Tips to Improve Your Memory Before an Exam

Posted October 12, 2015

By Marco Vertucci

Studying for college exams can be a daunting task. However, by using memory games and other helpful tactics, it’s possible to improve retention and ensure good recall regardless of how much material is being covered.

Set a Study Schedule

The practice of cramming all night before an exam leads to mental fatigue and impairs the brain’s ability to hold on to information. Study sessions are more effective when broken up into shorter periods over the course of one or more days. Quality sleep after studying helps the brain sort out information and prevents the mental distractions that come with being tired. Everyone has a different time that’s best for them to study and an ideal length for study sessions, and finding the right balance can be the key to academic success. 

[Image: Sean Kelly]
Use Helpful Devices

Memory games, like those described in this post at NeuroNation (a cognitive training website), often involve associating information with existing knowledge or everyday experiences. Using acronyms, mnemonic devices, rhyming words and other associations improves retention by making the information more relevant. Some people do better with auditory or visual cues. Listening to music, drawing pictures and taking notes provide memorable “anchors” for information in the brain that can be drawn on the day of the exam.

Talk it Out

Reading material out loud is a good way to improve retention. Hearing information rather than just reading chunks of text serves to cement it in the mind and ensures that it is truly understood. Make study sessions even more valuable by asking questions while reading and performing regular self-tests or quizzes. Re-read the text at least once before the day of the exam if time permits, focusing on difficult or challenging sections. Answer questions aloud, repeating important information as often as necessary.

Nourish the Brain

Studying is more effective when the brain has the nutrients it needs to function at its peak. Flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to aid with memory and support brain health. To ensure optimal function and concentration during an exam:

• Eat a balanced dinner the night before.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other mind-altering substances.
• Make time for a hearty breakfast that includes a balance of healthy foods.

Taking a walk or performing other moderate exercise can also improve exam performance by increasing the blood flow to the brain and maximizing nutrient delivery.

Along with stress reduction techniques, these study tips and memory games can make it easier to recall information and excel on every exam. Even after the tests are over, strong study skills provide benefits for retention and recollection that can be relied on throughout life.


Marco Vertucci studied cognitive sciences at the University of Bologna, Italy where he was awarded with a Master Degree with Honours in 2012. He has always been fascinated by the psychology of learning and how to improve mental performance. He is currently working as a freelance writer for several psychology related blogs as well as research supporter for private companies in the digital health sector.