How to Memorize Verbatim Text

Personal Development

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Memorizing does not have to be as hard as most people make it. The problem is that most people only know how to memorize by reading the same thing over and over again. You have to learn to memorize. In this post we are going to look at how the brain remembers and then show how to use that knowledge to come up with a method for memorizing verbatim text.  Any tip or trick that will improve your memory even slightly is well worth the effort.

In this article we are going to focus on a technique that will let you easily:

  1. Memorize a speech
  2. Memorize the Bible
  3. Memorize lines
  4. Memorize Scripture

At the end of this article is a Javascript tool that makes it easy to implement this method. If you are reading the RSS or Email version, the tool may not show up.

Synapses and Neurons and How to Memorize

In the simplified model of the brain in this discussion, we’ll be looking at neurons and synapses. Neurons are parts of the brain that can send and receive electrical signals. Synapses are the paths between neurons.

When you remember something neurons fire signals down particular synapse pathways to other neurons which in turn fire signals to other neurons. The particular sequence represents a memory. In fact, scientists have been able to make people “re live” experiences from the past by poking around in their brain with an electric probe and starting this interaction.

Strong Pathways

Synapses appear to exhibit plasticity. The strength of the signal they convey is determined by use. The more a particular synapse is used, the stronger the signal it conveys.

For example, consider remembering your home telephone number. Since this is a number you use on a regular basis it probably comes very easily to mind. When you try to recall the number some neurons fire of a signal down some synapses that carry a very strong signal to other neurons which do the same thing. The number comes with very little effort.

Now consider a number that you will have trouble remembering. Lets say your driver’s license number. For most people an attempt to recall this number will cause neurons to fire down very weak synapses. If you are like me, the signal is so weak that it will probably not create the necessary chain reaction to recall the number. In fact all I get is a vague impression that the first letter is an S or E. To improve your memory of this number it is necessary to fire a signal down the synapses that will trigger this memory.

How to Memorize – Practice Recalling not Repeating

Memorizing BrainThis is the crucial concept of any type of memorization. The act of reading something you want to memorize fires different connections than the act of recalling. This is how you learn to memorize–your practice recalling, not repeating. This means that simply reading a particular piece of text over and over again is going to be the long road to memorization. You need to let your brain practice recalling the data so it can strengthen the same pathways that will fire when you need to remember the information later on. You can’t practice recalling until the information is at least partially contained in your short term memory.

Now lets look at coming up with a method for memorizing text using our understanding of how the brain works. So lets say we are trying to memorize the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The 278 word speech is not a particularly long oration, but it will work for our demonstration purposes. Our goal is to create a method that will force our brain to practice recalling the speech–even before we have it fully memorized. So first of all we need to get it into our mind so our brain has it–even if we can’t recall it. Here are a few methods that will work:

  1. Read through it aloud.
  2. Copy the text by hand.
  3. Read through the text and create a short outline.
  4. Have someone else read it to you.

There are other methods as well, just do something to get a general familiarity with the piece. Now we need to come up with a method to give our brain, just enough information to recall the original text without simply reading the original.

F s a s y a o f b f o t c, a n n, c i L, a d t t p t a m a c e.

N w a e i a g c w, t w t n, o a n s c a s d, c l e. W a m o a g b-f o t w. W h c t d a p o t f, a a f r p f t w h g t l t t n m l. I i a f a p t w s d t.

B, i a l s, w c n d — w c n c — w c n h — t g. T b m, l a d, w s h, h c i, f a o p p t a o d. T w w l n, n l r w w s h, b i c n f w t d h. I i f u t l, r, t b d h t t u w w t w f h h t f s n a. I i r f u t b h d t t g t r b u — t f t h d w t i d t t c f w t g t l f m o d — t w h h r t t d s n h d i v — t t n, u G, s h a n b o f — a t g o t p, b t p, f t p, s n p f t e.

What we’ve done is taken the first letter of each word. Now try to recite the speech while looking at the text above. You’ll probably get part way into it and get confused. Backup a few letters and look beyond the letter you are struggling with to see if you can figure it out. Remember you are trying to help your brain find the right connections. If you have to consult the original, make note of what confused you and start over.

I have found this method to be much more productive for memorizing verbatim text than just about anything else. I used it extensively in school when I was trying to find how to memorize scripture quickly. It will help improve your memory by giving you a way to practice. However, keep in mind that it is simply one method. When you need to memorize something, think about how to help your brain practice recalling the information–not merely reading it over and over again.  Your goal is to quickly get the information into your short term memory so you can start practicing the recall process and move the information into long term memory.

Below is a tool to help you produce first letter text as shown above. Simply paste the original text in the top box and hit the button. All the letters other than the first one of each word will be stripped out and placed in the bottom box. You can then copy this into a document for printing.

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