It took you a while to get to this important turning point in your life—the point where you finally decide you’re going to pursue a career doing something you love. And what you really love is animal care. Maybe you want to work caring for horses, caring for small animals such as dogs or caring for wildlife, or perhaps you’re thinking about a certificate in veterinary nursing. The point is, now that you are ready to put your passion for animals into practise, you will need a solid strategy to successfully complete your coursework.
How can you ace that next assessment?
There are many factors which contribute to a successful student career; everything from having clear goals, to learning effective time management skills and not waiting until the last minute to prepare for your exams. But there is one additional factor that could mean the difference between success and failure: sharpening your memory skills!
After all, paying close attention in class, reading your textbooks, taking smart notes and studying hard won’t amount to much if you can’t remember the material when it counts. Which leads to two important questions: what precisely is “memory,” and are there specific strategies you can use to improve yours?
What is memory?
To begin, memory isn’t a perfect or foolproof process. You would know that from your own experience. Say, for example, you are going to take a test where you need to identify many dog breeds. When you were studying the night before, you could easily identify an Akita and an Irish Wolfhound—but by the time you sit down for the test the next day, those memories are gone.
This is because some facts stay with you over the long haul, while others seem to disappear soon after you learn them. Memories, in other words, stay in your mind for varying periods of time. As Psychology Today explains it:
“Memory is the faculty by which the brain encodes, stores, and retrieves information…Humans process stimuli first with their sensory memory; that information is typically held in the brain for less than a second, which may explain why most people report that when shown an object quickly, they feel like they take in more details than they’re able to recall later. Next, the information is transferred to short-term memory…which allows someone to mull things over and hold key information in their mind. Finally, people store past events and patterns in their long-term memory.”
Can you improve your memory skills?
The answer in a word is, “yes.” There are several ways you can move short-term memories into long-term memories. For example, you might employ what are known as “mnemonic devices.” For example, let’s say you are going to be tested in naming 5 dog breeds within each dog group.
For hounds, you pick the Beagle, the Dachshund, the Afghan Hound, the English Foxhound and the Rhodesian Ridgeback—pretty hard to remember. But if you rearrange their order into Beagle, English Foxhound, Afghan, Rhodesian and Dachshund, the first letters spell “BEARD.” (This is the way music students remember the lines of a staff—EGBDF—by simply remembering “every good boy does fine”). It’s a neat trick—and more importantly, it is one way you can improve your memory.
What are some of the best ways to improve your memory for those studying animals?
Employing mnemonic devices like acronyms and rhymes is one of the best ways to boost your memory skills, but it’s not the only one. Here are 4 more ways you can take your memory to the next level:
1. Focus your attention
The more completely your attention is focused on a group of facts, the more likely you will be able to remember those facts later. This is especially important when the facts are complex and the vocabulary is new to you.
For example, if you are going to be tested on directional anatomy, you will need to remember a multitude of new terms like dorsal, ventral, cranial, caudal, proximal and distal. You are going to have a hard time remembering those facts if you study while watching Game of Thrones, checking your emails every 2 minutes or listening to your favourite music. In other words, the best way to focus your attention to improve your memory is to study in a quiet place without any distractions.
2. Don’t Procrastinate
You might think pulling an all-nighter is just as good as studying for a test over several days or weeks — it isn’t. Studies show that you will remember more if you learn facts gradually over time. Spreading your study over time gives your mind the time it needs to process information, so it more easily moves into long-term memory. The best approach is to structure material into discrete sections, learning one section during each study session and then reviewing all the material just before the exam.
3. Rehearse – Then Rehearse Again
Think about the way actors commit long scripts to memory. They rehearse over and over again until they are confident they won’t forget a line on stage or in front of the cameras (Ryan Gosling and Jennifer Lawrence might make it look easy, but that’s because they’ve carefully rehearsed their lines).
In the same way, you need to rehearse answering questions about your course material; whether that material is about taking x-rays or processing blood samples. First, read the material. Then, try to verbalise what you just read (without looking at your notes). If you forget one or more key facts, do it again. Repeat this process until you can remember the key facts in each section of the material on which you are going to be tested.
4. Link Important Subject Matter Together
Memory is an incremental process in which facts are organised and linked together in your mind. In other words, what you find in Chapter 2 of a textbook follows naturally from what was in Chapter 1. One of the best ways to remember new facts is to link them to facts you already know.
In the same way, for example, the information you learn generally starts out simple and becomes increasingly detailed. It is easier to memorise new material when you see it as a more detailed description of what you already know. This is one of the reasons it is helpful to scan the headings in a textbook chapter before you read the information under those headings.
You have already done the hard work. You have decided that you care enough about animals to want to spend your life providing them better care and improving the quality of their lives. Now it is time to buckle down and successfully complete your course so you can start your exciting new career in animal care.