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Any suggestions on memorizing overwhelming amounts of information effectively and efficiently?

No matter how much I try to prep early for my tests, I always become overwhelmed when studying for my tests for the sheer amount of things I need to memorize in a short amount of time. It doesn't help that my professors would only tell us what topics are on the exams less than a week before the actual test date. I've tried breaking down the amount I need to learn per day, but I'm still overwhelmed, and I'm the type of person that takes a while before fully understanding concepts or ideas. Any suggestions on how to study more efficiently and effectively in these instances?

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Shannan’s Answer

Things that always helped me was splitting info into themes and color coding them on index cards. Also try walking around or making hand motions while memorizing. It helps your mind say awake if your keeping it fully engaged. Finally if you like music, you can put info to a simple tune like Mary had a Little lamb or make up your own. But using both sides of your brain through music and facts helps you keep the information.

Hope this helps!

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Simeon’s Answer

My tip would be to try and disrupt your short term memory at regular intervals when trying to memorize large amounts of information. Use flashcards to review large amounts of info, but every fifteen minutes, watch an interesting three to five minute video that captures your attention. The point of the video is that you shut off the part of your brain that is trying to retain the flashcard information in your short term memory. Having to rememorize the same info from scratch over and over again forces you to store the information in your long-term memory instead. Also, try to make sure that you study in little bits throughout the day to maximize this effect.

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G. Mark’s Answer

I've seen all sorts of ideas and tricks for memorization, from flashcards to making up rhymes to "repetition repetition repetition". I saw the movie where Chris Rock is recruited to be a spy to replace his twin brother and he has to learn languages flawlessly and a host of other skills in some ridiculously short period of time. Luckily, Chris has a real skill with memorizing some stuff of other and miraculously becomes a flawless replacement for his brother! What luck! Or Erin Brockovich played by Julia Roberts has never cracked open a book, but recites a bunch of numbers including phone numbers and other stuff to her erstwhile paramour.

In my experience, when you're talking about "overwhelming amounts", "memorizing" is not really what you want. What you want is to understand what you're looking at. Human brains, with some astounding but very rare exceptions, are pretty bad at memorizing random stuff. So here's the real trick.

See how the information relates -- how it fits together -- what it actually means and what it does. IOW, what's the point of it?

Go ahead and read the stuff or watch the movie or listen to the talk. Then sit down and do a Mind Map.

A Mind Map is a picture you draw to show how things are related. You use pictures, symbols, doodles, lots of colors, whatever you can. The more outlandish and striking your doodles are, the better you'll remember them. The more visual -- more like graffiti and cartoons than anything else -- and the more fun you have with it, the better. You start in the middle of a sheet of paper (landscape orientation works well, 'cause that's how our brains like pictures) with some big word or picture. You start drawing a sort of tree, with larger, bolder lines starting out and branching - yes, branching -- to finer ones with more details, more words and cartoons of finer, related facts. And what we end up with is a really good representation of how this information is actually organized in your head. And you also see how things are related. If something is somehow related to something on the other side of the paper, heck, draw a line and make a note how it's related. If you have a realization, jot down a cartoon. If you need more notes, put them down. If something sounds stupid or doesn't make sense to you, make a frowny face or question marks. The picture you end up with will be far more memorable than a bunch of lists.

Another trick is to do another mind map for the same material. If you do that and the second mind map seems completely new, you needed to do it again. If you do the same mind map and stop partway and say, "Oh, this is old news -- I know all this stuff -- this mind map is the same!" Well, job done.

The idea is that understanding concepts and what the heck something means to you is far more important to your brain than memorizing facts. And that's why we're still here.