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How to Remember What You Hear – A Simple, Research-Based Tip

Do you ever get frustrated because you listen to a story, presentation, or lecture, but later – sometimes as little as a few hours later – can recall little to nothing about it?

Call it self awareness – or, perhaps more accurately, call it aging – but for whatever reason I have become increasingly conscious of the fact that I forget a tremendous amount of what I hear, even when I am listening with the intent of learning. As a result, I’ve been looking for solid, research-based tips on how to remember what you hear.

One approach that seems both highly promising and very easy to put into action is simply to rest for 10 minutes after listening to new information rather than immediately beginning a new activity.

A study published in Psychological Science provides evidence that this approach works. As part of the study, researchers ran two experiments. In the first, a group of normally aging elderly adults were were read two brief stories with instruction to try to remember as much about the stories as possible for later recall. 

Following each story, some participants were asked to “rest quietly with their eyes closed in the darkened testing room for 10 minutes.” Other participants – in a different room – played a “spot-the-difference” game during the 10-minute break. 

You can probably guess how this plays out.

When all of the participants were tested on the recall of the story, those who had rested rather than playing the game were able to remember significantly more. That test occurred roughly 30 minutes after the first story was read, but the results held up seven days later when participants were tested again. While the recall of both groups dropped some over this time period, those who had rested after hearing the stories still remembered significantly more than those who played the game.

To determine whether the initial test following the stories had somehow enhanced the long-term memory of the group that rested, the researchers ran a second experiment in which testing occurred only after seven days. Once again, the group that rested performed significantly better. Indeed, the group’s performance on the test was not much lower than when an earlier test had been administered – suggesting that it was mostly the rest period and not the earlier testing that resulted in enhanced memory.

Based on the results of these experiments, the researchers propose that wakeful resting after new learning allows new memory traces to be consolidated better and hence to be retained for much longer.” In other words, resting for a bit after learning gives the learning some time to “stick.”

So, while there is still plenty of research to be done in this area, it appears to be well worth building some rest time into your learning activities. If you are going to attend a lecture or presentation, listen to a podcast, participate in a Webinar, etc. allow 10-minutes of wakeful resting afterwards to help you memory consolidate the new information you brain has been exposed to.

Other Tips to Remember What You Hear

Of course, if you want to take additional steps to be sure you remember what you hear, you can complement your period of  rest  with the following:

  • Test Yourself – As the results of the study cited indicate, even though rest worked in both of the experiments, the group that was tested immediately following  learning  performed better than the one that wasn’t. This makes sense: we know that well-executed testing helps to reinforce learning and research shows that self-testing or taking practice tests is one of the  most effective learning methods of all.
  • Reflect – The study didn’t prompt the subjects to reflect during their rest period, but it seems likely that some reflection took place, even if unconsciously. In any event, we know that  reflection is powerful for boosting learning and memory. consider making reflection a habit and becoming a reflection ninja.
  • Sleep On It – You may not be able grab a nap right after hearing whatever it is you want to remember (if you can, that can be powerful), but research suggests that sleep, in general, may double our chances of remembering. So, make getting quality sleep a consistent habit.
  • Exercise – Exercise after learning has been shown to increase memory. One study suggests that the optimal time for exercise after learning is 4 hours. So, if you have just heard something  really important, you may want to schedule a trip to gym or even a brisk walk.

Now, of course, the challenge is to remember everything you have read here. (And pretty much everything above still applies!)

Jeff

About the Author Jeff Cobb

I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.

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3 comments
Jeff Cobb says

Maureen – Definitely. We’re big fans of meditation here on Mission to Learn. See, for example: https://www.missiontolearn.com/2014/02/mindfulness-meditation-cognitive-bias/ (not about memory, but another way in which meditation can be powerful). Thanks for commenting. – Jeff

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Maureen says

You can also improve your memory power through meditation in the early hours. Meditation will definitely help you bounce back!

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How to remember what you hear–A simple, research-based tip | The Kellett Digest says

[…] Do you ever get frustrated because you listen to a story, presentation, or lecture, but later – sometimes as little as a few hours later – can recall little to nothing about it Call it self awareness – or, perhaps more accurately, call it aging – but for whatever reason I have become increasingly conscious of the fact that I forget a tremendous amount of what I hear, even when I am listening with the intent of learning. As a result, I’ve been looking for solid, research-based tips on how to remember what you hear. At Mission to Learn […]

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