A Special Memory

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I have always wondered if adults remember anything from school. I think of this every time I don’t like a new assignment; I try to give reasons why I believe it is pointless. I always say, “we aren’t even going to remember this, so why are we studying it?” So, I decided to study and see if adults really do or do not remember what they learned back in school.

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While studying memory and memory loss, I have found that there are still a lot of questions about memory. The brain is still a mystery to people. I found a lot of analogies and guesses from different people, scientists and physiologists. Each had different theories when it comes to memory. A man named Robert Bjork, a psychology professor, called your memory a “storage container” containing memories of your past. (ucla.edu) What this means is that your brain is just storing memories so that you can access them whenever you need them. This is clearly a false statement because you and I forget things all the time. Of course, there are different people who have different brains that will remember things better or worse than others. According to Richards and Frankland, “the goal of memory is not just to store information accurately but to ‘optimize decision-making’ in chaotic, quickly changing environments.” (Edutopia.org) Their theory is that memories are purposefully forgotten in the brain if they aren’t useful. This is so that our brains aren’t crammed with excess information and we can access important memories or information.

Cramming information into your mind the night before a big test or event is good for about three days, but you will then forget the information. This is a perfect example of how NOT to learn something. A psychologist from Germany named Ebbinghaus did an experiment where he tried to memorize a list of over 2000 made-up words. He did pretty badly after one day and remembered almost none of them after two days. His research shows we forget a lot quickly, and then the rest of it more slowly over time. That’s called the “forgetting curve” (mytuition.nz). Most people agree that this strategy of studying is not a good way to study. Throughout all of my research, I have learned that if you quiz yourself over a few days’ time, you are much more likely to have that information long term. This seemed to be one area that all my sources agreed on. Some of the things I read talked about how exciting something is, saying that if it is very exiting then you will probably remember it. If something is very, very boring, you will probably remember being very, very bored doing or learning it. If an experience is so-so, then you are more likely to forget the time altogether. You have a high probability of remembering the important details of a time or experience over facts.

If you don’t often think of something enough, you will eventually forget it. To put that into a real-life scenario, imagine in your past you had a backpack for school, it breaks, and you get a new one. You will slowly forget your past backpack and think of the new one. Most sites agreed that studying in chunks of time is easily the best form of studying. In my opinion, the best way of studying is to read about something in chunks and to quiz yourself on the thing you are studying. I have found that this has been the most effective method for most of the people that I know.

Reading notes repeatedly can and will help some students, but for most it is just long, annoying, and time-wasting. I have learned that writing things down is a great way to try to remember things. Making small tests for yourself is a great way to study and you don’t have to worry about those tests affecting your grade. Instead, you are seeing if they will increase it! Spacing out your study times is a very important component while studying. Having breaks up to about thirty minutes will help your brain memorize the newly processed information. When you learn something and don’t think, talk, or teach about the subject for a few days, the memory becomes harder and harder to access later in the week. You must spread out your study periods different ways over time. So, you may study on Monday and Tuesday, then Friday you can quiz yourself, then that weekend, study a little more for the next week.

Neuroscientist Daniel Willingham calls memories “residues of thought” because when you are studying you are trying to remember the material that you are studying. A lot of the memories that we can easily recall are not us trying very hard to remember something. Most times, we remember an important attribute or description of something and that is what makes you remember an object, person, fact, or event. For example, last year I went to Las Vegas. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the trip, but what I do remember was that everything was lit up and extremely exciting! I remember the trophy I won and parts of my competition, as well. I think I remember those things because I have an emotional connection to them, they weren’t just things we checked off a tourist to-do list. With all of this in mind, it seems that remembering facts you learned a long time ago would be much harder and less likely than remembering skills or processes, things you learned how to do. All of these are very good guesses and theories, but still we don’t know what is correct.

The things we learn in school are called standards. That is how teachers know what to teach in each class and each grade. The standards we are currently using are called Common Core, but they only started in 2010, when I was in Kindergarten. Before that, they used the “Content Standards for California Public Schools,” (CDE.ca.gov) which we quite a bit different. Since my plan is to test people older than myself to see what they remember, I better use those old standards to test them. In addition, I saw that many comparisons of old and new (Common Core) standards talked about learning facts and memorizing information in the old ones and then how the new standards focus more on learning how to do things and why they work. I am curious to know if my generation will remember what they learned in school better than the people older than because of that big change.

In conclusion, memory is still mostly a wonder to mankind. It seems that scientists are intrigued by it and all the parts of the brain, but still can’t really explain or prove a lot of it. Mostly what we know is that if you think of something often enough, then you will probably not forget it. Also, that there are multiple different ways of studying but staying up the night before the big test to study is the least likely way to really learn and remember something, although it seems like what most kids do. There are great ways of studying, including making small tests for yourself across a time span, to see if you know and understand the information. How long you will remember that information really depends on how much, how often, and how well you studied, as well as your connection to the material and how often you rethink about it. 

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A Special Memory. (2021, May 23). Retrieved January 28, 2023 , from

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