How to remember everything you learn for UPSC? – 3 Memory Tricks to Ace the Mother of all Exams

Reading Time: 9 mins

Note: This article is not only for UPSC aspirants but also for anyone who is struggling to remember what they read.

Have you ever wondered why you could not remember a chapter in a history textbook or any subject that was studied just a week ago? Have you been wondering how to cover and remember the humongous syllabus of UPSC with all those books, newspapers, online sources etc.? Then this article is for you.

You may have tried different study techniques like understanding better, frequent revisions etc. They may have improved your memory to some extent, but they are not fool-proof. Because UPSC has this issue of asking questions which are way too difficult or confusing to answer in order to filter out potential candidates from lakhs of aspirants.  For example, questions like “Which of the following wildlife sanctuaries is located in Madhya Pradesh?”, “Which of the following countries borders with Mediterranean Ocean? Which of the following rivers is the right tributary of the Ganga River? Etc. cannot be answered with just basic reading and revisions. Because you would need a better memory to solve them. The common recommendation would be to always keep atlas beside you and always refer it. But it is not the smart way. I’m not telling you to throw away your Atlas. Atlas is required to get the general perspective of the location of countries, rivers, lakes, etc. However, to ace UPSC, you would need much more than just constantly reading and revising contents. You need memory techniques to remember whatever you read forever with just single read even your long grocery list.

In this article, you are going to learn three fool-proof memory techniques that will help remember whatever you read for a very long time. I will also tell you how to integrate these three techniques and better implement them in UPSC exam perspective.

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#1 – Mind Maps

  • A mind map can turn a long list of boring information into a colourful, memorable and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of doing things.
  • A mind map is hierarchical and reflects relationships among pieces of the whole.
  • Whenever you make notes from books or newspapers, instead of writing paragraphs or bullet points, you can draw mind map for the big-picture analysis and better recall.
  • How to draw mind map?
    • Step 1: Write the main concept at the centre of the page.
    • Step 2: Write sub-topics around the main concept and link them together.
    • Step 3: Write the key points under each-subtopics.
    • Step 4: Mark relationship (if any) between different points in the mind map.

Statue of unity mind map upsc ias

  • Above is the example mind map from our article on the statue of unity issue. Here,
    • Statue of unity – the Main concept
    • Why in news? Who is Patel? Etc – Sub-topics
    • Then the nodes that branch out from sub-topics are key points.
  • Rules for mindmapping
    • Write only important points under each node. Because those points would likely trigger your memory of other points when you revise.
    • A single node should not have more than 3 words. Because it’s no use to just copy-paste the whole paragraph into a mind map. You will not get the analysis in this way.
    • Draw images if you have time. Simple stick figures or emojis would suffice. It is because an image is worth a thousand words.
  • You can draw mind maps in the paper itself, however, there is a page limit to how much you can add sub-concepts and key points around the central concept. That’s why there are a lot of softwares out there for effective mind mapping without the limitation of paper. Also, softwares allow you to place images in the mind map by just copy/pasting them from google images.
  • Some of the top mind mapping softwares are
    • MindMeister
    • Mindjet Mind manager
    • iMindmap
    • Coggle
    • XMind etc.
  • In IAS EXPRESS, you will find mind maps for both static syllabus (Click here) and current affairs (Click here) which will give you faster reading, better analysis and better recall of all the concepts and it will save you a lot of time preparing mind maps yourself.
→ Current Affairs Mindmaps (Prelims): Read/Revise 10X Faster!!! - Read Now
→ Governance Mindmaps (Static) Uploaded!!! - Read Now

#2 – Memory Palace

  • This is the most important memory technique as it will radically change the way you’ve studied since your childhood days.
  • The Method of loci or famously Memory or Mind Palace is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory to quickly and efficiently recall information.
  • It was used by ancient Greeks and Romans to effectively recall information for the purposes like giving a public speech.
  • Nowadays, this technique is being used by many memory contest champions to recall faces, digits, and lists of words. Even Sherlock Holmes does mind palace in the BBC TV series “Sherlock” and solve the crimes by recalling a truckload of information from his palace. (Watch it if you haven’t watched it yet).

  • If you want to remember a specific set of information, say, for example, list of countries around the black sea (these kind of questions are really important for prelims), then follow the steps below.
  • Step 1: Note down the list of countries around the Black Sea
    1. Ukraine
    2. Russia
    3. Georgia
    4. Turkey
    5. Bulgaria
    6. Romania
  • Step 2: Imagine that you are entering your house (assume it) by opening the Black gate (Black Sea – Central Idea – Starts first). Then suddenly it starts raining (Ukraine). You are wet all over.

Related image

  • Step 3: Then you are surprised by Vladimir Putin (Russia) standing at your front door welcoming you.

Related image

  • Step 4: Once you are inside the house, you got freshened up and sat down on the sofa (yeah you left Putin alone outside in the rain). Then you are turning on the TV and watching a wildlife programme in which a Cheetah chasing a Deer in the National Geographic Channel (Georgia). (If you have watched George of the jungle, then imagine George swinging on a vine that hangs on the ceiling).

Image result for cheetah deer national geographic

  • Step 5: While you are watching the TV, your mother shouts at you to come to the dining room to eat dinner. You are surprised at what she’d made, it is Turkey Chicken (Turkey) served hot at the dining table.

Related image

  • Step 6: After you had your dinner, you’d decided to go to your bedroom and take some rest. When you open the door to your bedroom, you got shocked at the sight of a huge bull (Bulgaria) sleeping on your bed (maybe it got escaped from the Jumanji Jungle). Then you are trying to get it out of your house through the backyard.

