Memory Basics

Memory might seem like a strange place to start our foray into the behavioral sciences but the MCAT will require us to memorize a ton of information. In realizing this it makes sense to start with memory so we can learn how it works and how to leverage this information to help us as we study.

Brains = Computers

The idea of memory stretches back 2,000 years ago when Aristotle theorized in “On the Soul” that we are all born with a blank slate for a mind. A slate that becomes filled up with memories as we go through life. Fast forward to the 1940s and 50s when the development and spread of the computer revolutionized how we thought about memory as parallels were drawn between computers and our brains.

During this time the information processing model, the idea that our brains like computers receive inputs, process those inputs and in return produce an output, was popularized.


This idea was applied to a wide range of mental phenomena to include memory. Now this idea the main basis for our current understanding of how memory works. First, we have to get the information, then process that information via storing it, and lastly retrieve that information we called upon.


Getting Inputs

Our brains, locked in the dark recesses of our skulls, are wholly separated from the external world. There they rest, reliant on our senses to feed them the outside world.

Thus when we are discussing the inputs of memory formation we are first and foremost discussing sensory information. We take in the external environment by seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching it. This information is then briefly stored in our sensory memory a fleeting memory lasting less than 5 seconds.


From there this information should we deem it important will be stored in our short-term memory and then finally our long-term memory. How we convert information from short-term to long-term is called encoding. It is here that we can leverage a variety of different techniques to help make things stick. A memory isn’t very useful if we can’t use it though.


If we wan’t to go about using what we know we have to first pull out the information from our long-term memory in a process called retrieval. Lots of factors impact how well we are able to find and accurately remember a piece of information. From how we were feeling when memorizing something to where we are in the moment we are trying to remember. Sometimes no matter what we try or do we just can’t remember a piece of information.


Forgetting is a totally normal process that happens to all of us. When we don’t encode a piece of information well or if it has been a long time since using a piece of information we are likely to forget it. This is why Anki is so powerful. While it doesn’t help us with the encoding it makes sure that we recall and retrieval what we know more frequently. Staving off the inevitable decay in our knowledge.

As we go through this module together. I will point out memory aids and other ideas that can help us. Try using them when you are encoding information for the MCAT and see if they can make forgetting a thing of the past! Now, what was I saying?