People like to joke that the only thing you really “learn” in school is how to memorize. As it turns out, that’s not even the case for most of us. If you go around the room and ask a handful of people how to memorize things quickly, most of them will probably tell you repetition.
That is so far from the truth, it’s running for office. If you want to memorize something quickly and thoroughly, repetition won’t cut it; however, recalling something will. The problem is that recalling something requires learning, and we all learn in different ways. Below are some universal steps to mastering the art of recalling so that you can start memorizing a ton of data in a short amount of time.
Before we start, you need to establish something: are you an auditory, visual, or experiential learner? If you’re an auditory learner, then the most effective way for you to grasp information is by hearing it. As you can imagine, visual learners favor seeing something in order to learn it, and experiential learning types are more akin to learning from events and experiences (or, doing something with the material). Most of us are a combination of at least two of these categories, but I will denote which step is most favorable to your most agreeable learning style so that you can start to memorize things quickly and efficiently.
Step 1: Preparation
To optimize your memorization session, pay close attention to which environment you choose. For most people, this means choosing an area with few distractions, though some people do thrive off of learning in public areas. Figure out what is most conducive to your learning so that you can get started.
Next, start drinking some tea. I could link you to mounds of scientific studies that confirm green tea as a natural catalyst for improving memory. Mechanically speaking, our ability to recall information comes down to the strength between neurons in our mind, which are connected by synapses. The more you exercise the synapse (repetition), the stronger it is, resulting in the ability to memorize.
As we get older, toxic chemicals will damage our neurons and synapses, leading to memory loss and even Alzheimer’s. Green tea contains compounds, however, that block this toxicity and keep your brain cells working properly a lot longer.
Step 2: Record What You’re Memorizing
This is especially useful if you’re trying to memorize information from a lecture. Use a tape recorder to track all of the acquired facts being spoken and listen to it. If you’re trying to memorize a speech, record yourself reading the speech aloud and listen to yourself speaking. Obviously, this is most helpful for auditory learners, but it’s also handy because it ensures that you’re getting more context from a lecture that will help you learn the information faster.
Step 3: Write Everything Down
Before you start trying to recall everything from memory, write and re-write the information. This will help you become more familiar with what you’re trying to memorize. Doing this while listening to your tape recorder can also help you retain a lot of the data. This is most useful for experiential learners.
Step 4: Section your notes.
Now that you have everything written down in one set of notes, separate them into sections. This is ideal for visual learners, especially if you use color coding to differentiate between subjects. This will help you break everything down and start compartmentalizing the information being recorded in your brain.
Step 5: Apply repetition to cumulative memorization
For each line of text, repeat it a few times and try to recall it without looking. As you memorize each set of text, be cumulative by adding the new information to what you’ve just learned. This will keep everything within your short-term memory from fading. Keep doing this until you have memorized that section and you are able to recall the entire thing. Do not move on to another section until you have memorized that one completely. This is mostly visual learning, but if you are speaking aloud, then you are also applying auditory.
Step 6: Write it down from memory
Now that you can recall entire sections, write everything down from memory. This will reinforce everything you just have just learned by applying it experientially.
Step 7: Teach it to someone (or yourself)
The most effective method for me when I was in school was to teach the information to someone else. You can do this in a variety of ways. You can lecture the knowledge to someone sitting right in front of you (or the mirror, if you can’t convince anyone to sit through it) and explain everything extemporaneously. If what you’ve learned needs to be recited verbatim, then do this in front of someone as well in order to get a feel for what it will be like to recite the text to the intended audience.
My favorite method for this is creating tests for other people. Take the information and predict what questions will come out of them. Use multiple choice, matching and so on to present the data in test format, and see how someone else does. All of this is experiential learning, since you are actually practicing and manipulating the concepts you’ve learned.
Step 8: Listen to the recordings continuously
While doing unrelated tasks like laundry or driving, go over the information again by listening to your tape recordings. This is certainly auditory learning, but it will still supplement everything you’ve shoved into your short-term memory.
Step 9: Take a break
Finally, let your mind breathe. Go for a short time without thinking about what you just learned and come back to it later on. You’ll find out what you really know, of course, and this will help you focus on the sections you might be weakest at.