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Memorize anything: Five killer memory strategies

Memorize anything: Five killer memory strategies
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Memorize anything? Yes, you can. And it's not to late to learn how...even if you have a giant test tomorrow and, suddenly, you're supposed to memorize the information on an inch-think stack of notecards and you’re sure you’ll never remember all of it. Or any of it.

Name badge spoof "Hello my name is Stress" 60second Recap® iQoncept/Shutterstock

That's Mr. Stress to you.

Forget the fear, here's the fact: Memorization is only hard when you’re using the wrong memorization technique. Learning how to memorize, and memorize well, is as easy as figuring out how your mind works. And once you do, you can kick that test stress to the curb.

To start, try out these five proven memorization techniques. Mix and match them. Then tell us your faves. Better yet, share your own memory tricks. We’d love to know how you’re planning to rock your exams.

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Don’t type it. Don’t text it. And don’t try taking any shortcuts. Take the info you need to learn and write it down word for word—by hand. Sure, you may have already written it down once—when you were taking notes in class. But trust us: You’ll want to do it again.

Elaborate doodle on white-lined notepaper: "I love music." blue67design/Shutterstock

Yeah, not quite what we have in mind. 

Studies have shown that committing words to paper while studying, with that old-fashioned device known as a pen, really does improve your recall. We won’t bore you with all the neuropsychology, but here’s the short reason why:

When you write stuff down, you’re creating a link between the spatial and verbal parts of your brain. What that means for you: better recall on tests. In other words: better grades, with less stress.


"A" is for "apple," mnemonic device Lorelyn Medina/Shutterstock

Now you'll never forget that "a" is for "apple." Are we amazing or what?

For us at least, creating a mnemonic device is definitely one of the best ways to memorize anything—especially facts that have a very specific order. If you've ever remembered the order of the planets by reciting, "My Very Educated Mother..." you already know how effective this approach can be.

All you need to do to create a mnemonic device is take the first letters of the words you want to memorize and turn them into an acronym. Or, associate the letters with more familiar words, and turn those words into a poem, or a memorable phrase.

No, this memorization technique won’t help you memorize a soliloquy from Hamlet. But relationships between scientific terms, or the order of the Presidents? Absolutely.

One tip: Just don’t make your mnemonic device too long, or too complicated. And if you can relate it to something in your life, or something humorous, even better.


torn notes and doodle about workings of the human brain Stressbusters Memorize anything 50second Recap® Bukhavets Mikhail/Shutterstock

This technique draws (ha!) some of its efficacy from the way it borrows from memorization technique #1: Once again, you’re writing something down. In this case, though, you’re using images to help you cement facts in your memory.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to remember types of brainwaves, from highest frequency to lowest frequency. Why not draw a picture of the brain with four waves pulsing from it (all on the same side). Then label those waves in descending order: Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta.

Your ideas will probably be a lot more creative than ours. But here's the point: Come test time, you’ll recall not just the drawing, but the information, too. 

A+, Michelangelo.

a scarlet red front door with brass fittings Artyzan/Shutterstock

Imagine your front door is scarlet...


This technique sounds pretty weird, but it works surprisingly well. (Just ask a few World Memory Champs: They're totally into it.)

Let’s say you have a test coming up on The Scarlet Letter and you have to remember all the important characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, Governor Bellingham, and Mistress Hibbins. 

Now, pick a place you’re familiar with (your house might be easiest). Picture each character in a location—a room, a corner, a chair—inside your house.

For example, imagine you've just gotten home from school only to find Hester Prynne perched on the mailbox. You walk inside and Pearl is taking off her muddy boots in the foyer. In the living room, Dimmesdale sits by the fire, while Chillingworth is looking for Oreos in the kitchen, and Governor Bellingham is doing the dishes. As for Mistress Hibbins, she’s washing her hands with lavender soap in the powder room. You get the idea.

The point is to make these object/location associations as vivid and sensory as possible. The more specific you get (including things like sights, sounds, smells, and tastes), the easier it will be to remember whatever list of items your teacher plans to torment you with, er, test you on, during the exam

_twinkle-twinkle_meets_the_periodic_table_of_the_elements_60second Recap

Now that's a combination you'll remember.


True story: We can still sing the song about irregular preterite Spanish verbs that we learned during high school. That’s because setting important information to music not only makes it more fun to remember, but it also greatly improves recall.

Two tips. First, pick a song you love, or that you know cold. (In other words, make things easy on yourself.) Set the words to it. This works especially well for large chunks of text, like Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, or The Declaration of Independence.

Second tip: For a large quantity of related information that exists in small chunks (like paintings for your art history class, or the periodic table of the elements), try using a song that’s repetitive. Reach back into your past for nursery school favorites like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat." (Fine, do it when no one else is around.)

Imagine the periodic table of the elements set to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” (with some rhythmic liberties): “H equals hydrogen, H-e Helium / L-i’s for Lithium, B-e: Beryllium.” You may not make it onto American Idol. You may even feel kind of absurd.

But we bet you’ll ace your test.

Hey, memory champ. What tips and tricks are your favorites? Let us know!

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