Clarifying Subject Information: How to Memorize Facts that You Find Boring or Dry

This is not about simply making a list of facts and dates. It is much more about nudging your memory and boosting your creative abilities than it is about cramming information. Some cramming may indeed be unavoidable on the night before an exam but most of what you push into your mind will be forgotten after the exam. It is more effective to have your required knowledge comfortably established and needing only a pen and paper and a few memorized phrases to bring it to the foreground. What you want is to create links in your head that lead to other aspects of your knowledge that are applicable to the topic on which you are being examined.

This begins in each and every class as you are learning. The clue is to find where your passion lies in any particular topic. Even if you find some aspect of a subject boring, with a bit of creative thinking you will find something in there that connects to what really motivates you. Write this down in brackets as you take notes and then review later. You will be surprised how all things connect in some way and as soon as your motivation is stimulated what once seemed tedious takes on a whole new look.

Let’s look at an example: In class today you are studying the presence of the Ford Motor Company in Egypt from 1945 to 1960 and examining their record on relations with their Egyptian workers and the Egyptian business climate. You are not that interested in industry and you are finding it difficult to participate with any relevant questions. Wait a moment though; is this the beginning of globalization? Are there all the hallmarks of an imperialistic attitude present in Ford’s dealings with their employees? This is something that does interest you. Note it down and ask the lecturer a question. When you review your notes you need to establish the link between your interest in globalization and Ford’s relation to its employees. Does it demonstrate an imperialistic attitude or not?

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It is no longer a few dry facts you are trying to remember but you have opened up an entire arena of academic discussion that will assist your learning and impress your teachers. This is what I call the creative synthesis of knowledge. You know which subjects inspire and motivate you most. They are probably subjects which are close to your heart because of personal interest. You might be studying Botany, or Meteorology, or Environmental Studies because your love of the natural world extends to a desire to work for its preservation. Do not be disillusioned when you find that this involves studying topics for which you have little inclination but which will be necessary for you to gain a fuller understanding of your subject. Look for an angle or perspective that motivates you to read and write. If you are socially-minded then a class on inner city attitudes to saving water will be easier to absorb if you include factors such as economic context and education. Similarly, if you are interested in religion you might compare attitudes to the environment and human responsibility in two or three faiths and their scriptures.

There is one warning here, unless you are doing a research degree you must be careful not to become more occupied with your own angle than allows a creative addition to your required learning and which demonstrates that you have a good grasp of the matter taught. In essays and exam papers questions must be answered without digression so always make sure that you have all the relevant facts and that your extra research supports these facts.