CFA CFA Level 1 Overcoming ‘Learn-Forget-Cram-Sit-Forget’ – Part 1.

Overcoming ‘Learn-Forget-Cram-Sit-Forget’ – Part 1.

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      Learn-Forget-Cram-Sit-Forget. Does this describe a learning experience that is familiar to anyone? Does it describe the experience you are having now as you push through the CFA syllabus? It is a common feature of the with the way we prepare for exams:

      – We are introduced to an element of the syllabus and experience an initial level of understanding (LEARN);

      – We then quickly forget that element as we refocus on the next element of the syllabus that we need to learn (FORGET);

      – After we have learnt and forgotten the whole syllabus, we commit as much of it as possible into our short term memory (CRAM);

      – We take the exam (SIT);

      – Finally we forget it all again because it was only ever committed to our long-term memory (FORGET).

      This process creates two major problems. The first is that the time we spend ‘re-learning’ the basics along the way is significant and could be better spent achieving a genuine mastery of the content if we had not forgotten the basics in the first place. The second problem is that we don’t retain the content we have learnt for future use either in our day-to-day careers or for future exams. (How many of us have had to go back over CFA revision notes in advance of an interview in order to recall a key equation or nugget of information?)

      Learn-Memorise-Master-Sit-Retain. It is possible however to avoid the ‘Learn-Forget-Cram-Sit-Forget’ experience, and turn it into a more positive experience of ‘Learn-Memorise-Master-Sit-Retain’, where:

      – We are introduced to an element of the syllabus, experience an initial level of understanding, and begin to commit it to our long-term memory (LEARN);

      – We commit the content to our long-term memory by utilising a number of techniques which ensure we are using our memory efficiently (MEMORISE);

      – After we have learnt and memorised the whole syllabus, we then overview it, use practice questions and past papers to achieve a level of mastery of the content. We have the time to do this because we have not had to re-learn previously forgotten content (MASTER);

      – We take the exam with a better level of understanding (SIT);

      – We are also able to call upon the information we learnt for the exam in the future because it has been committed to our long-term memory from the very beginning (RETAIN).

      LeMMSir Experience. To remember this alternative experience, think of it as ‘LeMMSiR’ experience, and given that it is about learning, imagine a school boy, going up to a teacher and asking if he wants a lemon:

      The key element in enabling a LeMMSiR experience is to start using our memory’s more efficiently, so that we can begin the process of committing content to our long-term memory as soon as it is introduced to us. In order to understand how to do this, it is helpful to understand why we remember some experiences and not others.

      RIPS ARM. There are 7 Characteristics of our memory’s, which determine why we remember some things but not others. You can remember these characteristics by thinking of the mnemonic ‘RIPS ARM’. We remember an experience when:

      – It happened recently: RECENCY EFFECT;
      – It captured our imagination: IMAGINATION EFFECT;
      – It was our first time: PRIMACY EFFECT;
      – It stimulated a number of senses: SENSORY EFFECT;
      – We can associate the experience with other experiences: ASSOCIATION EFFECT;
      – The experience has occurred on a number of occasions: REPETITION EFFECT:
      – We understand the context and wider meaning of the experience: MEANING EFFECT.

      To help you remember the RIPS ARM mnemonic, imagine someone ripping an elephant’s arm off. It is an elephant because elephants are meant to never forget things, so this helps you to remember the RIPS ARM mnemonic is about memory, and explains why we remember some things but not others.

      There are many different memory techniques which utilise the RIPS ARM characteristics, and which therefore enable us to commit large quantities of information to our long-term memory quickly and easily. In this blog entry , I am going to look at a technique to remember any list, and illustrate it with an example from the CFA Level 1 syllabus. In subsequent blog entries I will explore other techniques and show how they can be used within the CFA syllabus.

      Remember Any List – Gun to Hen / 1 to 10. A really simple technique for remembering any list uses the Association Effect to link the items in the list to an image that rhymes with the numbers 1 to 10. The images I always use for 1 to 10 are in the table below:

      When you have a list that you need to remember, you link the rhyming images to each item in the list., it helps if you can also find an imaginative way of remembering the title of the list in question. Here is an example:

      Remembering the 6 Purposes the Financial System. According to the CFA Level 1 Equity syllabus, the purposes of the financial system are to enable people to:

      1. Save for the future;

      2. Borrow for the present;

      3. Raise equity capital;

      4. Manage Risk;

      5. Exchange assets for immediate and future delivery;

      6. Trade on information

      To commit this list to your long-term memory, we need to try and structure the list in a way which will trigger a good proportion of the RIPS ARM characteristics of your memory. As such firstly imagine 6 Porpoises, each of which is a carrying a copy of the Wall Street Journal:

      These are the ‘6 Porpoises of the Financial System’.

