The black dog with speckled feet is 80 pounds of lean muscle, but when a cat struts by, he cowers in fear.
Read that sentence once, look away and try to remember it word for word. Maybe you can or maybe you'll miss a few words. There is a good chance that if you revisit this task tomorrow morning, most of it will be a long forgotten memory.
Unless you have a black, speckled muscular dog who is afraid of cats.
Or a big dog of any kind.
Or a cat.
Because retention of information comes easiest to when the new information is closely linked to information you already have in your head somewhere, and the more recent, the better. In fact, learning is sometimes described as altering information already stored in your brain, according to this article on memory and forgetting, which also links forgetfulness to sensory overload. I like the premise of this article because it suggests we forget more as we age past 30, not because our minds are failing (yet), but because we have more going on, more responsibility, more multi-tasking to conquer and a finite amount of memory space to manage it all.
Here is a good short term memory test from Psychologist World. It is followed by some explanations and further reading on memory as well as some retention exercises. I scored 8-12, which is average. How about you?
Here is a great list of retention strategies that help students make deeper meaning out of lessons and subsequently retain information in a more authentic way. The important factor in many of these activities is that the mind and body are moving at once, which crosses the information between brain hemispheres and thus ingrains it with meaning and purpose.