Note: I am still in the process of adapting this page into a new “Tips & Tricks” document.
Learning with practice
I’ve mentioned in many of the other documents on the Memory Page that in addition to learning all of the memory techniques, you need to practice. This is how you really get better. There’s only so much that can be said about memory improvement, and besides, there may be one way that works best for one person and a different way that works best for another. With practice, you learn what works and what doesn’t work for you.
In the rest of this document, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my experience in memorizing Bible verses. Of course, Bible verses might not necessarily be what you’re interested in memorizing, and even if it is, your experiences might be different. But I thought it would be a good example of what you could expect when practicing memory techniques.
What I have learned memorizing Bible verses
By now (I’m writing this in January 1999), I’ve memorized about 25 whole chapters of the Bible, including the entire books of Colossians and James. You may be thinking, “Ha! I never could do that!” Well, five years ago I would have said the same thing! That just goes to show how amazingly effective good memory techniques are. All that is in addition to the many other things I’ve memorized, such as all the countries and capitals of the world, telephone numbers, freeway exits, etc. You can do it, too!
Anyway, for this particular memorization application, I’ve used the “secret” repetition method in which I just repeat a verse over and over in my mind while driving in the car, waiting in line, etc. (This method I described in another document.) Although I’m aiming to memorize every word correctly, I’m not too worried about getting it brutally perfect, because my own goal in memorizing is not to recite a long passage in front of people, but simply to have the text in mind so I will have it when I need it (in Sunday School class, when I’m depressed or in trouble and need direction, when I want to explain a Biblical concept to someone, etc.). Therefore I can recite about a third of the chapters I’ve memorized without stopping, and another third with occasional prompting for the next verse, but the last third I’m still a bit “rusty” on — the words are in my head, but not quite in sequence, so I still have a bit of review work to do on those chapters.
I’ve found that some books are easier to memorize than others. 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 were among the hardest chapters to memorize so far. Some of these verses are really good, but Paul, the author, uses a lot of complicated words and interrupted thoughts. Because the words don’t flow well in English, it’s hard to memorize, too. On the other hand, James was much easier because the words flow very well (usually) and there are a lot of interesting examples of the points he was trying to make (the salty fountain, the mirror, bits in the horses’ mouths, etc.). I learned that I should plan — and expect — to spend more time memorizing harder-to-read chapters.
Memorizing verses is not too difficult. Connecting them all together is more challenging. If the idea presented in one verse follows that of the previous, it is usually not difficult to remember the verse. But if it’s a different thought altogether, you can easily get stuck. For example, look at these verses from Galatians 4:
(10) Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
(11) I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
(12) Bretheren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.
In these cases, music can be highly effective. It takes more work to think of a little tune to fit the verses, but once you have it, it works well because the tune is continuous even if the words are not.
Another strategy I came up with was to use pictures. For example, when reciting verse 10, you could think of Paul reciting the verses, and he is holding a wristwatch, and he gives the watch to one of the Galatians he’s talking to. Then that other person turns around and carelessly drops it on the ground as he walks away. Paul would then be afraid that his efforts were for nothing, so verse 11 comes to mind. Then Paul could pick up the watch, lifting it up high and boldly into the air, trying to get people’s attention. This leads you to verse 12. You could even physically do the motions of the watch tossing and lifting with your hands every time you recite the verses to make the impression even more vivid!
I’ve memorized one third of the book of Revelation. I’ve found it easy to memorize because it’s interesting, because the word flow is good and because I’ve also listened to it on audio tape a number of times. Nevertheless I encountered some big stumbling blocks. Here’s one of them. First, let’s look at Revelation 5:9:
And they sung a new song, saying, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; …”
The end of that verse has a list of four items: kindred, tongue, people and nation. Initially I didn’t bother to memorize the list any special way; I could easily say in my mind, “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” Then came Revelation 7:9:
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; …
That verse had the same words (kindred, tongue, people, nation), but they were mixed up! Not only that, but they were plural… except for “people,” and that made it even more complicated. Well, I put a little bit of a tune on it, and for a while I could keep 5:9 and 7:9 separated, but then came 10:11 and 11:9, in which the words appeared again: and each time in a different order again!! St. John wrote a great book, but so much for consistency in his lists!
I had to give up and try something new. That’s okay — you learn by your mistakes! So don’t feel bad at all if you get stumped by something! What I did is use an acronym for each verse. For 5:9, it’s KTPN, and I thought of “Kate Pin”, and I associated a picture of a “Kate Pin” in my mind to the rest of the verse. Upon recall, if I can think of “Kate Pin” and thence “KTPN”, it’s suddenly very easy to roll out “kindred, tongue, people, nation” because I’ve deliberately memorized the ordering. For 7:9, I use NKPT and “Neck Point.”
(For those of you who will actually be memorizing Revelation, you can also mark down 4:11, 5:12, 5:13, 7:12 and 19:1 as another word scrambling challenge; also 4:5, 8:5 and 11:19; also 21:8 and 22:15.)
There are other repetitions in Revelation that caused difficulties. In Chapters 2 and 3 there are seven churches talked about. After memorizing 4 of them it was harder to keep track of which verses went with which church, especially since each section has “I know thy works…” — and thus there are 7 ways to continue that phrase. I decided to skip churches 5, 6 and 7 for now and come back to them later — probably a few years later. Most likely I’ll be able to distinguish which verses were memorized early and which ones were memorized late. There are other strategies I could have used, but I decided to try this one. By the way, when reciting some verses I still can remember where I was when I initially memorized the verses — especially those while waiting in line to get on a roller coaster at the Cedar Point amusement park. I could take advantage of this in the future to distinguish between books (e.g., am I in Galatians or Collosians?).
There are other difficulties with the seven churches. The first one starts out “Unto the angel of the church of <NAME>”, but the rest start out “And unto the angel of the church in <NAME>”, and some of those use “to” instead of “unto”. Near the end of each section, some use “He that overcometh” and some use “To him that overcometh” and some use something else. Some have “He that hath and ear let him hear what the spirit saith unto the churches” before the “overcometh” part and some after. The only way for me to deal with that mess was to write down, on paper, a list of all the differences in a chart form. Then I studied and memorized the chart.
I could write a lot more, but by now you probably get the idea. Besides, you don’t need all of the nit-picky details ofmy story; you need to write your own story! So start practicing memorizing whatever it is you have set your heart on, and enjoy the experience! Don’t get discouraged if you get messed up or if you forget almost everything and have to start over. Learn from the process, discover what works, and go from there! Can’t find a technique for what it is that you have to memorize? Invent one yourself! Be creative! And have fun!