Rote memorization techniques
March 25, 2010 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Rote memorization. How do you do it?

I have to memorize several dozen pieces of information for a major test I'm taking in June. So far my method has been brute force: quizzing myself on note cards I've made for myself.

This is all well and good but are there any tips out there that I should be aware of?

(I'm not interested in software or anything like that.)

posted by dfriedman to Work & Money (41 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Write write write write. Write it out. Over and over and over and over again. There's something about pen to paper that gets it in your head.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:05 PM on March 25, 2010 [12 favorites]

It was never a method I used, but several actor friends of mine, when learning their lines, physically copied them down on a sheet of paper. Perhaps write out the questions followed by the answers?
posted by Skot at 3:06 PM on March 25, 2010

Spaced Repitition
posted by phrontist at 3:06 PM on March 25, 2010 [4 favorites]

What Sassyfras said. Been ages since I did it but if I wrote something out a dozen times, I pretty much had it memorized by the end.
posted by special-k at 3:08 PM on March 25, 2010

Make the disparate information into a story or other sort of system. I am great at straight rote and chunking information is a big part of that.
posted by dame at 3:09 PM on March 25, 2010

For me: Mnemonics.
posted by Spurious at 3:10 PM on March 25, 2010

Carrying around flash cards and referring to them a number of times a day is what did it for me.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:14 PM on March 25, 2010

Flash cards. Flash cards. Flash cards.

Just the process of making the flash cards, writing them out by hand, helps burn it into your memory.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, mnemonics and stories.

I can still remember the insoluble sulphates from grade 11 chemistry:

Pubs can surely ban against high sabotages.

(Lead, calcium, strontium, barium, silver, mercury, and antimony.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:23 PM on March 25, 2010

Flash cards was always my method as well, though often, by the time I'd finished writing all the cards out, I'd have it memorized. So maybe writing was the key.
posted by SNWidget at 3:23 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Repetition, as everyone has pointed out, is key. But I think different people have different ways of processing sensory modalities. For me, hearing works better than seeing. And working on two senses at once is even better. You have to experiment to find what works best for you. And by the way, repetition is key.
posted by Jode at 3:33 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for writing things out. For some reason, remembering what something looks like is easier remembering than the thing itself.
posted by Eumachia L F at 3:34 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: It depends on how large the chunks of information that you're trying to memorize are, and whether they are at all related to one another. For instance, when I was memorizing long strings of information, verbal repetition worked much better than flash cards; I'd start off with memorizing the first sentence, then the next sentence, then both sentences together, then the paragraph, and so on.

Flash cards do the trick for me when I'm trying to memorize information that is linked to one overall concept, and I know how that concept is going to appear on the test. The overall concept goes on the front, sometimes accompanied by the number of sub-concepts that I need to memorize, then I try to name all the sub-concepts.

Knowing the how many separate pieces of information that I need remember and having a structure to how I memorize is also really useful to me. Like, if you have to memorize 20 words a day for the GRE, group them in sets of four or so, and then memorize each set rather than trying to memorize each word separately.
posted by _cave at 3:37 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dictaphone can be good, or maybe even ipod - record it and test yourself speaking it out loud.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:41 PM on March 25, 2010

If you're just bashing through with rote memorization and flashcards, you're wasting your time.

Try The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas to learn how to use the brain's natural proclivity toward imagery to memorize nearly endless amounts of arcane data.

Lorayne used to do stunts like shake hands with all the members of a Tonight Show audience and then be able to recite every person's name after the show.
posted by meadowlark lime at 3:49 PM on March 25, 2010

I memorized a whole semester's worth of physics formulas by writing them out over and over and over and over again.
posted by Decimask at 3:54 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Note that I was also able to write them all out at the start of the final--I doubt I would have been able to recall them otherwise.
posted by Decimask at 3:55 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

There appears to be a curve in which you can memorize lots of material by spacing out the intervals between self-testing and reviewing. As in, imagine memorizing a set of data and then waiting a day to review it. Then you might wait three days. Then you might wait a week. And so on. The "supermemo" system implements this technique and there's a writeup of how to use it without a computer here.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:02 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

(sorry to sound like an ad but) Make flashcard sets and drill them using various methods. My favorite is the Learn method: it shows you the term and prompts you to type in the definition (or vice versa if you choose), saving all the ones you get wrong so you can immediately go through just those again. And since it's online, you can access your sets from anywhere.
posted by randomname25 at 4:04 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whoops. Didn't read the part where you say you aren't interested in software.
posted by randomname25 at 4:06 PM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, regarding software, I'm hoping to stay away from it because I like the portability of flash cards that I can just throw in my bag...

Thanks for all the responses so far. They pretty much confirm that what I've been doing is the way to do it.
posted by dfriedman at 4:10 PM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: I agree with the mnemonics. I have heard people describe a visualization memory system, in which you think of a visual representation (CAlcium might become a CAt; potassium (K) is a Knee; the CAt sits on someone's Knee...).

That said, I learn differently. I still know all the capitals and populations of Latin and South America because I set the information to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and sang it under my breath until I (and my roommate) went insane. And passed the test, of course.
posted by quadrilaterals at 4:22 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I can make a song out of it, I'll remember it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:19 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The song thing definitely works, sometimes too well. I still have a string of (relatively) useless fourth-grade vocabulary words permanently committed to memory, in order, because I memorized them to the rhythm of the macarena. (Don't judge, I was nine.)
posted by sigmagalator at 5:35 PM on March 25, 2010

If I can make a song out of it, I'll remember it.

YES YES THIS. I will make up approximately eleventy million stupid little disco songs every day reminding myself to put the milk back in the fridge, put on my pants before leaving the house, call the office supply OFFICE SUPPLY! company about the incorrect toner shipment, don't forget to eat lunch, &c. I sing them to myself very, very quietly so as not to drive my coworkers insane.
posted by elizardbits at 5:55 PM on March 25, 2010

Nthing writing.