      Thinking of the purposes of the financial system as 6 porpoises immediately creates in our mind an image that is more likely to stimulate our imagination (Imagination Effect) and which can now be associated (Association Effect) with the more abstract concept of the purposes of the financial system. This is the first step in making this list memory efficient.. The next step is to give the list an easy to remember structure, this is done by using the rhyming connections.

      As such, to create the link for the first item in the list (Save for the Future), imagine a porpoise standing in a goal as a goal keeper. Opposite the porpoise there is a gun (Think ‘Gun= 1 = The First Purpose’). Now imagine the gun fires a football at the goal and the porpoise leaps up to save the shot.. This image gives you the link to remember the first purpose of the financial system ’Save for the Future’

      For the second Purpose of the Financial System (Borrow for the Present), imagine a porpoise wearing a funky, multi-colored shoe (Think ‘Shoe = 2 = The Second Purpose’). The porpoise is digging down into the ground, in order to get to a present which is wrapped in a nice box. ‘Burrowing’ is another word for digging and sounds like ‘Borrowing’. Therefore this is the image gives you the link to remember the second purpose of the financial system ‘Borrow for the Present’:

      For the third purpose, (Raise Equity Capital), imagine a porpoise holding a tree in its mouth (Think ‘Tree = 3 = Third Purpose’). The porpoise is swimming upwards (Think ‘Rising = Raising’) and stuck in the branches of the tree is a horse drinking a cup of tea. (Think ‘Equine Tea = Equity’). Therefore this image gives you the link to the third purpose of the financial system ‘Raise Equity Capital’:

      For the fourth purpose, (Manage Risk), imagine a porpoise holding a door under its fin (Think ‘Door = 4 = Fourth Purpose’). The porpoise is chairing a meeting (Think ‘Managing)’), and at the same time is walking across a tightrope (Think ‘Tightrope = Risk’). Therefore this image gives you the link to remember the fourth purpose of the financial system ‘Manage Risk’:

      For the fifth purpose, (Exchange assets for immediate and future delivery), imagine two porpoises are swimming around an underwater beehive (Think ‘Hive = 5 = Fifth Purpose’). Each porpoise is holding a picture of a baby’s bottom (Think ‘Bottom = Ass = Asset’). One of the bottoms is very spotty (Think ‘Spots = Spot Price = Immediate Delivery’). The other bottom has a tattoo of some golf clubs on it. (Think ‘Golf Club = 4 Wood = Forward = Future Delivery’). The porpoises exchange the pictures. This gives you the image to remember the fifth purpose of the financial system ‘Exchange assets for immediate and future delivery’:

      For the sixth purpose, (Trade on Information), imagine a porpoise holding two walking sticks (Think ‘Sticks = 6 = Sixth Purpose;). The porpoise is at a market stall which is selling newspapers (Think ‘Trading Information’). This gives you the image to link to the sixth purpose of the financial system ‘Trade on Information’:

      The rhyming gun-shoe-tree connections provide an easy to remember, predictable structure to associate with content you need to remember. If you use you also allow your imagination to go crazy and come up with amusing, unusual and stimulating images which can be associated with the particular content you are trying to remember, then the combination of the rhyming structure and the imaginative content linked images creates a very ‘Memory Efficient’ series of images which you will be able to easily commit to your long term memory.

      To see if I am right, close your eyes and see if you can recall the 6 Purposes of the Financial System.

      I hope this is useful, in my next blog post I am going to look at how to use stories and images to remember more complex content.

    • hairyfairy
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      I can see how this concept works. But once we get to multiple CFA concepts and theories, is it possible to keep all these images in my head…? @ian

    • Ian
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      Hi hairyfairy,

      You make a really good point, the amount of material you need to be able to understand and be able to recall for the CFA exams is always going to be challenging no matter what method you use, after all there are circa 450 LOS’ for Level 1, and 450 images or more is still a lot to commit to ones memory.

      The thing is however that the brain is amazingly efficient at remembering images, much more efficient than it is at remembering abstract concepts, just think how often you have recognised a face, but are unable to remember the accompanying name. Our evolutionary past has equipped us with a highly developed ability to recall images.

      Therefore, whilst there is no getting away from the fact that there is a vast amount to remember in the CFA, it will be far easier to commit it to your memory if you are able to turn the content into relevant images rather than simply referring to the content in its written word form.

      Additionally, there are a number of techniques you can employ to structure the large amount of images that you would need to remember for the syllabus. In my next blog entry I am going to explore some of these techniques and in particular illustrate what a virtual structure (A Mind Palace) could look like for the CFA syllabus.

      By using techniques such as Mind Palaces, you can structure the images that you are trying to commit to memory, so you avoid becoming swamped by a massive volume of unstructured content.

      Kind Regards,

      Ian

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