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4 Simple Rules for Retaining Information in College


How to retain more information while studying

By the time you’re ready to take classes to become a nurse, medical assistant, or dental lab technician, you’ve already completed years of schooling. Throughout high school and other college programs you develop skills and studying habits — which can be a benefit, or detriment, when you’re ready to go back to school.

Healthcare programs are necessarily more demanding than many other courses, and students looking for expedited nursing programs in Utah should be prepared to learn a lot in a short amount of time. Whatever healthcare field you’re entering, you need skills to retain the most information possible while studying. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn techniques to remember more information longer, and these four simple rules will help.

1. Chunk information

Managing the amount of information you tackle at one time is your first hurdle to learning and remembering what you’ve learned. Since your textbooks and notes will seem never ending, break up similar subjects into bite-sized chunks. This method works especially well for memorizing anatomy, medical terms, diseases, lab values, and other vocabulary words. Some tips when using the chunking method:

  • Write down the information you need to learn on a piece of paper so it’s all together.
  • Make groups. Look for natural connections and similar patterns in the content. If you’re learning vocabulary words, some examples might include grouping words based on length, what the words mean, or how they sound.
  • Test yourself based on the groups.
  • Write out the groups without looking at them.

By organizing, chunking, and studying content in this way, research has shown that you’ll be able to retain more information than just reading alone. So chunk away, and let the results speak for themselves!

2. Take notes by hand in class

The 20th century gave us a great invention: the computer. It’s now a crutch for most of us, typing away in class and in our homes. Writing papers and taking notes is smoother than ever, sparing our hands from cramping or our pencils from breaking. It turns out, however, the convenience of typing on a computer during class may hinder the learning process.

A study conducted by two researchers from UCLA and Princeton University found that students who took notes longhand during a lecture retained more information and did better on conceptual questions than students who used a laptop. In the study, writing notes by hand helped the note taker process and reframe the information better, as opposed to the laptop user, who tended to type out the lecturers words verbatim.

Although leaving the laptop in your backpack or at home might be hard, try it during your next lecture, and opt for writing notes out the old-fashioned way.

Related Resources: 5 Ways to Make Studying Less of a Chore

3. Learn from your mistakes

As humans, we don’t like to make mistakes, and we’re told from a young age not to make them. But making mistakes, according to research by a team out of UCLA, might actually help us learn and recall information better. By challenging participants in the study, and actually setting them up to make errors, the researchers noted this aided in the learning process. According to the research,

in a series of experiments, they showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning. It’s an idea that has obvious applications for education, but could be useful for anyone who is trying to learn new material of any kind.

Try taking a quiz on the subject you’re about to study, or try defining unknown terms before looking them up. Then, when reading or looking up definitions, make mental notes of the answers you quizzed yourself on, and retest yourself after you finished. If you missed some answers, restudy and test yourself again in a few days. Repeat the process for any continued missed answers and see how much information you’ve retained. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.  

Related Resources: 10 Tips for Creating Your Ideal Study Space

4. Quiz yourself

Reading information over and over again isn’t enough to move it from your short-term memory to your long-term memory; you need to practice what you’ve learned, and a good way to do that is to quiz yourself. When you’re studying for a test or the NCLEX, find any quizzes you can get your hands on. Ask your friends or family members to ask you sample questions. When you’re finished, go over what you missed. Testing your knowledge let’s you suss out what you don’t know, instead of ignoring it or passing it over unintentionally. Research from a 2011 study found that students who were immediately tested after reading a passage retained about 50% more information a week later versus students who repeatedly studied during that time.

If quizzes aren’t appropriate for what you’re learning, write out the important concepts after reading them, without looking at the reference material. This is a form of retrieval practice, which, in the same study, showed a great improvement in remembering the information later.


At Ameritech, we’re committed to helping each and every student get the most out of their education. It’s one of the reasons our nursing students have such
high pass rates on the NCLEX! If you’re interested in one of our programs, please feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you!