Long-term memory has two components: storage of information (or consolidation) and retrieval of stored information. It is possible to be good at one part of long-term memory, yet struggle with the other part. For example, you might be very good at storing information but have a hard time recalling that information without a prompt of some sort. In that case, you might be better at picking out the right answer on a multiple-choice test than responding to an open-ended question.
Being good at storing information involves mentally “filing” information—facts, skills, and experiences—using categories or other systems that allow you to later “find” and recall that information.
People with strong long-term memory may be good at spelling and at learning new words and their definitions. They can take in new knowledge and fit it into categories in their minds. They easily recall facts, such as dates in history, information about a concept, or names and faces. They can learn and recall information strategically, instead of having to rely on memorizing things by rote.
People with challenges in long-term memory may struggle to recall information even with cues to help prompt them. They may have trouble recognizing patterns or learning a foreign language. They may find it hard to learn and remember “paired” information (such as states and their capitals).
Strategies for managing challenges with long-term memory
- To help consolidate information in your memory, review it right before you go to sleep.
- Use mental cues to help you remember and organize information. Such cues include imagery (like associating a top hat with President Lincoln), acronyms (like HOMES for the names of the Great Lakes), and rhymes (like “i before e except after c”).
- When learning new information, it helps to connect it to something that you already know and understand. For example, connecting something you read to your own life or daily experiences can help you remember it.