At first glance, you might think that there’s little the Ancient Greeks knew about modern studying. That’s not entirely true. Besides contributing a great deal to the pillars of modern civilization, they also had a knack for anything intellectual, including memorizing complex material.
Here at The Student Power, we talked about memorization techniques and mnemonics before. In fact, the most viewed post in the entire blog is the infographic How to Develop Super Memory. While that post was certainly a success, it lacks a memorization method for complex material – like a speech, a script, a story and so on.
Even something as common as an oral exam requires memorizing different types of information and putting it all together as a fluent speech. In History, for example, you may have to write or talk about specific events, involving different characters, dates and settings.
From the necessity of memorizing long political speeches and intricate plays, the Greeks developed the Memory Palace technique or the method of loci. It’s a simple but powerful technique, used by memory champions worldwide to memorize entire decks of cards.
This is how it works: you have to picture a huge room, house, palace or even city, depending on the material’s complexity. Then, you’ll associate each object or division with the things you’re trying to memorize. Each time you want to recall what you’ve studied, you simply visit that mental location.
I’m a medical student, so let’s say I wanted to memorize my notes about HIV/AIDS.
- I am inside a huge house owned by some millionaire who lives in Beverly Hills. It has a gate in the front, a garden, a swimming pool, statues and so on.
- As I enter the gate, I notice that it has a giant HIV/AIDS engraved in it. This is definitely the house I’m looking for.
- Then, I’m walking down a luscious garden, full of flowers and three marble statues. The first one is of a man sneezing [HIV causes influenza-like symptoms in the first 2-4 weeks of infection]. The second one is of another man with a huge rash on the torso and giant cervical lymph nodes [more early symptoms of HIV]. The last one resembles a man unable to lift a huge barbel [HIV may cause neurological symptoms and lack of muscle strength].
- Before entering the house there’s a table with 4 CDs of retro-style music. [HIV is a retrovirus and affects CD4+ T cells]
- … the rest of the visit goes from the living room to the last bathroom
Memory palaces are versatile, since you can associate objects with other techniques detailed in the Super Memory infographic. Memorizing numbers, such as dates, figures or reference values, becomes easier if you refer to a peg-system. You can then integrate it in the memory palace.
It’s amazing how well such a simple works. It integrates visual memory and spatial memory, forcing each concept or item to be associated with several others elements (like color, sound, location, humorous element, actual information).
However, it still requires a certain degree of practice. After you build the mental memory palace, you have to visit it a couple of times (like 3-4 practice times) before it sets in. But once it does, it’ll be very hard to forget something.