Revision. The bane on many people in the world. While many of us have the best intentions eventually we will find ourselves with 24 hours or less to learn some vitally important information. What do you do? Run about in a panic? Write out notes again and again and again? Try to break a bone or catch an illness so you can avoid the exam? Or, you could try this method which, if it works for you, can provide a quick and easy way to learn facts.
While this method has been known to work it does not work for everyone, nor should you leave your revision to a few days before an exam hoping this method will work for you. Use it either in addition to normal revision1 or as a last resort if you run out of time!
The way this method works is by constructing a story in your mind that connects all the facts you need to learn. At a very basic level this can be used to learn a string of numbers quickly (a phone number, a password etc though using this method can often be overkill). With slightly more effort and practice you can use it to learn whole lists of facts, for instance dates of important historical events, what certain philosophers thought about an idea. So how does it work?
A Basic Example
Say you have to remember a phone number quickly. For instance your new boyfriend/girlfriend has given you their phone number and they want you to known it off by heart by the next day. Unfortunately you remember this 10 minutes before you meet up with them and realise you haven't learnt it! Let us take 74481912. So how can you learn it as a story?
Imagine it as a morning routine, so you wake up and look at your clock to see the time is 7:44 (the first three numbers)
Getting out of bed you go downstairs to make breakfast but unfortunately you fall over on the stairs and do two airborne spins creating an 8 shape before landing (the 8 is now learnt)
As you land on the floor at the bottom of the stairs one of your legs is sticking straight up in the air (the leg looking like a number 1).
Going into the kitchen you decide to boil some eggs for breakfast. As you pick up the saucepan you are going to use to boil them in the handle bends so the saucepan looks like a 9.
You put an couple of eggs in the saucepan and set an egg timer for one minute (the final 1)
And that is it. It can often seem overkill for just learning numbers, but once you're used to using it with numbers make a list of facts and try to learn them using the method. See whether it works for you. If not then your memory may not work in a picture way. If it does work, then hopefully it will help if you ever find yourself needing to learn facts quickly.
Tips On Making The Memory Story Stick
So what can you do to make this memory story even better?
Make it bright, colourful, action packed and loud. The more actions (especially crazy things you're likely to remember), the more movement etc the easier it is to remember the story. But don't go over the top; the actions should have some relevance to the fact3
Try to keep the story in one or possibly two locations. It makes it connect better than if you keep jumping all over the place.
Try setting the story in a location you know really well, it seems to help. For instance try imagining all these things happening in locations in your house. For instance if you had to remember that one historian thought the Spanish Armada lost due to the skill of the English fleet then you might have the historian sitting in your bath playing with toy ships some with the English flag on, others with the Spanish flag on and he makes the English ships win.4
One story, one topic! Divide your notes into separate areas and learn each one as an individual story. Try to keep stories as short as possible (but don't cut out information!)
If you're making two memory stories in close succession don't set them in the same or very similar locations; if they start to cross over in your mind you might have all sorts of trouble!
Write down the story AND what each image in it means when you make it. That way if you forget why Descartes is getting hit on the head by a falling tree you can go and check up on what it meant. Also if an image really doesn't seem to work and you can't remember it then try changing it or scrap it and make a new image.
Go through the story at least 2-3 times in your mind after you've made it, making sure you can remember it all and what it means. Also (if you have the time) go through it the next day in the morning. If you are using this technique as part of planned revision then try to recap all your memory stories every couple of days to make sure you don't forget parts.
Use things that sound like other things as part of the story. For instance if you have to remember what a man called Bossy said then have a stereotypical office boss (or maybe someone like Ricky Gervais from The Office5) and have them perform actions about what you need to remember. This way you can easily remember names that you may not otherwise!
Don't be afraid to just use the object/date/person/etc in the story. If you need to remember The Battle of Hastings was in 1066 then have a giant 1066 drop into the middle of a battle, crushing troops. Don't feel you have you remember every number in a story by using a mini-story, just plonk the number in. You might be surprised how well you can remember it!
Remember these stories can be used as either a very quick way to learn something in the short term (a few days) or can be used to remember large amounts of information for long periods of time (the story will last as long as you keep reciting it). Many people use methods like this to remember things such as the order of playing cards in a deck6. Whatever else you do though give this a few goes, and if it doesn't work then don't use it; it isn't for everyone. But if it does work for you then it should be a major boost for revision, fact learning, and however else you choose to apply it!