How to Improve Memory: Science-Backed Strategies and Tips

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover practical tips and techniques to enhance your memory and retain information more effectively. From study techniques to lifestyle changes, we've got you covered.

[Featured Image]:  A college student,  wearing a blue shirt and working on a desktop computer, using tools to improve memory.

Cultivating a strong memory can unlock countless benefits in your daily life. And yes, it is possible to improve yours with practice and patience. From acing that big exam to never forgetting a loved one's birthday, the ability to recall important information is a vital skill that can be cultivated.

Whether you're a student, professional, or simply looking to enhance your cognitive abilities, improving your memory function is a goal well worth pursuing. So, let's dive into what memory is, why it matters, and explore the most effective strategies to help you achieve your memory goals.

What is memory?

Memory is the process of absorbing, processing, and storing information in your brain in order to retrieve it at a later time. It can be divided into two categories: short-term and long-term.

Short-term memory is important for simple tasks such as remembering where you left your car keys. However, there’s no need to hold on to this type of information, so your brain eventually discards it. Long-term memory plays a significant role in developing who you are since it allows you to learn unique skills and gain knowledge to be retained for regular use. 

Can we control our memory?

Much of what you remember happens subconsciously and is out of your control. Experiences that are tied to strong emotions tend to create powerful, longer lasting memories due the effect these emotions have on neural networks and the activation of specific regions in our brain. However, you can control your memory to a certain degree with some effort. There are skills and habits you can develop to enhance your ability to remember information. 


10 strategies to improve your memory

By committing to memory-boosting activities and practices, you can strengthen your cognitive abilities and enjoy the benefits of a sharper mind. Let's explore some effective strategies that you can implement right now to improve your memory retention. We've divided them into "lifestyle" and "learning" strategies.

Lifestyle strategies

Lifestyle factors directly affect the health and functioning of the brain. The brain requires nutrients and stimulation to perform at its best. Positive lifestyle habits can promote brain health and function.

1. Get enough (quality) sleep.

You are more likely to remember information when you've had a good night’s sleep. Sleep has been consistently proven to help consolidate memories. Specifically Stage 3 sleep, also known as slow wave sleep or deep sleep, is believed to be essential for improving memory retention.

2. Exercise.

Moderate-intensity exercise is excellent for brain health. Not only does it impact the development of new brain cells, but multiple studies suggest that the parts of your brain responsible for thinking and memory are larger in volume in individuals who exercise regularly than those who don’t.

3. Decrease stress.

Stress can have a negative impact on our memory. Yoga, meditation, and other forms of physical activity are great options to manage your stress levels.

4. Keep your brain active.

There are all kinds of games you can use to get your brain activated, from puzzles to cards. Keeping your brain active can be both fun and effective in improving your memory. Developing new skills, such as programming or choreographing a dance, will also help increase brain activity, so don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to learn something new.

5. Drink plenty of water.

Water accounts for 75 percent of your brain's mass [1]. Proper hydration is critical for your brain to be working at its best. It helps transport nutrients and bring more oxygen to the brain. The amount you need varies from person to person based on factors such as age, but a good place to start is to aim for at least 15.5 cups of water each day for men and 11.5 cups for women [2].

Learning strategies

As we learn new information, it is processed and stored in our brains to retrieve for later use. The way that we learn can impact how we encode and retain information in our memory.

6. Practice retrieval.

Active recall is key when it comes to storing information as memories. Next time you have to study for a quiz or exam at school, a presentation at work, or vocabulary for a language class, you can make a set of flashcards. You can absorb the information much more quickly after reviewing them multiple times. Quiz yourself or ask a study partner to quiz you for additional practice in repetition and recall.

7. Use mnemonic devices.

Ever wondered why it’s so easy to remember the lyrics to your favorite song? It’s because songs are one example of a mnemonic device. Other popular mnemonics that can help you memorize content are acronyms and chunking. Chunking is taking longer forms of information and breaking them down into smaller, manageable groups or “chunks” that can then be memorized more easily. Another way to commit new information to memory is by building a memory palace – a mnemonic device that associates information to be remembered with familiar locations or landmarks.

Read more: Improve Your Memory by Building a Memory Palace

8. Spread out your study sessions.

Spacing out study sessions over time – a practice known as spaced repetition – has been shown to improve retention compared to cramming. This technique involves reviewing material at gradually increasing intervals to reinforce learning and retention.

9. Take advantage of technology.

Some of the strategies mentioned can be accessed right from your phone or computer. From flashcards you can build online to brain game apps you can download, technology is a tool that can help improve your memory.

10.  Keep lists.

Whether it’s your to-do list for the day or groceries you need to remember to pick up from the store, you are more likely to be able to recall information if you take the time to write it out. If you do happen to forget, you know exactly where to look. 

Take classes to improve your memory

Develop your capacity to learn with Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects from Deep Teaching Solutions.

Interested in learning more about memory and memory techniques? Dive into the scientific study of human memory with Understanding Memory: Explaining the Psychology of Memory through Movies from Wesleyan University. Both options on Coursera help you improve your memory and understand deeply how our brain works.

Article sources


Zhang, Jianfen, et al.,  U.S. National Library of Medicine. “The Effects of Hydration Status on Cognitive Performances among Young Adults in Hebei, China: A Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT)," Accessed January 4, 2024.

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