Sunday, July 16, 2006

How I Got Interested in Improving Memory Capability

Well, everybody has at least a casual interest in memory. My interest was a little more than casual, and it all began in high school. Like most kids, I had a lot of interests besides school (girls, sports, clubs, activities, etc.). Yet, I wanted to make good grades, mainly because by then my parents had instilled in me a desire to do well in whatever I was obliged to do. So, to do well in school while still having time and energy to do all the other things I wanted to do – I had to learn to study EFFICIENTLY. That meant learning how to memorize things efficiently, preferably during class so I would not have to study outside of class. After I learned a few memory tricks, I was able to remember most things from class each day and what I did not get, I memorized on the school bus on the way home. My days were filled with sports (I was never any good. In football, for example, I was the lead blocking dummy), with raising my farm animals, with numerous clubs (I was President of about 4 of them and school President for two years). My evenings were filled with dating, "dragging Main Street," and listening to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games. Yet I graduated with the highest four-year average in all of the schools in Memphis, Tennessee and surrounding Shelby County. A biology teacher (that never had me in class) who knew my IQ was an unimpressive 113, spread the word that I would have trouble in college, because my success was just due to being an "overachiever" – as if that were a dirty word! My point? If you have a good memory, you can look smarter than you really are.

The next motivation came from learning about memory tricks from the Dale Carnegie leadership course. My dad was a recruiter for the course managers. He got me into the course, and I learned the memory tricks that were a part of the course. I was pretty good at it, and they decided to make me a showpiece for their memory training at the meetings where they were recruiting enrollees. At the start of the meeting, they would tell the audience: "Here is the latest issue of Life magazine. Billy Klemm is a 16-year-old who has taken the course and he will demonstrate to you the powerful memory techniques that are a part of this course. Thirty minutes from now, Billy will memorize this magazine. He has never seen it. Yet he will be able to tell you what every page is about, in any order. Or, you can tell him what is on a given page, and he will tell you the page number." Sure enough, after 30 minutes, I had memorized the magazine (and I had NOT seem it before). The audience was astonished that I could tell them what was on each page or could tell them the page number of any page that they described to me. That's heady stuff for a 16-year-old. It certainly motivated me to care about memory.

Abut this same time, I developed an interest in becoming a veterinarian. Back then, getting into veterinary school was very competitive. There were only 19 schools in the whole country and they all had smaller classes than they do now. The only veterinary college I could go to without paying out-of-state tuition was Auburn, which had a contract to take only 10 students from each of the states surrounding Alabama. So to get into veterinary school, I had to be in the top 10 from my home state of Tennessee. I relied on my memory skills to be the top one applicant. As an example of how memory skills helped me, I was stumbling in calculus, going into the final exam with an F. My problem was that I was trying to understand calculus. Finally, I gave up on understanding and just decided to memorize all the formulas and the situations to which they applied. Come final exam time, I made 100. The prof said, "Billy, I know you did not cheat. I watched you like a hawk, because I knew you were desperate to salvage that F grade. How in the world did you do it?"

Later, as a veterinary student, I discovered just how difficult that curriculum is. There is SO much to memorize. Veterinary students take all the standard medical courses (anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, pathology, public health, etc.) and in addition take surgery and medicine courses in both large and small animal species. They have to learn about multiple species, each of which has unique biology, diseases and treatments. Well, my memory skills paid off, allowing me to graduate 5th in my class while at the same time being a weekly columnist for our national award-winning university newspaper and being active in campus politics – and enjoying courting my wife-to-be, Doris.

A few years later, I found myself working as a professor, first at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and then at Texas A&M University, first as a professor in the College of Science and then in the College of Veterinary Medicine. I had ample opportunity to observe student performance, good and bad. Not many years had to pass before I realized that the biggest problem that most students had was with poor memory skills. Time and again, students would complain about how hard they worked, without seeing corresponding good results on tests. They taught me many lessons about what NOT to do in studying. At least half of my time as a professor was spent in research, and my area was brain research. Inevitably, some of my research involved memory functions of the brain, ranging from consolidation of short-term memories to what happens to brain electrical activity during memory recall.

The upshot of these experiences motivated me to write a book on what scientific research reveals about how to improve everyday memory. There are over 150 ideas explained in that book that I know can help anyone. See http://thankyoubrain.com

1 comment:

  1. This is the best testimonial for memory aids that I have ever seen.

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