There is a quiet secret about studying that most teachers will never tell you. Most subjects become easy when you’re using effective memorization strategies.
It can feel like you’re learning the information so easily that you’re almost cheating.
Sure, you’re not literally cheating but it can require a tenth of the time investment compared to the usual strategies to memorize the same information.
I consider memory strategies “dirty” tricks. They’re wonderful in the sense that they’re super effective. They’re dirty tricks because they often do end up leaving the “spirit of the information” behind. By the spirit of the information, I mean the deeper concepts that come from really beating down on a subject.
Using memory strategies lets you spend so little time on information that you may end up missing deeper uses of the information. That being said, schools don’t often test you on deeper understandings of the concepts you study.
So, if you’re looking for some memory strategies to decrease your memorization time then here are some of the best:
Anyone remember ROY G. BIV to describe the color spectrum. The R represents Red. The O represents Orange. And so on…
If you’re not familiar with mnemonics in some context then I imagine you must have had a nice snug rock to live under for most of your life. It’s one of the most commonly described memory tricks.
It’s described so often because it is ridiculously effective. By taking bits of the information you need to remember and combining them into a single, easy to remember form, you can dramatically increase your recall.
Despite the wide understanding of mnemonics, many people still don’t use it for a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons is the time investment required. To create a good mnemonic takes time. That’s time most students would just rather be studying. When you don’t have much experience with mnemonics, it can seem like a bad time waster. It’s not. Get experience with it. With a little practice, you’ll create effective mnemonics within minutes and remember information for years.
Another reason some people don’t use mnemonics is the complexity of the information. Some information doesn’t transfer well to mnemonics. That’s completely true but most information can transfer to mnemonics if you get creative. I can’t list the ways in this article (there are too many types of information and too many creative tricks.) Before assuming mnemonics are impossible for your information, spend a few minutes trying to prove yourself wrong.
Learning to use mnemonics effectively is one of the easiest ways to improve your memory.
2. Loci Method
The Loci Method is a strategy often used by the best “memoried” people in the world. It’s the process of connecting the information you know to locational information that you’re familiar with. For example, you may imagine walking in your front door and seeing some ridiculous illustration of the information you need to remember first. Then you go into the next room in the house and see the next ridiculous illustration of the next thing you need to remember.
These ridiculous illustrations can be as simple as imagining the words spinning around the room but there are more effective illustrations. For a more powerful illustration you might walk into the first room and see Abraham Lincoln kicking a goal 4 times and hear a Spanish announcer screaming “GOOOOAL!” That can give you all you need to remember “Four score,” Maybe you’ll walking into the next room and see a younger Abe Lincoln looking scrawny kicking a ball around saying, “In 7 years I’m gonna be good.” That will help you remember, “Four score and seven years ago…”
There are better illustrations that can be done too. Those are just some quick examples.
The theory backing this strategy up is solid. Humans aren’t designed to remember random information but they are amazingly gifted at remembering landmarks. By connecting what you need to remember to a common landmark, you make it significantly easier to remember.
This is a very powerful memory strategy but just because memory pros use it, it doesn’t mean it should be your first choice. There are many memory strategies that are significantly more efficient for the average student. The loci method is highly effective but it requires a significant amount of time to get really good at using it. Make sure you’re prepared for that if you decide to use it.
3. Internal Connections
The following has no proof of being true but it helps describe one of the more powerful memory tricks. Everything you see, read, hear, and experience is in your brain somewhere. Remembering something is just the process of trying to locate that memory in your brain. Considering how much random crap you have in there, random information can be difficult to find.
Imagine it’s kind of like Wikipedia. If you click on World War 1 you’ll be offered a hundred more links to Trench Warfare, Franz Ferdinand, and so on. If you click on one of those links you’ll end up on those pages tons more links to different pages. Your brain works like that.
How can you make any page easier to find? Just add more links directing to it.
Perhaps you’re trying to think of that Archduke From Austria that was a big deal in WW1. Then you might think, “wasn’t he that guy named after (yeah… that’s a joke) that 2000’s band… Yea… Franz Ferdinand.” That link from that band led you straight to the Archduke.
That was a rather simple link but by consciously connecting everything you’re learning to something you already know, you can have more ways to find the information that you need. Memory strategies should almost always focus on finding good ways to do this.
4. Do It
This is a difficult strategy to use in most of school. Most of school isn’t physical but when you need to remember something physical, your memory is tons more powerful. Remember the old phrase, it’s just like riding a bike? That describes physical memory well. To learn to ride a bike takes time but once you learn it, you can climb on a bike 2 decades later and be perfectly comfortable in no time at all. That’s because your physical memory is so powerful. (It makes evolutionary sense.)
Given the choice about reading something or doing it. Almost always pick doing it. By participating in a physical activity you’re connecting your brain and your body into the memorization process. Of all memory strategies, this is one of the most useful in life but one of the least useful memorization strategies for school.
Sure, most things for school can’t be done this way. (Perhaps with sign language but that’s kind of pushing it.) That’s why you need to appreciate the opportunities when you find them.
5. Repetition And Rhythm
I heard it on TV all the time growing up. If you need to remember something then sing a song about it. It’s significantly easier to remember songs than random information. That’s true. I did personal experiments with memory strategies including this one that proved it but it wasn’t all that effective until I added a good amount of repetition into the process.
By making a song and singing it until your ears bleed, you can remember just about anything. (Personally, I like to add crude lines to improve the stickiness of the information.)
Repetition of information helps. If you just keep repeating something in your head (or better yet, out loud,) then your brain willingly or unwillingly locks that information into your memory.
6. Sensory Overload Memory Strategies
Whenever you’re trying to memorize something, try to use every sense that you have. This strategy can be used alone or with any of the other information. By introducing the information through different senses of your body, you have more than one way to remember the information.
So when you’re memorizing something, say it out loud, sign it if you know how, write the information on paper, add smell into the process if you’re really creative and crazy. The more senses you’re able to include in your memory strategies, the more likely you’ll remember the information you need to remember.
Using simple memory strategies like these you can remember the information you need to remember faster. The faster you remember the information you need to remember, the more time you have to learn the information that is actually important to understand. (Or the more time you have to slack off and do nothing.) That’s the double-edged sword of these memory strategies. They’re powerful but can be used to your long term benefit or your long term detriment.
Since writing this article we’ve written a more advanced version. You want to read How To Remember Anything
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