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Sheri Mizumori and Susan Joslyn were interviewed by the UW Daily about memory and preparing for finals.

Walk yourself through a memory palace right into winter break

Eun Hye Kim Contributing writer, Dec 4, 2017

On the brink of finals, we chug Red Bulls, fill up our coffee mugs, and sit down before our lecture notes to attempt to learn the world in one night. Studying comes down to desperate memorization in the precious hours before the exam. But in our frenzy to memorize, we forget the essence of memory: understanding. Here are a couple of tips to return to understanding and away from mindless memorization.


The desperate student generally knows cramming is an admittance of defeat. Sheri Mizumori is a psychology professor at the UW who specializes in neurobiological mechanisms of plasticity, special learning, and memory. A framework of understanding is the integral piece missing in cramming, Mizumori explained.

“If [the information] is kind of new, it’s hard for you to absorb all the details into a framework that you can then call up,” Mizumori said. “Normally, when you remember something, you think of that category or that situation and then dig deeper in. But if you don’t have that framework, it’s kind of hard.”

When cramming, all the information is new and is forced in without distinction. Our ability to call up the information later during the actual test becomes a dangerous game to play when grades are on the line.


On the other hand of cramming, notecards seem to be the endorsed studying method. Having the time to make notecards is pretty laudable already. Susan Joslyn , a UW associate professor of psychology, distinguishes between the nuance of working memory and long-term memory.

The effectiveness of notecards for memorization relies on long-term memory. Longer time gaps to test the memorization is necessary, according to Joslyn, or else the notecards become a shuffle through working memory.

“That makes a good test,” Joslyn said. “You look at the term, it’s been a half-an-hour, and you look at the term and you can’t remember it, that tells you, wow, that didn’t get into long-term memory.”

Knowing what you know may not be a philosophical question you want to ponder during dead week. We make notecards because we don’t know anything. When it comes down to the exam though, all we can count on knowing is what we know in long-term memory.

Read more here .