I remember flirting with cheating once or twice in a high school math class. I'd write out equations on little pieces of paper to use as cheat sheets during the exam. Somehow, that process alone did the trick, and I never had to actually look at the cheat sheets. "Holy crap!," I remember realizing, "I think I just studied!"
posted by thejoshu at 5:56 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Write it all down, but convert everything to little pictures. You can use stick figures, commonly-used symbols etc. The effort you put in making the symbols reinforces remembering things, as does the way you order them and combine several words into one pic or symbol.

Sounds very silly, but you should really try it. Works surprisingly well.
posted by meepmeow at 6:19 PM on March 25, 2010

You can write on your shower walls with a whiteboard marker (and on mirrors, for that matter). I used to put up a lot of vocabulary words for foreign languages, but it also works well for short poems, equations, etc.

Test a spot first to be sure it won't stain, and if you're still unsure, use lighter colors. Works well on tile and most "all in one" insert thingies.

Then you can stare at them while showering (blearily or otherwise). It's not good as your ONLY mode of study, but it's good reinforcement to other modes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:50 PM on March 25, 2010

Posters in the toilet and songs using the salient points. Even the time taken to make up the songs adds to the memorisation process.
posted by b33j at 6:59 PM on March 25, 2010

The memory palace. Time-proven.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:00 PM on March 25, 2010

There's some evidence that study right before going to sleep helps improve rate of retention. Sleep is thought to play a part in "locking in" memories. So try cramming your head full of facts and figures right before hitting the sack.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:40 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's an amazing free tool--it takes all the crappy parts out of memorizing stuff. My students rock 250 vocab words a week with it without difficulty and near 100% acquisition/retention (my vocab is always cumulative).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:46 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

And since you don't want to use the computer, Quizlet generates flash cards like a champ...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:53 PM on March 25, 2010

Write it, study it, step away. Repeat. Your brain literally needs time to build that connection. Brutal repetition is just forcing the lock, so to speak. Set a goal and achieve, don't just stuff it in your brain.
posted by GilloD at 9:48 PM on March 25, 2010

Nthing spaced repetition; otherwise you're going to be simultaneously wasting a ton of time and remembering way less, and not remembering for the long term.

You don't need software to do spaced repetition. There's instructions for doing it by hand on the SuperMemo website. You can just wrap the different flashcards for different days in separate rubberbands and stick a post-it with the next review date, or get a little notecard box with dividers, etc. Tons of ways to organize it, but putting in that little bit of effort to keep track of the days will save you so. much. time.
posted by Nattie at 10:04 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, regarding software, I'm hoping to stay away from it because I like the portability of flash cards that I can just throw in my bag...

I know. BUT. Spaced repetition really, really, really works. You REALLY need to look into it if you want to memorize some stuff because mnemonics and stories are just part of the puzzle, and you are really wasting time, as Nattie says, if you don't understand *when* you should be studying. I didn't realize how powerful this was until I started learning Kanji for Japanese, and boy, this idea is powerful. It freaking works. Don't just blow it off if you really want to remember some stuff.

Do you have an iPhone or iPod touch or Android phone, or can you afford to get one of these? Then there are apps you can use (that's just one example).
posted by dubitable at 10:10 PM on March 25, 2010

Repetition while walking has always done it for me.
posted by flabdablet at 1:38 AM on March 26, 2010

I was a finalist in the USA Memory Championships. If you have a lot of information to remember, you really want to use a mnemonic system rather than just rote repetition techniques. Some google keywords:

Memory Journeys
Memory Palace
Mnemonic Major System
Method of Loci

And see my post here for a description of how to do this for a specific topic:
posted by RobotNinja at 8:46 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Spaced repetition has been a godsend to me. I have always had a terrible memory and now I am remembering literally thousands of things with minimal daily effort.

Perhaps unfortunately for your question, automating it with software is a massive help. The good news is that it's incredibly efficient, so memorizing a few dozen things by June really should just take you a few minutes a day with it.
posted by dfan at 9:20 AM on March 26, 2010

Memorizing while walking (pacing back and forth if you're inside) seems to work for me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:28 AM on March 26, 2010

+n Spaced Repetition.

The simplest is the Leitner Box system, and it works with regular flash cards, especially if you can keep your cards separated.

Basically you have a series of index cards in boxes. You review Box #1 every day. If you know the answer, you put it in box #2. If you don't know the answer, you put it in a separate pile & keep reviewing until you do know it (but put them back into box #1 since you didn't get it right the first time).

You review Box #2 every other day. If you know the answer, put it in box #4, if not, back into box #1.

Every 4th day you review box #4, if you know it, put it in box #8, if not, back into box #1.

And so on and so forth. Basically doubling the repetition space each time you know it, and dropping it back to daily if you don't. This puts the stuff you know further & further out towards the edge of where you may forget it & keeps the stuff you don't know close at hand for constant repetition.

I used to do Leitner Box with a single stack of flash cards, and just used +/- for if I got it right the first time (+) or wrong the first time (-). Then I'd just review the cards with the appropriate number of +'s or -'s for whatever day it was. Or you can get a flash card holder with tabbed dividers, and it'll perform the same purpose as boxes.

There are other attempts to come up with better, more complicated, algorithms that basically you only want to do on a computer.

I've always found Supermemo (and I am a paid user) to be confusing, but it saved my butt in college, I was able to learn complicated topics by breaking them down & consistently reviewing my virtual flash cards.

Mnenosyne is the same algorithm (both have had tweaks, but they're close enough), with a much simpler interface.
posted by MesoFilter at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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