Learn How to Memorize Quickly and Accurately with These Principles

There are many benefits to acquiring or developing your memorization skills. The ability to remember information and recall it later has application to every aspect of our lives. We could not function as human beings without our memories. It is an essential life skill. We’ve all experienced the phenomena of not being able to recall some piece of information, whether it’s a person’s name, a phone number, the date of the next PTA meeting or trying to recite the Gettysburg address. “Older” folks have come up with a name for this type of incident – a “senior moment” they call it. However, it is a common occurrence among younger people, too.

Contrary to popular beliefs, everyone can memorize. And while it may be true that the aging process does cause changes in our brains that make memorization more difficult, the reality is that most memorization impairment in more mature adults is through lack of practice. As with muscles so it is true with memory – “Use it or lose it” is axiomatic.

Because memorization is a skill some people are naturally more gifted than others in their ability to memorize. A small number of individuals possess the ability (known as eidetic memory or photographic memory) to remember and recall with highly detailed accuracy most of their daily experiences and impressions. However, being a skill, memorization can also be learned and developed. In fact, through practice and utilizing the tips and techniques in the rest of this article you should be able to dramatically improve your ability to memorize all kinds of information.

Most people are already much better than they think in this area. There is a lot of information that is stored in our brains that we are quite good and recalling at a moment’s notice. Consider these types of information as examples:

  • The scores from last week’s games (or last month’s, or last year’s…)
  • Lots of phone numbers, street addresses, email addresses, passwords, pins, web addresses, etc.
  • How to tie your shoes
  • How to get home from many different locations
  • Birthdates, Anniversaries and other important dates.
  • You may even still be able to recall your high school locker combinations or your first license plate number.

 Creating an Environment that is Conducive for Memorization

Studies have shown that your overall health and well-being have a significant impact on your ability to learn and remember new information. Things like a balanced diet, adequate sleep, being fully hydrated and getting exercise all contribute to your brain’s function.

The immediate environment around you can impact your ability to memorize as well. The best environment is one that is quiet with few distractions. This is why college students often spend time in the library to study, even if they don’t need to look up any books. Libraries provide an ideal place to study and retain information – quiet, good lighting, few distractions, plus surroundings that create in the mind an expectation of learning. You may not want to go to the library, but if you can find a good location and try to do all or most of your memory work in that same place it will help get your mind prepared for the task at hand just by stepping into the room.

On the flip-side, trying to memorize in an environment with lots of distractions will make it much harder to commit information to memory, but could possibly make it easier in the long run to recall certain kinds of information. One technique you may want to try is to do the initial memorization in a quiet environment, but then practice in a variety of less and more distracting surroundings.

How the Brain Memorizes

The first step in remembering anything is called “attention and selection”. We spend most of our time in an atmosphere where we are being bombarded with way more sensory information that we can take in and process. So, memorization begins with paying attention to certain information, to the exclusion of other “noise”. Our minds make a selection of what to pay attention to and what to ignore. This is somewhat conscious and somewhat at the subconscious level, which is why removing distractions is so helpful – it ensures the brain will select and pay attention to what we want to memorize.

When we speak of memorization we really mean the combination of three processes: Encoding, storage and retrieval. In other words information has to be translated into forms the brain can store, and then the information has to be committed to memory. But if you cannot recall what you’ve memorized, you haven’t really memorized at all; thus retrieval is the third essential component of memorization.

Rote Memorization

Rote memorization is the most basic form, and one of the most common, particularly by beginners. Many types of information can be effectively committed to memory through the rote method.

The word “rote”, as it is applied to memorization, means mechanical or repetitious. The process involves simply repeating the thing to be memorized over and over until it is committed to memory. What is actually happening is really a multi-step effort. You take in a small amount of information and store it in your short-term memory. This is like a temporary storage space in your brain. You can only fit a small amount in it at one time, and only for a short amount of time. To successfully memorize something it must be stored in the long-term memory space. Essentially, rote is a method for transferring information from short-term to long-term memory.

Think of a single sentence, such as “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation…”. This is the first half of the first sentence of the Gettysburg address. Using a rote method to memorize the first sentence you would follow these or similar steps.

  1. Select the first half of the sentence, as above, and read it on the paper or screen several times.
  2. Each time you read it, deliberately think about each word used.
  3. After saying it a few times while reading it, try to say it in your mind without looking at the words.
  4. Once you’ve done this you have committed it to short term memory.
  5. Repeat it a few more times from memory to reinforce it. You may want to check against the writing once in a while to make sure you are not memorizing it incorrectly.
  6. As you practice saying the words in your mind, allow more and more time to pass between attempts.
  7. As you feel your grasp of the sentence grow, start doing other things, or thinking about other things for a few moments. Then see if you can still say it without error.
  8. Continue with this process until you can go several minutes without thinking about the sentence, and then can recall it accurately.
  9. Now you are ready to tackle the second half of the sentence. Follow steps 1-8 with the second portion, but every so often say both the first and second halves together so you don’t forget what you’ve already learned.
  10. Once the first sentence is mastered, you may want to attempt the next sentence. Or you can just stick with what you’ve accomplished so far and continue to reinforce it throughout the day.
  11. The big test will be the next morning. Can you still recite what you learned after a night of sleep, without error?
  12. Spend a little bit of time each day reinforcing what you’ve learned while trying to add another sentence or more to memory.
  13. Eventually you will have the whole text memorized; it’s not very long. You may need to practice it daily for a while, but after some time you will be able to go longer and longer without even thinking about it and still recall it perfectly from memory!

 This is part one of a two part article. For information on various tips and techniques that will aid in memorization, go on to the next article.