What makes the best test-takers so brilliant?
The strongest speakers? The fastest learners?
(Hint: They’re not necessarily smarter.)
They just remember everything!
In any subject, the common thread among the students who excel is the ability to memorize material quickly and accurately. They can answer questions faster. They don’t have to derive equations to figure out every basic idea on a test. Their ability to recall exactly what they planned to say makes them more confident speakers.
However, the good news is that memorization is not a talent – it’s a skill. And anybody can do it.
Throw out the computer
I wouldn’t recommend tossing your laptop out the window.
It is true, however, that the worst thing you can do when trying to memorize something is to read it over and over on a computer screen. As Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist and at Tufts University, puts it, “There is physicality in reading.”²
When you stare at a screen–where words float around and constantly change place on the page–there is nothing for your brain to hold onto other than the meaning of the words themselves. When you read off of paper, you subconsciously take into account where on the page you made a certain connection, which helps to recall that information later.
In addition, reading off a screen makes it harder to stay focused. According to a 2011 study, “when study time was self-regulated…worse performance was observed on screen than on paper.”¹
The fact is, while technology can be useful, it can never match the visual and tactile stimulation of real paper.
Instead of using the computer:
- Take lecture notes by hand
- Use colors to mark what you read
- If you are memorizing a speech, ALWAYS read it off of real paper
Start memorization techniques early
Memorization is NOT like other homework.
If you can write a paper the night before it’s due, fine. If you can do four hours of math at a time, you’re lucky. But when it comes to memorizing something, it is scientifically impossible to get the same benefits from one long session as from many short ones.²
Your brain effectively develops muscle memory, just like your fingers when you play the piano. Ever tried learning a piano piece in one night?
It isn’t going to happen.
In fact, this should be a big relief! If you do a little bit of memorization studying every night, you will not have to spend an overwhelming amount of time all at once. Things become easier to remember, and less of a hassle to learn.
Use the best resources
These are the best ways to memorize anything:
- Quizlet: An online flashcard resource/app (this is an okay way to use the computer).
- Post-its: Not actually for memorizing, but keep a list of random thoughts you have while studying, and go back to them later. This will allow you to stay focused on memorizing now.
- Parents, Friends, and Teachers: Have others quiz you on vocab, dates, speech lines, etc. It takes very little time, and they will be more than happy to help you study.
- Re-write: This is very quick! Just copy notes onto another sheet of paper. Physically writing the words again will help you to remember them.
- Flashcards: Old-fashioned, but tried and true. Again, it takes ten minutes to make a stack of notecards that can be used for weeks. It’s worth it.
- Your Voice: Last but not least, saying things out loud has the same effect as writing them down. It helps create muscle memory.
If you have any more questions about how to improve your memorization skills, feel free to ask in the comments below.
- Ackerman, R., and M. Goldsmith. “Metacognitive Regulation of Text Learning: On Screen Versus On Paper.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2011. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.
- Jabr, Ferris. “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens.” Scientific American. 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
- Zane. “The Science of Faster Memorization with Spaced Repetition.” Skill Cookbook. 18 Apr. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.