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Have you ever arrived at the bottom of a page in a textbook and realized that you haven't the foggiest notion what it was about? Or, have you tried to remember later in the day what happened in a lecture that morning, only to discover that it's pretty much a blank? Or perhaps you have found yourself in an examination looking at a familiar question, but are not able to recall much by way of an answer? Well, join the club. You are not alone. All of us experience problems remembering from time to time.


1) We divide remembering into two basic types: (1) recognizing and (2) recalling, and each requires a different type of practice to optimize learning and memory. We are recognizing something when we can spot it, and pick it out of a set of similar items, as in a multiple-choice question. In recognizing, the focus is on the material rather than on your response to it. In contrast, we are recalling something when we can produce or reproduce information as in a short answer question. In recalling the focus is on what you are able to do in response to the item.

2) You must learn something before you can remember it. To do this you must pay attention and respond to the material as you are learning. This might mean paraphrasing main ideas and concepts as you are reading or listening to a lecture, relating the things you are learning to other things that you know (perhaps with a concept map), or discussing what you have learned with a colleague or in a study group.

3) Recognition and recall of learned material improves with practice. To put it another way, you must practice remembering a concept if you want to be good at remembering the concept. Ideally, you will do this practice in a context that is similar to the situation where you will need to remember the concept. Sometimes this involves practicing in the absence of certain things. For example, to practice recalling the contents of your notes, you must not look at your notes; otherwise you are simply practicing recognition.

4) Practice should continue until you are both accurate and quick in remembering the material. Accuracy + Speed = Fluency. With fluency comes retention, endurance, ability to apply concepts, understanding, confidence and fun.


From time to time we have Workshops devoted to issues of remembering. However, we encourage students to make an appointment to see one of us ( David Palmer-Stone or Tricia Best or June Saracuse) as soon as remembering concerns arise.


Students enrolled in the Learning Skills Course work through several modules specifically related to remembering. One module deals with Memory and Fluency, and another deals with Memory Techniques including mnemonics. Indeed, many of the modules in the course involve issues of remembering. For example, the module on 3-R Reading and the module on Note-Making both provide strategies that enhance learning and recall, by promoting active review.


The following handouts on techniques for remembering are available at the Counselling Services.


Page last updated: March 2011
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