Tips for Memorization

"Memorization is not a bad thing.  There's nothing undignified or “high school” about memorization.  No matter what the subject and no matter what the level, there will always be things that simply must be committed to memory.  Just remember that memorization, like everything else, has to be active, not passive." (Hill) The strategies below are particularly useful for classes or topics that have a lot of vocabulary or names.

  1. Make flashcards and use them often. 
  • One side of the card should have one vocabulary word on it and the other side should have a definition or picture
  • Alternatively, you could write one question on the front side, and the answer on the back.

Some tips for using flashcards:

  • Make sure to study the flashcards in both directions (looking at the word and saying the definition, and looking at the definition and saying the word).
  • Keep them with you. Study them as you wait in line or as the microwave is going. The key here is – a little studying more often is better than a lot of studying for a short time.
  • Make piles with your flashcards. A pile for the information you know and a pile for the information you forgot. Then take the second pile and go through it again – and again, put the cards into two piles. This way you spend more time studying the cards that you are having a difficult time with.
  • Shuffle the flashcards frequently and mix together flashcards from different sections so you can learn and remember each terms and definition out of its context.
  • Look for themes or ways to categorize your flashcards and relate concepts to each other. Then, mix them up and look for new themes or categories. 
  1. Photocopy pictures from the book (and remove the labels). Make about five copies of each picture. Hang these pictures all over your room. As you walk by each picture, label one thing on the picture. Next time you walk by it, label something else. Soon you will have labeled most of the items on the picture. When you have one or two left – if you know them, label them – if you don't know them, study them.
  2. Look for online quizzes and practice tests.  When practicing multiple choice questions, don’t stop when you find that you have chosen the correct answer.  Make sure you can explain why all the other options are wrong.
  3. Use memory aids to help you form memory associations. Mnemonic devices like acronyms, acrostics, rhymes or songs, visual imagery, meaningful associations, and even looking at the etymology or origin of words can be helpful.


  1. The following is a method to help you learn a difficult process (for example, if you have to learn all the steps of aerobic respiration). When you are comfortable with one of these steps, move on to the next level of difficulty:
  • Draw, trace, or photocopy a picture of the process from your book (remove the label). Write the vocabulary words that relate to the process on  note cards (it may be helpful to make small note cards by cutting a 3”x5” index card in half or in fourths). Note that the terms on the cards may relate to important steps in the process in addition to the names of the molecules or structures.  For example, is this a step in aerobic respiration where chemical energy is stored in an electron carrier or where carbon dioxide is given off?  Remember that knowing how or why something happens is sometimes more important than simply knowing all the names.
  • Be able to put the right term in the right place on the picture.
  • Now try to label the picture without the terms in front of you.
  • Now look at the note cards of vocabulary words. Put the words in order and draw the picture. Color-code the different steps of the process.
  • Now take a blank sheet of paper and draw the picture from scratch, without any words in front of you. Label the picture you have drawn.
  • Now take a blank sheet of paper and draw the process backwards. 
  1.  Do the above process, but instead of drawing a picture, write a paragraph explaining the process.
  2. Explain what you learned in class to your roommate or family member. Ask them if they understand what you have explained. Pretend you are the instructor – how would you present the information? 
  3. Also try explaining the process out-loud to yourself. Hearing it may help you remember.
  4. Then, explain the process to a classmate, peer tutor, or your professor and ask them for feedback. This way you can be sure that you didn't miss anything.

This information has been provided with permission from Butte College Biology Instructor, Suzanne Wakim.

“Study Tips for Biology Classes - TIP Sheets - Butte College.” Accessed August 2, 2016.
Hill, Terry. Suggestions for Studying Biology.