A pencil atop some post-its

In Fall 2020, McGill students were surveyed on tips and strategies for how they learn best. Check out what they said and try one for yourself!

Learning and Memory

   Learning and Memory

These learning and memory strategies can help you learn more, retain what you learn for longer, and ultimately do better in your studies.

People learn new material best when they encounter it multiple times and through multiple means. In order to strengthen memory, it is necessary to engage in retrieval practice. Retrieval practice is deliberately trying to recall what you learned through various study exercises. This will allow you to strengthen neural pathways and make it easier to find that information when you need it later (for example, during an exam).


There are many different variables that will impact your ability to learn and to remember:


The Forgetting Curve

Our brains hold on to information that we have encountered multiple times and through multiple means. The forgetting curve explains how our brain either holds onto or lets go of the information we learn.

chart/visual aid illustrating the numbers described below

The blue line on the graph is our memory without review. Immediately following a lecture or a learning period, our brain remembers 100% of what we have learned, however, within 20 minutes our memory has lost almost 50% of what we learned. One day after the lecture, we remember only 33%, and 6 days later we remember only 25%. This pattern of forgetting continues until you have lost everything. This means that you will have to reteach yourself any material you learned at the beginning of the semester by the time finals arrive.

The yellow line is our memory with review. Here, we are able to interrupt the forgetting process by going back to our material on a regular basis. 20 minutes after class it only takes a 10-minute review to bring our memory back to 100%. One day later, it only takes a 5-minute review to bring back 100% of our memory. Six days later it only takes 3 minutes of review, and one month later it only takes 2 minutes! Reviewing material on a consistent basis means it is going to be easier to commit to long-term memory and that it is going to take less time to study and prepare come exam time.

Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice allows you to move what you have learned into your long-term memory while strengthening neural pathways so you can find the information when you need it. Effective retrieval practice happens when you are: spacing out your practice, using multiple means to access information (varied practice), drawing connections, studying in a way that is challenging and effortful.

Your Study Environment

Your study environment has a huge impact on your ability to stay focused and get work done. When preparing your study space you want to think about how your study environment is impacting your five senses, as well as the time of day.

Ask yourself – What distractions are present? What do I need in order to maintain focus? Are there ways I can use my sensory memory to my advantage? What time of day do I work best? By going through each of your senses one by one and determining what you need to change to minimize distractions and increase focus you will be able to create a study environment that will foster success.

Infographic with questions and points to consider about your study environment

Infographic text (for screen readers)

Study Environment

What do you see?
  • Enough light
  • Remove any clutter
  • Distractions?
What do you hear?
  • Music or Quiet
  • Distractions?
What do you feel?
  • Comfort
  • Temperature
What do you smell?
  • Sensory memory
Time of day
  • When do you work best?

Resources & Apps

Apps for retrieval practice


Questions or Concerns?

If you have any questions and/or concerns, we'd love to hear from you! 

Back to top