How to remember more – don’t walk through doors!

Memory, Cramming For Exams, Exam Prep, Exam Preparation, How To Remember MoreI previously blogged about Exam-Taking Tips with the second suggestion highlighting  the encoding specificity principle when studying for an important exam.

In a recent Scientific American article, they explain why walking through a doorway makes you forget.

As a student preparing for an important exam or test, you can use this to either NOT forget or TO forget… Let me explain.

Study Tip #1: Interrupt your pattern when you’re stuck on something

If you are struggling with a topic, problem or even writing your term paper or essay, you might want to get up and walk out the door and come back in – to interrupt your pattern and use the encoding specificity principle to trigger the needed interruption and re-setting of your memory.

Study Tip #2: Stay seated until you’re finished studying or writing your essay

There is a lot to be said about full immersion and concentration of focus. The Scientific American article explains in detail why, when you’re “in the zone” – you should say put (seated) and NOT get up and walk through a doorway – literally.

Even though this may sound superstitious, it’s not.

I know anecdotally these study tips work. I would study, compile research, read and write for hours and when I wrote my MBA and Ph.D. theses without interruption. Often, I would be at my desk for several hours without getting up – BECAUSE I had momentum, focus and total concentration.

If you want to get better grades with the least amount of effort – you want to use these study tips and make them work FOR you rather than AGAINST you.

Try them out and let us know how they work for you!

By the way, the Scientific American article was sent to me by Bree Robbins of Paddington PupsQueensland’s #1 Doggy Day Care and Grooming Facility.

Thanks Bree for sharing, I won’t forget it!

7 Responses to “How to remember more – don’t walk through doors!”


  • I don’t know where else to ask it but since you mentioned writing large papers here…do you have any other recommendations for researching/writing a long document such as a dissertation or thesis?

    • Get started by collecting any stats, references and other supporting documentation. Extract the quotes and start writing the paragraphs related to those points. Eventually, you’ll see the concept and theme emerge and you can then move them around when you’re editing the document. It’s MUCH EASIER to start with a few paragraphs than it is to try to write a whole “chapter” in one go.

      • Suggestion: Use EverNote to categorize different thought processes before developing a mindmap. Has anyone used Evernote? There’s a free version. Also, for $50 or so, a more developed program for writing a book is Scrivener. Many writers use one or the other or both. Check into what works best for you.

  • Sir,
    Some say “Studying loudly is the best possible way!”
    But, we can see genius people like scientist students study a particular object or an article in a calm and quite manner as if he/she is just looking to it.

    So,what is your opinion? Studying loudly or quieter is better?

    Thank you
    Safwan

    • In Chapter 1 of my study tips guide, I explain that you need to determine what works best for YOU. I revealed a personal story in Chapter 1 in section #3 – Find out what works and what doesn’t about a Geology course that I studied for that should answer your question. Good luck!

  • Could it be that the visual system gets priority in the brain’s processing cache. If the cache can only hold so much info simultaneously, as proposed in the study, then the priority in the instinctual survival of an animal, would be to visually explore the new room when passing through a door to ensure there is no danger. That is my theory. It would be interesting to test their theory using blind or even better deaf-blind participants. (Blind participants may compensate using hearing)

    P.S. Your tip for writing long papers is brilliant. You find a piece of info that you know will be important in your writing even though you haven’t formulated the entire approach in your mind. However, you know you will have to introduce this info, explain it and give it’s relevance to your point, which to me is grunt work that I hate to do when I am “on a roll” of writing the main part of my thought. It’s like a forced stop that kills my catharsis and motivation.

    I only take breaks at the end of a section, as a reward, during which I usually am thinking of how to begin the next section, or I break in the middle of writing something I am enjoying, because I continue to compose in my head while on break and can’t wait to get back to it to get it on paper, (an out-dated expression. I guess we should say get it on computer).

    If I were to stop writing now when at a point of introducing and writing a referenced item or data, I would want to avoid writing it, walking away with a negative feeling. Every time I would try to return to writing, I knew, the first thing I would be faced with that negative starting point and more avoidance behaviors kick in.

    I would even suggest going one step further and numbering these references pre-written paragraphs, save them in a separate file and print them out. Keep them next to you as you write and just put the # in the spot you want it to be when you are in your flow of writing. At the end of a section or the end of your paper, open both files, and copy, paste the reference paragraph into it’s numbered spot, tweaking any info needed to make it flow with the main writing.

    Gosh, I wish I had thought of that when I was in college. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked for me, because there were no computers. Just manual, not even electric typewriters. I remember using index cards in a similar way. I would make notes of reference info on separate cards and then put the cards in the order of when I wanted them to appear in the paper. Then as I was writing, I kept them next to me. I would glance at the top card frequently to remind me of where I was heading in my writing and to introduce the thought that would lead to that reference, and also to remind me to not forget to put it in. Once written, I flipped it over and my next reference goal was visible on top. Maybe if you print out the references, cut and sort them in this manner, number them at that point, stack them next to you, you could avoid, hunting through pages of text of references, while on a writing spree, each time you want to find the one you
    needed.

    As an adult, I have this problem with bills and doing my taxes. So my new approach is to open the mail, sort my receipts and stack the work in working order, easiest on top. Then I take a break. I feel good that it’s all ready to go and by organizing it, the work usually less than I thought it would be when I saw a pile of stuff. I feel good when I see the big pile gone and a neat stack in it’s place.

    By doing all the grunt work first and then rewarding myself, I have a more positive feeling when I return, I see a more pleasing, organized,work and feel the work will flow quickly to actually pay the bills, or do my quicken entries
    But the whole thing falls apart when it comes to filing the finished stuff! I need to figure out a way to make me file right away. As of now, the filing piles up for months!

  • yes, these are simply but effective hints.
    i like that you make / keep it short.
    will recommend your blog to my German students!
    Thanx! Kira

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