Memorizing information from textbooks. Ideas?

(The Nightingale) #1

Hi! I’m new here! I’m so relieved to have found this place. I’ve been looking for a forum about memory techniques for a long time and until now had failed to find one. I’m glad to see that this one is fairly active and full of fellow enthusiasts. There’s a bit of back story here - I hope it doesn’t bore you too much - I think it’s necessary.

I discovered basic memory techniques about three years ago when I was studying for exams. The first book I picked up on the subject was Harry Lorayne’s “Super Memory, super student.” I loved the concept of it, but found it difficult to accept it as an alternative to traditional “memory.” I tried applying it to my studies, but felt mentally overwhelmed. I think this was for two reasons. One was that I tried to remember things verbatim, which was definitely not necessary and a giant waste of time. I punished myself mentally even if I got an and/but wrong. Looking back I see how ridiculous that was - unless it’s a quotation or definition, you don’t need every “and, but and it” in order to know the information. The second reason was that the images started to blur into one for me, I started getting easily confused and again felt like a failure. I ended up forgetting about the systems and reverting to the (admittedly more tedious) traditional systems.

I picked it up again a year later - listened to Lorayne’s audio tapes. Where the book had failed, the audio tapes really helped to drill the peg system into my brain. I finally understood it properly and my understanding of the overall systems improved. During this time I memorized a short poem using the systems - it only took me about half an hour. To my amazement, despite only reviewing it only a couple of times mentally and having not viewed it for over a year, I remembered it perfectly (and still do.) This really proved to me that the systems are very efficient and work! Best of all, these days I don’t even need the images to remember the poem. I just “know” it somehow. For some reason, despite this success, I again abandoned the systems (still not totally sure why…)

So here I am (for what I hope is the final time!) I’m still fascinated by memory systems, but I think part of the reason I’ve abandoned them so many times is because making so many images often felt mentally exhausting AND I found Lorayne’s difficult to apply to a lot of “real-life learning” situations. I’m sure they CAN be applied to the kinds of materials I’m looking to remember, but I’m still a memory novice in many respects and am still learning my way through it all.

I have recently discovered that looking at the material, then mind-mapping the images with associations is a better way of “organizing” what I’m seeing in my head. I also think this could be useful for reviewing my work, so I have a clear idea of the images I chose (rather than loads of haphazard ideas floating around.) The only issue I have with this is that once again I find myself getting a bit confused when trying to link the images to each other (especially on paper) in a way that makes sense and isn’t overly confusing. For numbers it works great - because there aren’t many images required. For example I recently learnt my fourteen times multiplication tables using the peg. They’re not something I require in my studies, but I did it as an experiment to see how well it worked. I learnt the table in less than half an hour and knew it in and out of order. Without the peg, I’m sure it would have taken me days or weeks to learn it (I was always terrible at learning multiplication tables “parrot” fashion when I was young!) Yet the peg makes it almost effortless.

Unfortunately, most of the material I have to learn and remember isn’t number-related. Instead, it’s mostly content from books - particularly text books. I’ve been out of education for a few years and am now trying to “fill the gap” before going to university next year. I’d estimate that I’ve got to remember the core parts of at least 35 books - books - mainly English Language and Literature, History, Philosophy, Classics, a little Science and Maths, but mainly humanities. My problem seems to be two-fold. For one thing I find it very difficult to narrow down the key concepts of the text for memorization - I always have a fear that I will miss something “vital” and find it hard to know where to cut corners. My other problem I have when needing to memorize many ideas/facts etc. from books is that the pictures tend to get overcomplicated and I lose my grasp of what I was trying to remember in the first place.

As an example, here’s something from one of my History textbooks that I’m trying to remember:

Traditional Forms of Power

© Animal Power - Animals have been used by man since prehistoric times to provide power, oxen for ploughing and pack-horses for carrying goods being two examples. Horses were widely used in industry to operate gins, which were used for lifting coal and draining mines. Horse gins, however, were slow and very limited.

For this I would probably narrow it down to:

animals provide - power, oxen for ploughing, pack horses = carrying goods. Horses use = operate gins - lifting coals/draining mines. Horse gins = slow/limited.

And the pictures I would see would be something along the lines of this. Visualize millions of animals with crowns on their heads (animals provide power.) See an Oxen ploughing into the animals and all the crowns fall off and land on a pack of horses, smashing the goods they were carrying. See the goods operating machinery, collapsing under the strain as they lift coals/drain mines. See a giant piece of machinery attached to a mine. A horse head is on the front. See it galloping and then jarring and slowing down (slow/limited.)

This one isn’t bad for me (I just made it up on the spot now) - but I can see myself becoming confused by it eventually. It’s quite a complex set of links/images for fairly limited information. And this is a tiny passage. I’m going to have to learn passages thirty times this long.

