It makes sense to look for memory training for the MAT. While there are many things that can help, there are no “silver bullets” here. We’re not going to go from an average memory to a photographic one. But we can get into the best possible state to remember what we learn.
Habits that encourage general memory
Meditation — Meditation is one of the most consistently researched and well documented memory supports. Fifteen minutes of seated meditation, eyes closed, and with attention focused on breathing has been shown to increase areas of the brain related to memory.
Exercise — In Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain (2008) research showed that “exercise … stimulates brain regions that are involved in memory function to release a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF rewires memory circuits so they work better.” When a person exercises, more brain cells are used, which in turn stimulates the production of BDNF and increases memory function.
Sleep — Sleep is when what you learn throughout the day is “encoded” into memory. If you have ever experienced a sharp improvement in understanding from one day to the next, or even after a nap, it’s because of the powerful effect sleep has on your body. One of the absolute best commitments you could make during your study plan is to sleep 8 hours per night, every night.
The three physical acts I described–meditating, exercising, sleeping–prime your brain for memorization and make excellent memory formation possible. However, you also need to actually spend specific time on the MAT.
What you need to memorize can be found here:
The best way to understand how to train your memory for the MAT is to understand how memory works. In the simplest terms, you memorize information by paying attention to a given idea (listening, reading, watching, etc.) and then attempting to remember it. It’s the act of “trying” to remember what we’ve learned that creates a pathway to the memory. Like a trail, the more often we use the pathway, the more clear and defined it becomes.
So forming memories requires that we continuously revisit what we learn to strengthen the pathways. This is captured by a big idea called spaced repetition.
You learn something, take a break, and try to remember what you learned later. As you can see from the graph below, returning to a concept augments the forgetting curve and increases the odds of remembering the information.
So how do you apply this? Most students schedule time to learn new information, but too many fail to schedule time to revisit information. If you look at the graph, it’s not until the third reminder that we increase the chances we will remember the information for at least 30 days.
Take note of what you learn; literally, note when you last went over a set of concepts. Schedule a return to that information spaced out by 3-5 days. Your goal is to revisit everything at least three times in the course of your studies.
This will dramatically improve your rate of memorization. For more on memory, see the following GMAT Memory post.