In college, I memorized 7 chapters of my psychology textbook — over 23,000 words. Yes, I could actually recite the entire 7 chapters to anyone willing to listen.
Why did I do this? My professor had challenged me with two statements on the first day of class: 1) No student had ever aced his introductory exam; and 2) all the answers could be found in the first 7 chapters of the textbook.
Determined to be the first student to ace his test, I memorized all 7 chapters.
If you’re looking for a way to increase the capacity of your memory or pass a test, you don’t need to memorize 23,000 words. But the technique I used to memorize those chapters can be used to memorize anything. Below is the simpler version of my system, developed to help my pupils pass history, psychology, and other information-heavy tests.
- First, use a pencil or word processor (I prefer the latter because it’s faster) to type, in complete sentences, any fact you think might appear on the test. Use short sentences because they’re easier to remember.
- Take your printed notes into a quiet room, shut the door, and eliminate all distractions.
- Look at the first sentence in your notes and read it out loud. Then, close your eyes and say the sentence without looking at it.
- Repeat the step above, this time with the first 2 sentences.
- Next, try it with 3 sentences. Then 4. Repeat until you have memorized every sentence in your notes.
After a study session, take a quick nap. New memories are very vulnerable, but studies have shown that sleep helps your new memories stick. After your nap, repeat the memory technique once more for maximum retention.
I eventually became so good at this technique that I could complete all my studying for any information heavy mid-term or final exam in less than 6 hours. Yes, I realize this sounds like a lot of time, but it’s not much time at all – because this technique works from a cold start, even if you haven’t cracked the book all semester.
I’m not saying you should ignore your classes until the last minute (please don’t — I rarely studied at the last minute myself), but it’s good to know there is a way to save yourself if you do.
This technique worked remarkably well; I graduated first in my class (with this being one tool in my toolbelt — not the entire belt).
If your academic goals are more modest than mine, you can get by with less studying and fewer notes. Take breaks whenever fatigue sets in. Eat a snack. Have a glass of water. It helps.
Does it Really Work?
My memory technique isn’t the newest, the prettiest, or the most interesting technique on the market. But it has worked for me, my students, and even my wife, who claims to have the “worst memory in the world.”
Let’s be clear: Memorizing 23,000 words takes a long time, which is one reason why a pure stacking mechanism (as described above) can be greatly improved upon when you’re dealing with numbers that big. But remember, this technique is optimized to help you memorize 5 or 6 pages worth of notes, not 7 entire chapters.
My best advice is to try it for yourself.
When it comes to memorization, it’s important to find a strategy that works for you, whether it’s mine, someone else’s, or your own. What I like about my technique is its simplicity and the quickness with which you can test it on yourself.
By the way, I did become the first person to ever score a 100% on my professor’s introductory exam, just in case you were wondering.