Following these tips and techniques may help you to memorize far more than you ever believed you could
This article is part two of a two-part series. To read the first part click here.
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.
We take in information through the senses, but in order to store that information in the brain it has to be encoded. When scientists talk about encoding they usually refer to the ways in which the information is brought in – i.e. which senses were involved. We can take in information visually, acoustically, through senses of smell, taste and touch, and through cognitive function – feelings and meanings (semantically).
For example, to memorize a list of the most dangerous animals, you could read the list of names of the animals and remember what those words looked like on the page. You could also read the names aloud, or have someone read them to you (acoustic). You could further think about what the animals look like and sound like. You could use semantic methods of encoding by thinking about what the animals look like or how they move, or how they are similar to each other. You could also think about how each animal might make you feel if you encountered them.
Our brains were designed to take in information through many different means at the same time. The more methods of encoding you use the easier it will be to memorize, and the easier it will be to recall later.
Most memory experts make a distinction between short-term memory and long-term memory. Most people have the ability to store a small amount of information in their memory briefly. For example, looking up a phone number you can probably keep it in mind long enough to dial the number. Soon, however, the number will be forgotten as you move on to other things.
The goal of memorization is to store a small amount of information into short-term memory and then transfer it over to long-term memory. There are many ways to do this. Simple rote repetition is the most common. If there is a phone number you use frequently it will eventually become part of your long-term memory. You can memorize great amounts of information, a little bit at a time, through rote repetition. It is a very effective method.
Another valuable way to memorize is through a process called elaboration. This involves thinking deeply about the subject and elaborating on the information. Draw connections between what you are storing and other familiar subjects. For example, if you were learning that the box jelly fish is one of the most deadly animals in the world you might spend some time thinking about what else you know about jellyfishes.
It is easiest to recall a memorized piece of data with the same mode as it was encoded and stored. If, for example, you memorized the Gettysburg Address by reading it and saying it over and over in your mind you will probably be able to recall the text in your mind, but have a hard time reciting it out loud.
The more ways you encode and store information the easier it will be to retrieve it. You will have many more queues for retrieval and will be able to bring out a fully fleshed out set of information. When memorizing text from a book, for example, you will do best to memorize the appearance of the words as well as the shape of the text on the page (i.e. where paragraphs begin and end, etc.). Also, practice reading the information out loud and think about the information as you go. Think about what it means. What is the main point being made in the text? What is the historical context? Where else have similar statements or points been made?
Techniques/tips for improving memory storage for easier retrieval
When memorizing text, vary the way you recite it in practice. Say it quickly, and then try it slowly, carefully annunciating every word and phrase. Speak in a monotone voice sometimes and other times use a highly inflected (dramatized) voice.
Mnemonics – Mind tools for memory
There are a lot of basic techniques that can be used for memorizing difficult material. For many people, memorizing a list can be difficult, particularly when the order of the items in the list is important. Some common tools for remembering lists are:
- Acronyms – Come up with a word where each letter of the word represents an item of the list. The acronym doesn’t necessarily have to be a real word as long as it is something you can remember.
- Sentences – Similar to an acronym, make up a sentence where each word in the sentence starts with the letter of an item in the list. This is particularly helpful where the order is important. For example, in science you might’ve learned the sentence “King Philip Came Over From Greece Saturday” as a mnemonic device to learn the list of categories of life systems – Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.
- Rhymes – This is a rhyming sentence that explains a rule of information, such as “30 days hath September, April, June and November…” to remember which months have how many days.
- Chunking information – also called paragraphing, a list can be placed into chunks or groups to reduce the number of information pieces you need to remember. This is how people who memorize long series of numbers usually approach the challenge. For example, people who memorize PI to the 100th decimal don’t memorize 100 individual numbers. They may memorize 20 different sets of five numbers.
- Patterns – Often when memorizing lists of information you can detect patterns in the way the words appear or sound when recited in the correct order. This patter will not only help you recall the information, but recall it in the right order. Numeric patterns (such as number of items in the list or increasing length of words) and alphabetic patterns are also helpful. You may notice the words are all in alphabetic order, or you may notice that certain words in the list are not in alphabetic order.
Visualization is a method of picturing what is being described to aid in memory. This is really just maximizing the visual mode of encoding, and combining with semantic methods where appropriate. This tips should help you to find ways to use visualization to your advantage:
- Picture what is being described. Or, if nothing is being describe, try to picture the context of the situation. Imagine President Lincoln standing at the podium at Gettysburg delivering his famous address.
- Use positive images, not negative ones. The brain sometimes blocks out negative images.
- Think in bright colors, not black and white. Bright, vivid colors make more of an impression.
- Use all of your senses to create a complete visual imprint – smells, tastes, sight, hearing and touch. It has been noted that the sense of smell seems to be the most powerfully connected of our senses to our memory. How many times have we been struck by a certain aroma and suddenly our mind is flooded with memories as we are transported back to an experience we had years before. If you can associate a powerful smell, or other sense, with what you are memorizing you will be greatly aided in your recall.
- Include movements and feelings in the image. Our brains were designed to notice variations such as motion, patterns and feelings.
- Symbols are very effective for summarizing complex ideas in simple ways. Most people know at a glance what is meant by a red light, a smiley face or a cross.
- Use exaggerated images with emphasis on the most important points
- Use humor in your imagery. A funny joke will often stick in our minds. So will funny images!
Don’t let all of these tips overwhelm you. You do not need to employ every one of them, and some of them may never make sense for you to use them. The point is to use whatever methods will be most helpful in any given circumstance.
Some of the techniques might sound clunky or methodical to be useful when recalling information. Don’t worry. When you are engaged in retrieval of memorized information the use of a particular method will usually become so seamless as to go unnoticed by your conscious brain. Your mind is capable of handling a number of different thoughts all at the same time that work together to produce the desired memory retrieval.
If you have other tips or suggestions that have enabled you to memorize more effectively please feel free to include them in the comments, below.