Ways to Memorize Things
There are four basic techniques to memorize things that I know about. They are both good for different purposes, so you should try to learn each.
The “Locus” Ways to Memorize Things
The first method is called the “locus” method of memorization, and it’s really good for sequential lists. The basic idea of the locus method is that it plays off of your mind’s ability to remember real-life images more easily than words or bits of knowledge, so tying what you need to memorize to these physical objects really helps you remember them, and especially what order they come in.
The basic methodology is to think about a car trip that you’ve taken about a million times before; one in which you know the area or the route so well that you could conceivably drive it in your sleep. Visualize yourself driving down the road, and think about the landmarks that you always see. You might remember a stop sign, for instance, followed by a mailbox, and then a school on the left hand side, a parked car that always seems to be there, and so forth. People walking down the street might not be a good landmark since they always move around, and they’re not always in the same place. Once you have this set of landmarks in sequential order, start tying them to the steps in whatever list you have. The first item on the list should be tied to the first landmark you pass, the second should be tied to the second landmark. Make sure you have enough landmarks to get through every item on your list.
Once you’ve done that, imagine some connection between the event and the landmark. It can, and probably should be kind of absurd, since that will help you tie the information together better. For example, using the information I used above, I might remember the following connections between landmarks and things if I were trying to recall the order of events in the discovery of America.
– The stop sign might remind me of the queen of Spain allowing Christopher Columbus to sail across the ocean by imagining an ocean of water running down the street, and a queen holding onto the stop sign in order to not be swept away by the tide.
– The mailbox might remind me of Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean, because I can imagine Christopher Columbus, in full 15th century wardrobe, mailing a letter to 1492 Nina Pinta Street, Santa Maria California. (and if I’m real good, I now have also remembered all three of his ship’s names, and what year he landed in the West Indies)
– The school on the left side of the road could remind me of the founding of Plymouth Rock if I imagine a school play about the founding of such an event, or if I can imagine words on their billboard outside that tell me about the event, or if I can imagine the school being constructed in what I imagine the Plymouth Rock settlement to have looked like.
– The parked car might remind me of some of the pilgrims colonizing other settlements, because I can imagine them packing the car with belongings in preparation for their journey. Once I’ve practiced this, I can add extra information to the image by fabricating a license plate or some bumper stickers that say things like “Off to Jamestown” or something similar.
Will you feel a little silly doing this? Absolutely, but it does work, particularly for those who have vivid imaginations or are visual learners.
Personally, I find the locus method to be a little difficult to use for remembering things long-term, so I tend not to use it all that often, however, when studying for a test, I used to use it all the time, particularly if it was a subject that didn’t interest me one way or another. However, if this is really important information, or something like a piece of dialog you need to memorize for a play or performance, then you might consider using a different method.
The Musical Ways to Remember Things
The second trick is to put information to song. This is a very phenomenal way to remember small bits of information or formulas, because we have an incredible amount of knowledge about music stored away in our brains. If I were to ask you to recall lyrics to any of your favorite songs, you’d pause for a moment, and then be able to start up from almost any point in the song and recite the lyric word for word. There are some fantastic examples of this kind of information available on Youtube, and many songs already made up and ready for your use. When I tutored a student in math, and he needed to remember a complex formula like the Quadratic Formula, I typed it into Youtube and found literally hundreds of options for catchy tunes like this, this and this. Should you not find anything pre-made for you, don’t despair, you can put the information to any song you’d like, and you don’t need to perform or record it to have memorized it if you use a simple folk song like “Three Blind Mice” or “Yankee Doodle”.
The Relative Information Way to Memorize Things
The third trick is good for information that simply needs to be remembered without having to be in any order. First, list the words or bits of information in any order you’d like, and then imagine a relationship between the two things like you did for the locus method I described above. Again, silly and absurd things tend to work really well. If you need to remember a list of foods for instance, you might imagine one kind of food eating the other. You could start with a cucumber, and then imagine a sausage walking by, picking up the cucumber and stuffing it in it’s mouth. Then, a moment later, an onion walks by and eats the sausage (remember, weird tends to work really well, and the more vivid and wild your imagination can get, the better off you’ll be in remembering this kind of information).
