5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Memory For a Test

by Julie “Jules” Troyer Ph.D.

So you have been studying hard the entire semester, using distributed practice, attending class, actively reading the course materials, actively listening to lectures, and participating in conversations with peers or your professor online or in person and now you want to make sure you are doing everything you can to enhance your memory for the upcoming big test! Research shows you should hit the gym, cook yourself a dinner of walnut encrusted salmon with a side of red beans and artichokes with a big glass of vitamin D enriched milk, review your material before going to bed, and get a really good nights sleep. Here are 5 easy tips research shows improves memory.

  1. Do a Little Working Out. A recent study from the University of Irvine shows that participants who engaged in 6 minutes of exercise actually performed better on a memory test than the control group that did not exercise at all. Keeping a light to moderate work out schedule is an excellent addition to your study routine. The brain is an important part of the body and we all know the old adage, “healthy body, healthy mind.” Researchers postulate that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine is increased during exercise; which in addition to being positively correlated with increased memory, also has been shown to help reduce the effects of stress on the body.
  2. Eat Memory Foods. We all know the body works optimally when we eat the right foods, but what foods does research support are beneficial to munch to increase our memory? Dr. Gary Small, the director of UCLA’s Memory Clinic has conducted extensive research on the subject and concludes memory super-foods are high in antioxidants like small red beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, artichokes, pecans, and walnuts. Dr. Small also reveals low glycemic carbs like oatmeal or anything with Omega-3 fatty acids (flax seed, walnuts, and salmon). This finding was supported in a recent study published in Neurology revealing that individuals with low levels of Omega-3’s had MRI scans showing their brains to appear to be on average two years older.
  3. Consume Vitamin D and B12. Many research studies support the fact that consuming 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B12 assist performance on memory tasks. Consistently, studies show individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 perform poorer on memory tests than people with adequate levels. Additionally, Tufts University recent research suggests consuming 1,000 international units of Vitamin D has a beneficial effect on memory recall tasks.
  4. Review Material Before Sleep. The last thing you should do before going to sleep is look over the material you will be tested on. Studies show that recall is better when people review important information directly before going to sleep.
  5. Get a Good Nights Sleep. It is imperative to get a good nights sleep before a big test! Many students stay up all night cramming before a big test and are disappointed when their mind goes….blank….on the test itself. Sleep is like the glue for memories, adhering it into long-term memory for later recall. If you study but do not sleep it is like trying to glue a Christmas ornament together but not waiting for it to dry before you hang it on the tree….it just falls apart. Research supported by Harvard states simply, “healthy sleep is essential for optimal learning and memory function.”

Finally, click on the link below entitled, 10 awesome memory facts for a quick and highly entertaining You Tube video highlighting 10 top facts about memory.

10 Awesome Memory Facts


http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx (retrieved October 30, 2013).

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory (retrieved October 30, 2013)

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/20-common-foods-most-antioxidants (retrieved October 30, 2013).

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=84 (retrieved October 30, 2013).

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  1. Atlantia Clements says:

    I have taken a neuroscience course. So, this information is very familiar to me. Some people do not understand the importance of exercise and nutrition. Our brain is a supply system to our body and when we treat it right our physical lives are easier to manage. As it applies to memory, the information you have provided is very applicable for test takers. I am anxious to try out these suggestions (especially as finals week approach).

  2. Randall Danzberger says:

    Dr. Troyer, I have always heard of the last two tips and still manage to lack them. I tend to use my sleep time for last minute cram. I would have never thought that having a minimal work out could potentially help your memory on tests. Also I am pretty sure that my food consumption lacks vitamin D and B12. Seems as if I have some adjustments to make. I will defiantly consider these for future tests.

  3. Walter Swilley says:

    I find it very interesting how someone can encourage their memory through these different ways. I have always noticed a difference in studying right before going to sleep and then getting a good nights rest; however, I had just assumed that this was just a way for me to personally study rather than something for everyone. I was also shocked to see there being a direct correlation with someone who works out and having the ability to recall facts better. This correlation is something that many people should look at because not only would they be able to have a better memory but be healthier as well!

  4. Austin Fowler says:

    I have heard all of the those facts and how they help out with memory except for one. The one I have not heard was the one about consuming vitamin B12 and D. I thought it was very interesting how that the consumption of these two vitamins have a direct positive correlation with one another. I have going to have to look up some foods that are high in those vitamins so I will have a better memory.

  5. Brittany Maynard says:

    I read this article just in time. I have a test this week where I have to memorize a lot of information, and these tips will help me alot. Im that person who tries to cram all the information the night before the test, thinking it’ll stick better, but I guess I was wrong. Also, the memory foods arent my favorite things to eat, but I think I can sacrifice for a good grade. I never knew certain foods helped your memory, quite interesting. I’ll definitely keep all of these tips in mind for my test this week, finals week, and forever. Thanks.

