“Mommy Brain”: Memory Tricks for the Busy, Forgetful Student

Memorization is an important, necessary habit we have been practicing since pre-K. If you are like me, however, you either memorized information just long enough to pass the exam or you struggle with retaining what you have learned at all. Remembering terms, people, ideas, and other vital material from my courses has been one of the biggest challenges of my college career.

For those who are (female) parents, we often jokingly refer to this problem, in life as well as with schoolwork, as “Mommy Brain.” Supposedly, when a woman is pregnant, her memory shrinks while her belly grows…and, for some (like me), it never seems to return!

In addition to working, raising a three year old, and taking a full course-load my last semester at Penn State, I am also pregnant again. So, naturally, I am already worrying that I will be able to retain information as well as a colander retains water! Thus, in preparation, I have found some helpful ‘tricks’ and tools that you, too, may find useful in successfully remembering the vast amount of information you will learn this semester, and beyond.

  1. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Our parents made us get at least 8 hours of sleep each night for a reason. The truth is, the less sleep we get, the less we can focus on and retain information. Exercise, meanwhile, increases oxygen to the brain and helps reduce the risk for disorders that can affect memory.
  2. Eat well. Nutritionist Joy Bauer notes that certain foods can help to preserve and boost memory. Why? Because they contain flavonoids, folate, omega-3 fats, and/or caffeine which appear to support brain functioning and directly affect memory. So, make sure to eat plenty of broccoli, berries, apples, fish, and even (a moderate amount of) coffee.
  3. Don’t stress. Easy to say, hard to do, right? Possibly…but worth the effort. Stress has been directly linked to many diseases and chronic stress actually destroys brain cells and damages the hippocampus. It is vital, then, to make time to enjoy life, take breaks, and prioritize. Decide what really matters and cut out anything that may be adding extra ‘chaos’ to your life unnecessarily.
  4. Make memorization fun. Traditionally, I am a note taker. And, when preparing for a test, I will re-read texts and notes, write important terms on note-cards, and re-read some more.  Unfortunately, such methods are often more exhausting than successful in remembering vital content.  However, when turning concepts into a song or relating them to familiar ideas or creative key words, remembering such info is far easier. This is called a mnemonic device.

I wish you success in your studies and college career! Happy learning!

4 thoughts on ““Mommy Brain”: Memory Tricks for the Busy, Forgetful Student

  1. Thank you both for sharing your ‘tricks’ and tools for memorization/learning. We are all ‘wired’ a bit differently and, thus, benefit from different methods than others. I am so glad we can share our own experiences and, hopefully, help others who may be struggling to retain so much of the information we learn in school!

  2. Thank you both for sharing your ‘tricks’ and tools for memorization/learning. We are all ‘wired’ a bit differently and, thus, benefit from different methods than others. I am so glad we can share our own experiences and, hopefully, help others who may be struggling to retain so much of the information we learn in school!

  3. I’m a visual learner, so I better retain information that I see. Lectures are great, but if I don’t take good notes then my retention is poor. However, if I can use audio, visual and kinesthetic learning styles while I study I have a better chance of retaining the information. In other words, if I take key definition or concept from the course, write it down on a flash card or in a notebook, read it and then say it aloud, I have a better chance of retaining that concept. If I’m able to explain the concept to someone else, then it is more likely I’ll commit it to my long-term memory. So find a study partner!

  4. Great post!

    To improve recall, connect what you’re learning to what you already know…or thought you knew. (The brain is like a complex filing system – to make access/recall more efficient and effective, it’s important to keep files organized so that your brain knows where to look for them later ;-). Visualizing also helps, so I use colored pens and flags to organize the physical material and that helps to organize the mental material as well.

    Also, memory is linked in a broader sense to what’s going on around us when we’re learning, so pay attention to pictures, music, etc. and try using contextual cues to boost memory. (Turns out that our file cabinets have some serious cross-reference capabilities!) For example, that was the technique on the page with Sigmund Freud’s picture…yes, the answer is psychoanalysis. (I know that is an overly simplistic example, but hopefully you get the idea.)

    I’m curious about other strategies that World Campus learners are using too! What tools or approaches have you found helpful?

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