Potsie Webber: Your Key to a Higher GPA?

Today I was reminded about a Happy Days episode I saw as a child.  The scene starts as Potsie is preparing to take a test for anatomy.  Potsie strikes a note from a tune harp, them proceeds to recall the material for the test.  Here is the scene I am referring to:

So is this possible?  Are people able to remember material through song?  Well, as they say in Home Ec, "the proof is in the pudding."  However what works for one person might not work for another.  In my practice I help students identify exactly what memorization techniques work for them.  Some students have musical abilities, while others might be more visual.  An educational assessment can help identify your child’s unique skills and abilities.

How do I Improve my Memory?

Rhythm, repetition, melody, and rhyme can all aid memory.  Do you remember learning the alphabet?  Many children learn the letters of the alphabet to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."  In fact, a student I recently worked with demonstrated how she memorized the quadratic formula (notorious among algebra students for being long and difficult to remember) by singing it to a familiar tune!

Acronyms are another popular way of memorizing material.  Acronyms are formed by using each first letter from a group of words to form a new word. This is particularly useful when remembering words in a specified order. Acronyms are very common in ordinary language and in many fields. Some examples of common acronyms include NBA (National Basketball Associations), SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus), BTUs (British Thermal Units), and LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).

Similar to acronyms, in acrostics you use the first letter of each word you are trying to remember. Instead of making a new word, though, you use the letters to make a sentence. Here are some examples:

  • My Dear Aunt Sally (mathematical order of operations: Multiply and Divide before you Add and Subtract)
  • Kings Phil Came Over for the Genes Special (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, Species)
  • My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (Planets in order from the sun: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto).

Method of Loci is a great technique was used by ancient orators to remember speeches, and it combines the use of organization, visual memory, and association.  Before using the technique, you must identify a common path that you walk.  This can be the walk from your dorm to class, a walk around your house, whatever is familiar.  What is essential is that you have a vivid visual memory of the path and objects along it.  Once you have determined your path, imagine yourself walking along it, and identify specific landmarks that you will pass.  For example, the first landmark on your walk to campus could be your dorm room, next may be the front of the residence hall, next a familiar statue you pass, etc.  The number of landmarks you choose will depend on the number of things you want to remember.

Once you have determined your path and visualized the landmarks, you are ready to use the path to remember your material.  This is done by mentally associating each piece of information that you need to remember with one of these landmarks.  For example, if you are trying to remember a list of mnemonics, you might remember the first--acronyms--by picturing SCUBA gear in your dorm room (SCUBA is an acronym).

You do not have to limit this to a path. You can use the same type of technique with just about any visual image that you can divide into specific sections. The most important thing is that you use something with which you are very familiar.