  6. Shakela Primrose says:

    No wonder I have a horrible memory! I hate beans, and I haven’t gone to sleep before midnight in months! I should probably start taking my B12 vitamins again (I actually started taking them to help my immune system since I work at a daycare). I find it interesting that exercise helps with memory. I wonder if the connection has something to do with concentration. I may not have the food or sleep completely down, but at least I exercise (I’m counting praise dance as exercising), and I try to distributed practice before the test and a review the night before. I do o.k. now, so I hopefully eating the right foods and sleeping better will help me decrease the number of times I walk into a room and immediately forget what I went in there for (and then remembering and realizing that I’m not even in the right room!)

    • Shakela,
      The mind wandering can be very frustrating and it truly can help quite a bit to practice these tips….but even folks with incredible memories occassionally walk into the kitchen and say, “gosh what did I come in here for!”

  7. Mathew Williams says:

    I like the last two tips to improve memory on testing. Studying before you go to bed to me seems the best way to keep information fresh. I also like the fact that this article encourages a good night’s sleep. Our body is created to rest if we are to maximize our potential. My question is, how beneficial is it to study the morning of the test? I enjoy studying after eating breakfast. I think that this is my best study time, especially if I get 6-8 hours of sleep. Are there foods that you should stay away from to help improve memory?

    • Mathew,
      Great questions, I always say the ability to form agood question is worth at least three answers to questions! First, it is helpful to review the material in the morning as well but the real benefit to reviewing before bed is that sleep is the virtual “glue” for long-term memory and doing it right before you tumble into slumber promotes the information to be properly encoded and filed in long-term memory. Second, there are some studies that state sugar and highly processed foods can impair memory :-).

  8. Allison Bonanni says:

    As a student in your class, I feel like these tips to maintaining memory are very helpful and correct. At the beginning of the semester I had a continuous workout schedule and healthy eating habits, until I got sick mid-semester. Once I got sick, I got out of my workout routine and went downhill. My grades have reflected the fact that I haven’t gotten much sleep and haven’t been eating healthy or working out. I felt like I was low on energy. Last week, I decided that I would get back into my routine of working out and eating healthy and I feel like I new person. I feel like I am refreshed and happier with myself.

    After reading your article, it put everything in perspective for me to try and do better things for my body. I feel like could get more sleep than I have been getting, and that will be something I work on. Another strategy I haven’t tried doing before is reviewing material right before I go to sleep. I normally don’t allow for it to be the last thing I do before I go to sleep. I want to try this and see how it works for me. Thank you for the wonderful idea, and I agree with you on each of these five ways to improve memory. I want to attempt to make sure that I do all five of these instead of just a few.

  9. Cathryn Shaw says:

    I found this article on improving memory for a test to be very applicable to me, personally, but also to what I do in my band classroom. I have never had much trouble memorizing facts for a test, but a few weeks ago I had to complete my written comprehensive exam for my Masters degree, and my comps have taken testing my memory to a whole new level! I was actually able to use the technique of reviewing before I went to bed and I have found that staying on my regular workout routine does give me more energy and I am able to focus better.
    As for my classroom, many of my students are preparing for an honor band audition at the beginning of December that requires them to play scales from memory and recall facts to help them make it through a sight reading process. My students have to rely heavily on muscle memory for fingerings on their instruments, visualization (visualizing the written scale in their mind as they play it), and some use their aural skills to help them remember which notes come next. On my list of helpful hints for the audition I always push getting a good night’s sleep the night before the audition, and playing through their entire audition once or twice the night before, but discourage them from over practicing.
    What a great article!

  10. luis g rosario says:

    Yet another reason to moderate or all together quit drinking alcohol. According to WebMD excessive alcohol consumption leads to vitamin b12 deficiencies. When i went to Green Leaf for their alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation program the first thing they did was start me on a vitamin B regimen. They explained the many functions and benefits of vitamin b12. How it helps regulate your nervous system reducing stress and depression, helps prevent certain cancers and even improve the health of your skin. As a college student i understand the many social and personal benefits of consuming alcohol. You can blow off some serious stress by consuming alcohol. But as a recovering alcoholic improving my memory through healthy levels of vitamin b12 is another reason to be grateful of having quit.


    • Luis,
      Vitamin B12 is fantastic in maintaining optimal levels and is crucial to good mental functioning! Congratulations on making the decision to be proactive, self-control is a large part of success in any aspect of your life.

  11. Will Bartels says:

    Dr. Troyer,

    I found this article very appealing considering the amount of exercise I participate in, paired with a health conscious lifestyle. I am always looking for new nutritional tips to add to my already current diet. I already incorporate vitamin D, Omega 3, exercise, and good sleep. However, I did not know foods such as pecans, beans, walnuts, and artichokes provoked better memory. I will definitely keep those in mind at the grocery store and will have to research the other benefits these memory foods have. Thank you for the useful information.

