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Stand out from the crowd – get creative with your study notes!

Stand out from the crowd – get creative with your study notes!

Your brain pays attention to what IT thinks is important at any given time. There are ways to train your brain to sit up and take notice to pieces of information that YOU want it to remember. This article outlines some strategies to make your revision notes easier to retain.

Written by Lysette Offley

At times you’ll find certain information in your study material just won’t stick, and that’s when you want to go to town on the way you set out your notes – creatively – using colour, pictures, charts, recordings – anything that will help them stick in the mind. Keep them for those tricky moments – when you really need to spend the extra time to let the study notes bed in.

As you’re making your notes, bear in mind that there is some well-established research that tells us that we’re bombarded by tens of thousands of bits of information every second!

In order to make sense of it, your brain is constantly paying attention to what it thinks is important at any given moment, while disregarding the rest. For example, if you’re crossing a busy road, your mind automatically alerts you to certain information which will help you get across safely: where the cars are, which direction they’re travelling, how fast they’re going, where they are relative to where you are, how much space and time you would need to cross safely etc, etc.

Other information such as the colour, size and shape of clouds in the sky is ignored during this time. Maybe they’ll be important another time, but not right now – if you are to survive another day.

Your brain is doing that for you automatically and all the time, so if there is something you want to be particularly aware of, and remember whenever you want, you need to draw your brain’s attention to it in some way. Here are some of those ways.

Go to town on your notes!

Serial Position Effect

Things at the beginning of a list are the easiest to remember. Things at the end of a list are the second easiest. So:

  1. Chop your revision into small chunks so that there are lots of beginnings and ends.
  2. Put the harder stuff to remember at the beginning or perhaps at the end of your notes.

The Von Restorff Effect

Things are easier to remember if they stand out in some way. They could stand out by being bigger or in a different colour. They could also stand out by being funny, peculiar or rude.

You could put these things in the middle of a list since they’ll stand out anyway. How about drawing a silly picture that you associate with what you’re learning? Remember, the sillier, the better. Or how about deliberately warping/distorting the way you write a word to reflect its meaning?

The Zeigarnik Effect

We tend to remember things that are. Interrupted! The brain tries to make sense of the world around all the time. It also likes finishing a task. What would happen if you interrupted a portion of your revision briefly? Will it help you to fill in the blanks and help you remember when you go back to it, to finish your revision of it? Try it and see.


Information needs to hang around in the brain for between 5 – 15 seconds for it to ‘stick’, so play around with ideas long enough for them to begin to transfer to your long-term memory. You’ll be doing this already when you actively manipulate the information, creating notes and pictures and recordings etc.


Get involved! Say in your head, or even better, out loud, the material you want to remember. Act it out if that’s appropriate. Get interested in it. The more interested you can be, the more likely your brain will get the idea that this information is important to hang onto. To remember anything that’s technical, involved or tricky, spend 20% of your time reading and a full 80% of your time talking out loud about it.

As they say, ‘there’s always a way’. Try some of these, see what works for you and let us know in the comments how you went with it!