnemonic is that you can form an L with the thumb and index finger of the left hand. With the right hand, the L is backwards, with the base pointing toward the left hand. This one is useful for children who are learning left and right.

o Mnemonics can make studying a much easier process, regardless of your grade level. Mnemonics do not have to be logical, sensible or even related to your subject, and your favorites may not work for other people. The trick is to make sure your mnemonic is something you can remember.

Comprehensive Memory Techniques

Math Mnemonics


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Modified: November 2nd, 2018 November 2nd, 2018
Published: January 10th, 2007

8 thoughts on “How to Memorize for a Test – The Complete Guide”

    1. Thanks for your comment. Remember that everyone is different and some people remember things easier than others. Also, don’t forget, there are many many different types of exams, and some require more memorization than others.

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