  12. Sara Vandiver says:

    Going through high school and college I have always struggled in some way when it came to test taking. Every time I attempted to get help or find new ways to improve what I was learning for the test, my memory always seemed to fail me and the worst possible moments. After reading your five tips I think I finally have some light and I must admit that before others would give me one of the tips and say “thats all you need.” Clearly that was not all I needed; when combining all the tips and keeping it constant it truly helps and makes a different in my memory. This article was a much needed insight of help. I enjoy the insight you have to share and the knowledge you have it reminds me of the movie Marry Poppins and her bag that is never ending and always bringing some incredible thing out.

  13. Tedrian Thompson says:

    I found this article to be very informative and inspiring. I do believe a good nights sleep is very helpful. I am usually the one cramming and staying up late studying. Then when the test come around the next day and my mind goes blank. I didn’t know until now that a light exercise would help improve your memory. All of the tips were very helpful and will be included in my study routines from now on.

  14. Dustin Philpot says:

    I really believe in studying right before bed and getting a good nights sleep that has help me a lot. I have never thought about the others but I will be trying them in the future.

  15. Scarlett Eirish says:

    I found this article to be very informative. As a 5th year student, I am still struggling with finding good ways to study, and as my grades reflect, I am still not great at it and need as many ways to improve as possible. I was aware of the need for a good night’s sleep directly before a test, and even to reread the material right before bed, because the brain does remember things better if you’re thinking about it directly before bed. The exercising was the thing that I never would’ve thought of. It’s interesting that the physical act of exercising helps to push the mind when it comes to studying. And I definitely had not thought about vitamins and eating certain foods. It is sometimes difficult for a broke college kid to supply these things on a regular basis, but at least 3 out of 5 tips could help dramatically. Thank you for the insight!

  16. Patrick Loughran says:

    Very enlightening article! I have heard the work out theory before, but it has slipped my mind after not hearing it for a while. I would like to personally test this theory, but I should probably start working out again before I can do so. As for the food, I have never come across information like this before and I must admit that I am curious as to if this is actually true. The downside of that is that I really dislike almost all types of beans, and most fish, so it looks like I need to load up on walnuts to test this theory. I feel the same way about consuming Vitamin D, and will have to search google to see what contains the vitamin so that I can purchase it to try it out. As for the final step of getting a good nights sleep, I feel like I can speak for the majority of college students, definitely myself, that this is something we have been told throughout our academic careers but choose to simply disregard. Personally, I am a test crammer. Maybe this is a wake up call that I need to change my approach. This article definitely would have been helpful earlier this semester, especially before our previous Psychology test!

    • Patrick,
      The research provided in this article is very sound and has been replicated in many studies not discussed here. I highly encourage you to give it a try for yourself and see if adding these tips into your routine helps you out personally!

  17. Ashley DeMott says:

    Dr. Troyer, I found this article to be inspiring and factually sound. These principles have proven true in my academic journey. I had only heard that vitamin D and B12 were beneficial but never put them to the test. Your writing has inspired me to be more active in these areas of discipline that in turn will improve my performance in the classroom. When I was a freshmen in college I began to struggle with testing anxieties and other academia related stresses. Using practical improvement approaches, I began to build confidence in my abilities and overall achieve higher grades. I personally testify that these habbits will help you to be more confident and a better student. In addition to the exercise habbit, I have found that even most redunant of movement, like pacing in my room, study book in hand, has helped me to improve memory retention. Gyms have jumped onto this idea of exercise and memory as they have begun to include things like book stands on treadmills and the like. These personal habbits have really changed the way I approach my education and I believe have not only given me improved functionality, they have completely boosted my confidence enabling better performance.

  18. Taylor Troutman says:

    I am such a horrible test taker and it has always been hard to retain information. I went to a middle school that taught me some things to get through a test, but that information also went through one ear and out the other. I am glad I read this because there are more ways to improve your memory then what I learned. The two biggest things I learned to do on test day, was to eat a good healthy breakfast, but then to also wear a colored shirt like red. It is said that if you wear white or a dull color you don’t perform in tests as well, as if you had a colored shirt on. I think getting a good nights sleep is one of the most important things one could do. I do not understand how people pull “all nighters” and take the test. If I did that I wouldn’t retain any information that I was reading. I also heard that reading over your material before going to bed is good, just like you said! I liked the article, wish I had read this in the beginning of the year!

  19. tonia allen says:

    Dr. Troyer, thanks for this article. I knew about the sleep but not about the B-12 and vitamin D. At my last physical. I found out that I was very low in B-12. I have been prescribed B-12 shots and I have recently started on that and I guess I should inquire and the vitamin D next office visit. Thanks again.

  20. viwima says:

    Live by the D and B12

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