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#22 Draw yourself a better memory


I have always chosen to be shit at exams, basically because I didn't have a memory process that suited me and therefore I never studied. Going through primary school and secondary school I knew I could pass exams/tests if I wanted to, but the effort of trying to remember everything bored me so much, and most of the time I never bothered trying. The highest qualification I received in secondary school was called School C (5th form), where I passed Maths, English and Human Biology. I was very fortunate as I had the ultimate teenager deal - if I passed 3 exams my parents would buy me a car - 3 x C's coming right up. =) .

Naturally, as someone who didn't care about academia I didn't go to university after secondary school like a lot of my peers, I instead enrolled in an outdoor education course, and it was one of the best times of my life.

Later however, after I'd sunk myself to new lows in dead-end jobs and blowing every cent I had on partying, I decided I was ready to make the effort and start learning how folks in the big wide world of commerce communicated and worked with each other. I enrolled in business school and had a big wake up call about what was expected of me to make the grade. I was still useless at exams though, and preferred to write assignments or deliver presentations instead. It wasn't until I went back to uni 7 years after completing a bachelors degree to complete a masters degree in business that I realised how I could perform better at exams - through drawing!

I was nearing the end of my masters degree, and due to a few other tough papers in the term I found myself in a position with one day to study for an exam worth 50% of one of my papers. While I was cramming I randomly started drawing a letter, and then added 3 other shapes off it, which all linked to other letters, words and pictures. It was crazy, because after I'd gone through the process of drawing this bizarre mind map I realised I could replicate it and recall what everything meant... Why did I not know about this earlier?.. :-( . I went on the achieve a high grade for the exam, and pass the paper with distinction.

I imagine a lot of people also hate cramming for exams, and probably haven't tried this technique before.

A recent article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology confirms that drawing is a powerful way to remember information. Time Magazine wrote an article about it here . In the study, people were asked to recall a series of words, by drawing them, writing them, or writing about their characteristics. Participants were then distracted by taking on an unrelated task, then afterwards were asked to recall the words they had drawn or written about from the first task. The study found that participants recalled almost twice the amount of words from drawing them as opposed to writing.

I recommend you give this a go, or you recommend it to other people who need to remember information for their studies or their jobs. One of the beauties about this method is that you can draw a picture on your arm or hand before an exam, and noone knows what it means; so this is not cheating. This is effectively like bringing in your own notes or being provided a formula sheet.

I mean, let's face it, after the exam all the rote learners forget all the content they crammed anyway, but at least by using this method you or your contacts will still have the drawings, and a new process that if it works for you, will take so much stress from your life.

If you think you suck at drawing, maybe check this Ted Talk out to get you started. The memory process works even if you're terrible at drawing though, so your ability to draw is not a hurdle.

I was so stoked when Google came along and democratised information, and with augmented reality glasses and potential microchips in our brain (not that keen on this one) in future, none of this stuff about remembering useless information will matter one day. Additionally, I think learning institutions are now realising exams are not as effective as integrated learning experiences, and some exams may be in the process of being ditched already - yay! For now though, get your pen and paper out and scribble, it's proven to work wonders and I can vouch for it.