Remember the last time you went to the airport for a short trip and parked in the garage? Long-term parking, north garage, second floor, between columns G8 and G9. You can remember that. It’s important, easy to remember, and you’ll be back in less than three days. But you forgot anyway!

We tend to assume that our brains remember like computers, able to retrieve a file when necessary, but neurobiologists know that we have context-sensitive memories instead.

We remember because we associate one smell that reminds of another experience that reminds us of an old friend which reminds us that we need to call tonight and see if we can switch to a less-expensive phone plan.

It’s remarkable how well we remember knowledge that is tied to a story; it’s remarkable how quickly we forget knowledge that isn’t tied to a story; and it’s remarkable that we forget how quickly we forget knowledge that isn’t tied to a story. 

What can you do about it? First, when possible seek out study materials that (sometimes) share knowledge in the form of a story—a narrative about a building foundation that exceeded the building’s total construction budget, a contract that went bad because of an implied warranty to meet LEED certification, or a tragic death from electrocution because of a circuit short.

Second, you can study intensively for a shorter time and take all of your exams together and as soon as possible after studying so that you don’t lose too much knowledge in leakage while you are waiting to find time to study more.

Then, if you fail a division, reschedule it for the most immediate date available.

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