Practice active listening during class.
You should listen attentively and write down summaries of the teacher’s concepts, ideas, and facts that are introduced, as well as connections that occur to you from other reading. By taking notes actively, instead of trying to write down everything that was said verbatim, you engage your memory and mind much more deeply. One effective association technique is to include a small personal note in your notebook for each class; something as insignificant as noting the weather, what you had for lunch, or what tie the instructor wore can spark a fuller recall of the entire lecture.
When you study your notes, introduce various review techniques.
Don’t just read the text or your notes: Read them aloud. Consider rewriting them by hand if you usually use a laptop or tablet to take notes, or vice versa. If you are given sample exam questions, write out sample outlines or answers by hand while studying instead of just reading the subjects covered. These methods provide you with both repetition and variety; remembering the subject in connection with different acts will create more associations that will enhance your ability to recall information.
Make meaningful use of flash cards.
Prepare flash cards on the subject you want to memorize, with the name (word, picture, concept) on one side and the answer on the other. Just writing them out is good practice, but don’t stop there. After shuffling them, go through them and quiz yourself. Put cards that you get wrong in stack A, and the ones you get right in stack B. Review stack A every day, moving the cards you get right to stack B. Review stack B every week, putting the ones you get wrong in stack A. This is a powerful tool when you need to learn factual information, like vocabulary terms, foreign languages, and historical events and dates.
Study regularly and often—but not always for long periods.
Studying frequently will help you build long-term memories you can easily recall, as well as give you a positive, regular habit that builds your work ethic. What builds learning is regular repetition, more than sheer hours studied. Of course, you will need to study enough to cover the material in the class, but research indicates you’ll get more out of an hour a day over the course of a week than you would from five hours of intensive study.
Keep your brain fueled.
Despite only weighing a few pounds, your brain uses about a quarter of your body’s energy, which means thinking is hard work. Eat regularly, and try to focus on protein and vegetables; fish, green leafy vegetables, and pinto and kidney beans are especially beneficial. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, lentils, and brown rice give you sustained energy, as well. While you shouldn’t over-indulge, studies indicate that a little caffeine (especially coffee and green tea) or alcohol (particularly red wine) can help your long-term brain health, too.