lock it into your memory

Most students take hours to memorize what they could have learned–should have locked into their memories–in minutes.

Not really their fault; no one ever taught them how to use their as efficiently as possible.

By the way, I’m limiting myself here to talking specifically about memory, though there is, of course, much more to learning than just memorizing.

Much of learning begins with getting down the basic facts; vocabulary, dates, fundamental properties, etc. SO, let’s start with making your as powerful as possible. (It won’t take long.)

What have you had to spend a lot of time memorizing?

  • Latin roots and prefixes?
  • Biochemical structures?
  • Anatomy?
  • Dates and names?
  • Vocabulary?
  • Formulas?

Would it have helped you if you could have memorized that stuff in half the time? A tenth of the time?

What would you do with all your extra time?

As I said, these enhancing strategies don’t take long to master; you’ll start reaping the benefits immediately.

I’ll bet you already know how to use these techniques for certain tasks. The trick is to expand it so you can use it any time you memorize anything.

What are the colors of the rainbow? If a guy named ROY G. BIV came to mind, you’re already familiar with one type of enhancing technique that has been in use for thousands of years.

ROY G BIV stands for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Or maybe you used ‘PEMDAS’ to memorize the order of operations in math equations. It stands for, “Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction.”

You these things because they work.

Would you know how to use similar techniques to memorize the structure of a Benzene ring or the dates and locations of major WWII battles or the Greek word for ‘poach’?

Could you memorize those things on the fly? While you’re taking your notes during class?

It’s fairly easy once you know some key methods. For instance…

The Key Word Method

The key word method is one strategy most of us never learned in school.

That’s a shame…

because this is arguably the most effective and versatile method of them all. It’s ridiculously powerful.

I used a variation of this technique my first semester in grad school to memorize the bones of the human skull. But not JUST the bones…

For our first exam in Human Osteology, not only did we need to be able to identify all 23 cranial bones (ethmoid, sphenoid, vomer, zygomatic, occipital, parietal, blah blah blah), we also had to name all the bones that each of those articulated with.

So far, not so bad, right?

Until you realize the ethmoid– just one of the 23 bones–connects to 13 other bones. The sphenoid connects to 8 other bones, most of which are the same as the ethmoid, but not all of them.

That’s a LOT of detailed memorizing.

Using this keyword technique, I was done studying in thirty minutes, and I made a 100 on the test–the ONLY 100 on the test. Class average was a 72.

Now, I have been known to forget my own birthday, names of current roommates, and where I was when I found out JFK was shot (I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, if you’re wondering). But I just made a 100 with 30 minutes of studying. 

Not only that…

Talking with my classmates after the exam, I found that no one else had studied less than four hours. Most had studied around 8 to 10 hours and made 70s or low 80s.

Wow! I was hooked.

The technique isn’t difficult (although it does take some practice), and you can use it to memorize all sorts of things. That can save you HOURS a week.

Here’s a quick run down of how to use the keyword method of mnemonics.

  1. Identify the items to be linked together in your memory.


    Path of incoming air (in order):
    Pharynx, larynx, trachea, left and right bronchia, bronchioles, alveolus.

    Divisions of the animal kingdom (in order):
    Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

    The Quadratic Formula.

    The current stock prices of each of the Fortune 100 companies.


  2. Come up with a key word or symbol for each item.

    The key word should be easy for you to picture.

    For example, with Kingdom in the second example above, we could use “king” as the key word. We’ll use a filing cabinet for “phylum,” a glass of water for “class,” a general barking out orders for “order,” the Kardashians for “family,” for “genus” (genius), and big Chuck Darwin for “species,” since he wrote On the Origin of Species.

    Don’t like those pics? Come up with your own. As long as the picture reminds you strongly of the word(s) you are memorizing, you’re good.

  3. Now link your key words together in a story.

    The stranger, funnier, more disturbing, more emotional, and more multi-sensory your story is, the easier it will be to remember.

    We have to go in order, so let’s start with our…

    KING–let’s make it the Lion King to link it in our minds with the animal kingdom–the Lion KING leaps up on top of a very expensive mahogany
    FILING CABINET. His claws scratch deep furrows in the wood, and you think how expensive that must be. The cabinet can’t hold his weight and falls over, hitting a table covered with hundreds of
    GLASSes of water. The glasses fall to the floor, loudly shattering, and splashing a general (Patton? Napoleon?) who starts barking out
    ORDERs for his soldiers to clean up that mess. His soldiers are made up of the Kardashian
    FAMILY, all in uniform. But wait a second, where’s Kim Kardashian? She needs to help. They stop their sweeping and mopping to yell loudly for Kim to come and help. She finally shows up, but it isn’t Kim, it’s Al Einstein, the
    GENIUS, and he’s got Charles Darwin in a head lock and is beating him with a copy of his book, On the Origin of

    If you clearly imagine this story as you read it, you will find that not only can you kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, in that order; you can also pick out any item in the series–class, for example–and recall what comes before and after it.

Yes, it does take longer to come up with the key words and come up with the story than to go over it in your notes and hope it sinks in. BUT, you won’t have to review it fifty times and still not be able to recall it perfectly on the test two weeks later.

Remember my Osteology test? Took me thirty minutes–even with my embarrassingly shoddy memory.

Try it. It works!

You can memorize just about anything quickly and efficiently. I’ve used this and other methods to memorize–or help others memorize–Biblical Greek, biochem, GRE and SAT vocabulary, Pi to 200 digits, Spanish vocab, credit card numbers, geography, history, you name it.

I’ve taught the method to first graders. I’ve taught it to 70-year-olds. It works.

Get my ebook, Best Grades Ever, if you’d like to more ways to supercharge your memory. You can also find more detail and examples in The Brain Book, by Peter Russell.

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

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