Study Skills/Memorizing

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Memorization is a serious bottle neck when studying. This bottle neck compromises one's efficiency, as it takes longer to remember new information. Memorizing lists of information is easy - once you have the techniques down. If you don't use techniques, forget it! If you don't want to invest time into learning techniques, forget it!

For subjects based on logic, such as physics, mathematics, and physiology, the best way to memorize facts is to learn a few basic facts and then learn the logic required to derive further information from those facts. Once you work through the logic a few times, you will remember the conclusions. These then become new "basic facts" upon which you can base further logic to remember more facts.

For instance, if you want to memorize the Starling equation for the movement of fluid between blood vessels and surrounding tissue, remember that there is fluid pressure on both sides of the vessel wall and protein on both sides of the vessel wall. Then remember that protein tends to draw water to itself by osmosis, while pressure tends to push water away. Then just add the four opposing forces together, making the forces that tend to make water leave the blood vessel positive and the opposite forces negative.

For less logical subjects, such as history, biochemistry, and law, involving seemingly random groupings of ideas into lists, the following techniques may be more helpful.

If you must memorize a list of words or sentences, you can take the first letter of each and come up with a logical sentence involving words beginning with the same letters. For instance, to remember the order of the planets, the mnemonic sentence "My very educated mother just served us nothing" is helpful... if you remember the names of the planets, and that Mercury is first, then it is easy to remember the order is "Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune." The fact that the mnemonic sentence is naturally set to music aids in remembering it, as the human brain remembers music more readily than speech.

Most vital are the list techniques. You start with a list of logically related persons, places, or things you can enumerate without much thought and without leaving out anything. Then you associate each of these to an item in the new list of facts to be memorized. To recall the new list, recall the old list and then the attached items.

Here are several familiar lists one could use:

  1. Body list - Attach items to body parts, from nose to toes for example
  2. Number list - Associate the shapes of numbers with items in the new list (2 - Swan, 9 - Snake, for example)
  3. Loci-Method - Associate each item with a point along a familiar walk, such as your route from your bed to your kitchen sink.

The most significant difference between these three is the number of items you can attach to them. The Body list is very limited, you have only one body, unless one considers attaching items to a pet's body or a friend's body as well.

Number lists are difficult to produce with more than 20 items, and difficult to learn. It's difficult to multiply them, like attaching a tire, a ball, and an egg to 0. The problem here comes when trying to assign multiple lists and getting the correct mnemonics for each list and number.

The Loci-Method might be the most powerful method. You can find items everywhere in your familiar surrounding. You can have an unlimited number of loci-lists around, your home, your university, working place, the city, your favorite bar, disco, school. If you travel to a hotel, you can create your list there, after having become familiar with it. You can create your own virtual worlds (if they're consistent) or use the scenery of a first person shooter if you're familiar enough with it.

Cicero used the method of loci to recall entire speeches at once.

"Honey-tongue" Cicero used this technique thousands of years ago to memorize his famous "spontaneous" speeches; other great thinkers did likewise. Memory experts use it to memorize 400 numbers in a row. It was usual for academics in previous centuries to have lists of several thousands of items, before even going to university. All this needs intense practice.

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