How to learn lists of information?
April 13, 2015 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I started a university course after almost 20 years of not learning. I don't have much trouble with learning simple facts (I use Anki - a spaced repetition flashcard program) but I’m having trouble learning lists of (somewhat) longer statements. For example, one thing I need to learn is 4 characteristics of happy people according to Lyubomirsky.

Answer is:
Happy people have a tendency to
  • perceive and frame life circumstances in positive ways
  • expect favorable life circumstances in the future
  • feel control over one's outcomes
  • possess confidence about one's abilities and skills

  • I find this hard to learn. I feel like I understand it well enough, but I should be able to reproduce those 4 items if asked “what are the 4 characteristics of happy people according to Lyubomirsky” and I tend to forget one. They partly overlap with other theories about happiness, that makes it extra confusing. This is just one example, I have lots of lists like this, for example What are five characteristics of the biopsychosocial model of health and Name 5 things that support the S-S theory in classical conditioning.

    I read 20 rules of formulating knowledge for an SRS. It recommends cloze deletions for lists/enumerations. I find that that helps sometimes, but not always. I would love to hear specific recommendations for remembering this kind of information. What I find on the internet is mostly about remembering lists of objects or names. I don’t find that so hard, but I keep forgetting items from those lists with more information.
    posted by blub to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
    If this is graduate work, they want broad concpts, rather than details. Except when they don't.

    What you might want to do is look up general knowledge expectations for your degree and field of study. Then see broadly what the field wants, then you will know the level of detail that is expected.
    posted by Oyéah at 1:41 PM on April 13, 2015

    The classic piece of advice (which goes back to the Greeks) is to associate each piece of the list you have to remember with one element of some evocative image.

    For instance, the first of your facts could be evoked by the image of a person literally looking through a "frame"; the third might involve the same person manipulating some kind of "control" panel, etc. The cheesier and more bizarre the image is, the more likely you will remember it.

    (Then if you have lots of facts you have to remember, you imagine all the images you've created as dioramas in some kind of familiar geographic space, like maybe your childhood home or something. To recall the facts you just mentally wander through that space. At least, this is what people with seriously incredible memories do; I've never really bothered but coming up with strange images has worked well for me.)
    posted by vogon_poet at 2:15 PM on April 13, 2015

    Response by poster: Clarification: this is for a bachelor's degree. It's called university where I live, maybe in the US this would be called college? I do need to memorize those lists. Broad concepts are not enough.
    posted by blub at 2:16 PM on April 13, 2015

    If I had to learn them, I'd try memorizing just the first words (perceive, expect, feel, possess) and then memorize what is perceived, expected, etc.
    posted by BungaDunga at 2:43 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

    I've only dabbled with using Anki, but I think I'd do that by first doing cards to help me get the individual concepts really solidly, then combine them. So I'd probably first do some cloze-deletion cards, like "Happy people have a tendency to perceive and __________"; "Happy people have a tendency to expect __________"; "Happy people have a tendency to feel __________"; and "Happy people have a tendency to possess __________". Once I felt like I really got those, I'd move on to combining them.
    posted by Lexica at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

    Mnemonics. When I used to have to do things like this, I used relatively simple mnemonic devices. In this case, I'd take a key word from each of the four characteristics- frame, favorable, control, confidence. There are two f's and two c's. So I might remember, "Happy people - frame, favorable, control, confidence" or "Happy people f f c c." I would repeat that phrase over and over, maybe 20 times (use rhyming, alliteration, rhythm, whenever possible). Then I'd do something else for 10 minutes or so and come back to it. Can I remember the mnemonic for happy people? If I can, can I write out the whole answer based on the mnemonic? For me, the combination of auditory practice and writing out the answer usually causes things to stick.
    posted by Barnifer at 11:20 AM on April 14, 2015

    Yep, seconding cloze-deletion cards in Anki, and also making multiple Anki cards for one phrase so that you see it in different "ways" a few times over. Also, Anki has a feature where you can record audio, so if you are at all an auditory learner, you can record yourself saying the phrases you keep forgetting. If you choose to use mnemonics and Anki, as Barnifer suggested above, you can also add a bit of color formatting to your Anki cards, which might help.

    Also: when you make your flashcard, minimize the number of words on the card, because you'll probably be able to fill those in if you can recall the key phrases. Or, at least, use the active voice in your flashcards. So, for instance, your above example might look like this:

    Lyubomirsky - characteristics/tendencies of happy people (4)
    perceive, frame circumstances positively
    expect favorable future circumstances
    feel control over outcomes
    confidence about abilities, skills

    I know it isn't THAT much shorter than what you have above, but I've found that shortening cards even just the tiniest bit, or making abbreviations for commonly used phrases (I'm in med school, so for example, "disease" get shortened to "dz"; "symptoms" get shortened to "sxs"...) allows my brain to focus on the crux of the content.

    Finally, when you use Anki, be strict and honest about whether you know the card or not. You should be able to say it out loud in its entirety before you can press "good." Otherwise, it's an "again." Good luck!
    posted by gemutlichkeit at 11:35 AM on April 14, 2015

    Personally, I would create a mnemonic that links all these items together - because that's how you'll have to retrieve them when being tested.


    4 characteristics of happy people according to Lyubomirsky.

    Answer is:
    Happy people have a tendency to
    perceive and frame life circumstances in positive ways
    expect favorable life circumstances in the future
    feel control over one's outcomes
    possess confidence about one's abilities and skills

    For me, Lyubomirsky breaks down into Lucy (Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy) with a big bow orbiting around on Mir in the sky.

    She has a compass (because that has 4 points, and we have 4 things to remember; if you go around the compass, you'll know you've got all 4 of the points you have to remember).

    At point 1 (north) is a picture frame, which might have a troupe of Up with People singers singing about protons (positive).
    At point 2 (east) is a pregnant woman expecting great things to happen to her and her baby.
    At point 3 (south) is Lucy groping a gaming device - feeling controls, and watching her outcomes (high scores) increase due to her control over her outcomes.
    At point 4 (west) is a really talented confidence man who looks just like Tony Robbins (or whoever you think of when you think of positive, super-confident, self-assured public speakers), who's great at scamming people because he's so confident in his abilities.

    You will, of course, want to come up with your own images - whatever works for you - but this is the general technique I would use.

    As I understand it, the two ways of learning enumerations or sets are:
    • use a room or object or memory palace with specific stations, and place each of your 4 items at one point in the room or object (as I did with the compass), or
    • use a list, and link item 1 to item 2, item 2 to item 3, and item 3 to item 4. The disadvantage of linked lists is that, if you forget an item in the middle, you may have a hard time getting to the next item.
    I hope that helps - good luck!
    posted by kristi at 6:16 PM on April 14, 2015

    Response by poster: Thanks for your very helpful tips! I am incorporating them all and it does help. I'm spending more time now formulating my cards well (instead of just copy/pasting from the textbook) and I'm using mnemonics. Visualising is hard for me, but I'm going to keep trying because it does sound really powerful. I appreciated the specific tips for my examples. I'm not marking best answers because I found them all useful.
    posted by blub at 2:12 AM on May 17, 2015

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