Education Quandary: 'My daughter's poor memory is a handicap in exams. Can we do anything to help her?'

Hilary's advice

A poor memory can be the result of stress, illness or disability – or just be one of those things, like having ginger hair or a sense of rhythm. I have two daughters; one remembers almost everything, the other almost nothing. No prizes for guessing which sailed through exams, but the other has learnt all kinds of tricks to get by, including writing on the back of her hand, and creating visual pictures.

Get your daughter to try different kinds of revision – writing out prompt cards, making up jingles, or imagining pictures. A classic memory technique is to get her to imagine her bedroom, then have her mentally pin key facts to different items – lamp, desk, curtains – as she tours around it. When she needs to retrieve those items, she takes the mental tour again and there they are.

And get her I before E (except after C): Old-school ways to remember stuff by Judy Parkinson (Michael O' Mara Books), which is stuffed with exactly what it says, from ways to remember tricky spellings (miniature has two tiny words in the middle, I and a) to using the acronym PEN to recall the three main parts of the atom.

Also, reassure her that she is not alone. Judging by the huge number of replies to this quandary, the world is full of memory-challenged people muttering jingles under their breath, stuffing lists into their bras and mentally sticking items to their fingertips.

Readers' advice

When I had to remember dates for my history exam I used to tape myself reading my study notes. I then played this over and over – when I was in the car, doing chores, and so on. The information stayed in my head. It was lovely to go for long walks with my headphones on, getting a break from my studying yet still learning!

Julie Kenny, Liverpool

As a teacher for 30 years, I know we can all learn and remember things. My advice is to find out how you learn best, what you can tolerate, and what you need to learn to deal with by adopting strategies. I have helped students both young and old to discover how to take charge of their own learning. It's not difficult, but it does need the re-awakening of self-belief. Sadly, many schools label students who do not fit in with their system very early on as poor learners. An inspiration is the work of Barbara Prashnig, as in her book The Power of Diversity, and I would recommend it to anyone exploring the concept of how we learn.

Kevin Hewitson, Northamptonshire

There are many techniques she could try. Mind mapping is a useful one; it uses association to link knowledge and ideas. Others include using acronyms, inventing funny stories to link items, using rhyme and rhythm, making up songs that include movement, colour coding, number/shape mnemonics, and many more. You could use your search engine to find out more about these.

Holly Staniford, Derbyshire

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, What is the difference between a double science award, and doing separate sciences at GCSE? And does it matter what a pupil does? We are starting to look at secondary schools for our son, and other parents have said that this is something to watch out for. He likes science, but we have no idea whether he will do it at A-level.

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed in this column, to Please include your postal address on your message. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous education quandaries can be found on, where they can be searched by topic.

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