To this day, this method is probably my number one favorite. I can remember things that I memorized from my childhood using this method that I haven’t used in years. For example, I haven’t taken a martial arts lesson in over 10 years, but I still remember when I had to memorize pattern names and meanings, and I know that my last pattern was called “Joong Gun” and had 32 moves, and had something to do with Confucianism. The image in my head is a little Chinese man sitting in his house watching TV (tuned to channel 32), and chewing gum (which is close to the pronunciation of the pattern name “Joong Gun”).
The Anagram Ways to Memorize Things
The fourth method, and one of the weaker ones, is to remember things in an anagram. Something such as “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” or simply “PEMDAS” helps students to remember the order of operations in math class (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Subtraction). There are a few others that are fairly commonplace, including “My Very Elderly Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” which is for the order of the planets, although the “Nine Pizzas” part has been reduced to “Nachos” thanks to Pluto’s demotion. Creating this kind of list has been helpful to me from time to time, but I can specifically remember a whole lot of these little catchy anagrams that I simply cannot relate to any information. For instance, I know that “All the Animals in Macedonia Really Don’t Like Apples” which I came up with in college for one test, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to be recalling thanks to that. I can remember using “Candy and Popcorn Make Us Real Skinny Boys” for a psychology class, but again, what it is I was supposed to have remembered don’t come immediately to mind. Therefore, I tend to think that this method is very overutilized, and should be used only if you’ve already got a very powerful memory anyways.
The Rote Repetition Way to Memorize Things
Say what you will about this methodology, it works. The idea is simply to find a way to do something over and over again, and with concentration and the help of a little muscle memory, you can memorize almost anything. This method is also useful for memorizing lines and short paragraphs, although for longer monologues, it probably isn’t ideal.
This method is very good for learning vocabulary, spelling, and anything that’s related to language in general. For single vocabulary words, writing the complete list time and again is a good way to do it, but it is probably better for you to break the list into groups of four or five words, and write them down one at a time, and then repeat three times. Use a pen and paper rather than a computer for the writing. As you write, create a visual image in your mind and repeat the definition or the meaning of each word in your mind as you go (remember, visual images are the most powerful and easiest to recall). Once you’ve got these four or five words down pat, move on to the next group.
It may be boring, but this is a good method of memorization, and has the advantage of teaching you definitions in all three of your basic learning styles at once if you follow my instruction. Your kinesthetic sense will be stimulated by the act of writing, your visual sense will find solace in the mental images you create, and if you sound out the words as you write, or repeat a brief summary of meaning or definition, then you’re engaging your auditory sense as well.
As you can see, there are a variety of different ways to memorize things, but the one thing that most matters is that you select a method of memorization that works for the types of information you plan on memorizing. For lists, you want to use a different method of memorization than you would use for chronological information, and for memorizing lines.
No matter what you’re doing though, there are similarities in every method. First and foremost, it helps to add an element of visualization to your practice. That is a common theme in all kinds of memorization, and because it’s completely in your mind, many people simply forget about it completely, and that is a huge mistake. Regardless of how strong your visual element is, or whether it even shows up on your scale in terms of what kind of learner you are, all humans have the ability to recall visual elements, real or imaginary. If you treat information like information instead of giving it life and energy, then you’ll have a lot of problems trying to get interested in it and keeping it alive and active in your mind.
The second element to memorization, and one that is often lost of teenagers and college students alike, is that sleep is important. During sleep, your brain “catches up” with what you’ve done during the day, filing information away and making sense of what you learned, and helping you prepare for the following day. Without enough sleep, you cannot hope to remember anything, no matter how long you work on memorizing things the day previous.
So choose wisely, and practice whatever you do. Even if some of these methodologies seem strange, they do work, and have been backed up by a lot of scientific research. These different ways to memorize things are all real, and they all work.