Related image

  • Step 7: But when you opened the door to your backyard, you got another surprise waiting for you. It is the Roman general and statesman Julius Ceaser (Romania) who is looking for his precious little pet, that is, the huge bull beside you. After saying goodbye to you, Ceaser and his bull went back to their home (hell or heaven; whatever).

Image result for julius caesar

  • See, this is how the memory palace is done. Each country is associated with a person or object and pegged/attached to the particular location in your house – Black sea at the Black gate, Ukraine (Rain) on your front yard, Russia (Putin) at front door, Georgia (Nat Geo channel) in the TV, Turkey on the dining table, Bulgaria (Bull) on your bed and finally Romania (Roman general Caesar) on your backyard.
  • So when you want to recall the information later, just start your journey from the front gate of your house and end in your backyard. You can also easily recall from backward i.e., from the backyard to the front gate.
  • The palace can be whatever you want – your house, your neighbour’s or relative’s house, the nearby street, your school, college, office, etc. When you ran out of palaces, you can just draw a random 2D layout with rooms, streets etc. in the paper and imagine it in 3D view and then create the memory palace.
  • There are 4 rules for creating an effective memory palace
    1. Be vivid in your imagination. Create a scene instead of just placing the information in the palace. You would need to imagine using all of your senses: Vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.
    2. Defy logic and be funny/weird. Because you would remember the funny/weird things or persons better than the normal ones.
    3. A single location in the palace should have single information. Because overcrowding of information in a single location would confuse you when you recall later. For example – Putin (Russia) was placed at the front door, Turkey chicken (Turkey) was placed on the dining table etc. Don’t place Putin together with Turkey unless you have the concept or news that tells that Russia has declared war on Turkey. In such cases, you can imagine Putin eating the Turkey chicken aggressively.
    4. Understanding comes first. Don’t just blindly read the topic and put it in your memory palace. You have to understand the concept then convert it into a person/object and then place it in your memory palace. But it is not required for list-based topics like rivers in which states? countries borders with which oceans? reports published by which organization? etc. You can just put them in the palace like the one you’ve seen above with the Black Sea.
  • At first, creating a memory palace would be daunting and stressful for your mind. But it gradually gets better with time as you would have associated every word in English with a person/object.
  • If you ask a question whether creating memory palace would take so much time or not? The answer is Yes and No. Yes, because preparing memory palace would take some time than just basic reading, but it is fun and interactive. No, because it saves you a lot of time for revisions. If you revise a concept 5 times a month through normal reading, you would need just 1 revision if you’ve created memory palace of that topic and you don’t need to see your notes for revision at all because you just have to start your journey in your mind itself. Thus it saves a lot of time. Besides, it will actually deliver result in the exam as you get a fool-proof memory.
  • How to integrate it with Mind Map?
    1. First, take your notes in the Mind Map since the mind map filters out irrelevant points.
    2. Then place the mind map nodes in your memory palace.
  • Why wait? Try to create your own memory palace now.

#3 – Spaced repetition/Flash Cards

  • Spaced repetition is a learning technique that requires you to revise or review the information that you’ve read at gradually increasing time intervals.
  • For example, if you have studied the Fundamental Rights topic today, then you need to revise that topic using this principle 1, 7, 30, 90, 360. 1 means revise after 1 day, 7 means revise after a week, 30 – revise after a month, 90 – revise after 3 months, and 360 – revise after a year (approx). You can change the repetition intervals according to your memory level.
  • Spaced repetition can be done with the help of flash cards – physical or using software.
  • Physical flash cards require you to have a box in which you store your flashcards.
    • The box has several compartments labelled e.g. A to E (you could choose more compartments as well). A means 1 day, B- 7 days, C – 30 days, D – 90 days and E – 360 days.
    • You then put each of your flashcards into appropriate compartments in this box.
    • If you have read a topic today, then write the name of that topic on the card and put it in the A compartment, where you repeat the flashcards every day.
    • Flashcards, which you know well will be put into the B compartment and have to be reviewed every week.
    • Flashcards, which you know well there will be moved to the C compartment and so on.
    • Each compartment has a different repetition interval. And flashcards, which you know well, get promoted to the next compartment.
    • In case that you could not answer a flashcard correctly, you move it back to the first compartment where the cycle starts again.

  • If you don’t want to prepare it physically, then go for softwares. Anki (the Japanese word for Memorization) is an intelligent flashcard software that figures out your retention levels and increases or decreases your flash card repetition time interval. It also allows you to add image, voice, videos etc. in flash cards and is fully flexible. It is available for web, computer, and mobile platforms. You can download Anki here.
  • How to integrate Spaced repetition with Mind Map and Memory Palace?
    • Prepare mind map notes.
    • Put those notes in a memory palace.
    • Revise the memory palace through spaced repetition/flash cards. (Memory palace allows you to increase the time intervals for revision). You can copy paste mind maps into Anki flashcards = easier revision.

Hope this article solved your major hurdle in clearing UPSC or any exam. Please share this article with your peers or anyone who is struggling to remember what they read.

If you have any doubts regarding these techniques or have some of your own memory techniques to share, please leave it in the comments.

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static and current affairs mindmaps upsc essay notes
Santhosh Kumar
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Thanks for sharing such important memory tricks with all. This will be one of the leading inputs for the aspirants to crack the UPSC exam.

thomas jose
thomas jose

please add more articles like this on startegies for preperation.