Almost everyone complains they have a poor memory – can’t remember names, can’t remember dates, etc. If you are learning the Highway Code, there’s a lot to remember, so are there any tricks you can use to help you memorise the road rules quicker.
Some well-known techniques like staying up late the night before and cramming can sometimes be counter-productive as our sleep time is where we assimilate information. The spacing effect, i.e. shorter learning sessions spread over many days, will help you remember facts more clearly.
Here are some proven study techniques.
Replicating the environment
When you study, do so in the same environment that you will take the test. The reason why pilots spend so long in a simulator is because it creates familiarity. If they were placed in an unfamiliar cockpit, they would still be able to fly, but the mental overhead of figuring out the new environment would diminish their performance.
For example, you won’t be listening to music when you take the test, so don’t listen to music when you study. If your brain becomes used to listening to music while study the Highway Code, when you have to recall it without music it has to work much harder.
Similarly, you will be using a computer to take your theory test, so use this website to practice for your theory test.
To teach, you have to first understand. If you have a willing participant in your home, or a friend who is also studying for the driver theory test, try teaching each other different parts of the Highway Code. This is an extremely effective way of getting a much deeper understanding of the road rules.
Flash cards and Post-it Notes
Create yourself some physical flash cards to supplement your online practice. Flash cards have been found to be a very effective source of memorising information. If you create them yourself you are activating different parts of your brain (because you’ll write them), and that strengthens your memory.
You can also write brief facts on Post-it Notes and stick them around your house so that you are reminded of them frequently.
Last-minute short-term memory
You will be studying for several weeks (or more) before you take your test, so the Highway Code will be stored in your long-term memory. However, it’s also good to do some last-minute revision so that you’re storing information in your short-term memory, too.
If you have a smartphone, bookmark the Highway Code tests on this website and run through some before you go into your actual test. If you arrive half an hour early you can sit in the waiting room and will get huge benefit by filling your short-term memory with Highway Code facts.
Method of Loci
This method relies on you creating a spatial memory for a particular topic. The traditional way was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. How it works is that you look at a room or a place and you mentally associate different points in the room with different facts you want to remember. Retrieving the information is as simple as walking through or glancing around the room to recall different facts.
Now, because you won’t know what the inside of the room will look like when you take your driving theory test, you can apply the same theory to your fingers, parts of your arm, your watch, and so on. Pick key points you want to remember that you find tricky. Now make an association between each finger and the fact. It could be that you want to remember that the recommended following distance is two seconds, so look at your left thumb and mental associate the your thumb has two knuckles so the person that is left behind should be two seconds back. Now, every time you look at your left thumb you will be able to easily recall the two-second rule.
Exercise before you study
Exercise gives you immediate benefits such as the increased flow of oxygen to the brain. With the extra blood flow, nutrients are rapidly delivered to the brain and, if you exercise regularly, it increases the supply of capillaries and blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the parts of your brain that help with cognitive functioning.
Exercise also reduces stress significantly. Stress causes your body to release cortisol and that hormone has negative effects on your brain, inhibiting the growth of new brain cells. In lab tests, subjects with high stress-induced cortisol levels showed poorer memory performance.
Studies have been conducted using adults to assess how quickly they can learn vocabulary after high-intensity anaerobic sprints, low-intensity anaerobic running (e.g. jogging), and resting. After the high-intensity exercise, subjects were 20% faster in learning the vocabulary than with low-intensity anaerobic running or being sedentary.
Exercise also increases the size of the hippocampus which is the part of the brain responsible for retrieving information. So, get out there and get your heart beating before you need to learn anything.
Other memory techniques
Unless you’re planning on entering the World Memory Championships you probably don’t need to delve into the mnemonic dominic system, mnemonic major system, linkwords or Haraguchi’s mnemonic system. If you do get into memory games, though, you’ll find that your overall memory for everyday items improves greatly, and that will help you in your other studies.
I went to school with Ben Pridmore, a former memory champion (he was two years younger). Check this music video out which is based on how he remembers the order of a randomly shuffled deck of cards (with the explanation at the end).