I suppose what I’m really looking for is any suggestions on how to refine my techniques and make the whole process less daunting. Should I continue with the link method for memorizing large amounts of information or would I be better looking into other memory techniques? I hear a lot of people talking about loci on here - I have a basic idea of it - but it’s not something I’ve looked into in great detail. Am I on the right track? Do I just need more practice? It gets to the stage sometimes when I’m memorizing information that I almost feel it would be easier just to read the passage and absorb it that way.

Any thoughts would be very much appreciated!

(Josh Cohen) #2

Welcome to the site! It sounds like you’re on the right track. :slight_smile:

I just posted about an idea that you might be interested in: “Weekly Memory Challenges”, where people try to memorize a new set of information each week and then come back to the forum and share tips that were learned along the way. It may be a good way to practice…

There are probably many ways to do it. I would probably organize its something like this:

Create a memory palace so that all related concepts could be kept in the same place. “Animal Power” is probably one point in a section about power or similar concept, and you might want to keep all of those related concepts together. A memory palace or memory journey is a great way to keep related information together.

In one room of the memory palace, I would create a journey. If “Animal Power” is the first element of information in a set of information, I would place the images in the first location (locus) of the journey.

I wouldn’t worry about memorizing books in too much detail, because the task will be very big. :slight_smile:

If you’re having trouble remembering a story, it might helped to give the images personality. One idea is to reinforce the keywords with exaggeration and double meanings.

Instead of a pack of horses without a name, maybe have it be Mr. Ed, the talking horse. To remember the word “gin”, you could use a giant bottle of gin. For “mines”, one idea would be to use exploding sea mines.

Here is an example:

An ox pulling a plow crashes into a horse, which happens to be Mr. Ed, who swears at the oxen for interrupting his surgery procedure. Mr. Ed is operating on a sick bottle of gin. He lifts some coal out of the incision in the side of the bottle of gin, and some mines drain out of the bottle, exploding on the floor. Once the mines are gone, the gin bottle's medical problem is cured and Mr. Ed pours himself a gin and tonic.

Each of the main keywords is exaggerated, and there are personalities involved, like a pair of clumsy oxen, Mr. Ed, and a sick bottle of gin. The characters in the story have motivation behind their actions, even though it is bizarre. I would probably exaggerate the personalities–maybe have the bottle of gin complaining during the procedure, and Mr. Ed using very foul language. :slight_smile:

Once you have a short bizarre story that is stored at the first point of the journey, then find the next concept and place it at the second point journey. You can then walk through the journey later to reinforce the images. I would walk through the journey a few times per day for the first few days, and it should stay with you for a long time after that…


If you can break the information into simple statements of facts, then you can use Dominic’s system for memorizing all of the Trivial Pursuit cards. His system is basically just loci-associational. The example in one of his books has to do with a tennis player. He took the main parts of the question and came up with a location to associate the main points of that question with. Then he took the main parts of the answer and turned that into an image to place in the location.

Fact: Horses were widely used in industry to operate gins.

What is the very first place that that statement makes you think of. For me, it’s a bar that is right by my house (using gin as a homophone association). Then at that location I place two horses bellied up to the bar, gossiping and drinking gin martinis.

The idea is that when you encounter that question again you will come up with the same association. If a bar by your house is your first reaction to reading the fact, it will most likely be your first reaction when you are asked a question about it.

I like the method and it worked for Dominic O’Brien; it might be right for you, too.

(The Nightingale) #4

Thanks for the advice! It’s extremely helpful.

When looking over my recent associations, I’ve realised that some of the links are a little weak - too basic, not striking enough etc. This is probably part of my problem - I need to focus on making the links more exaggerated, as opposed to formulaic and bland. So adding more personality to my images will DEFINITELY help me.

I’ll also look into Domanic’s system - I’ve been reading lots of articles on memory palaces. I really like the idea, from a creative perspective, of creating my own memory palace. But I think I’ll start out with a place that’s familiar to me, rather than something from my imagination, so I can get a good start. In the future, I would love to try imagining my own memory palace though.

(Josh Cohen) #5

People probably use the word with a few different meanings, but by “memory palace” I mean any building where you use the inside to create a journey. It can be a real building or imaginary building. At the moment, all of mine are real buildings.

I think of “memory palace” as one type of memory journey that is typically used for longer-term memories, as opposed to a reusable journey for memorizing random digits or playing cards in a competition. I’m going to make a glossary on the website soon… :slight_smile:

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To use your example: “Animal Power - Animals have been used by man since prehistoric times to provide power, oxen for ploughing and pack-horses for carrying goods being two examples. Horses were widely used in industry to operate gins, which were used for lifting coal and draining mines. Horse gins, however, were slow and very limited.”

And you narrow that down to “animals provide - power, oxen for ploughing, pack horses = carrying goods. Horses use = operate gins - lifting coals/draining mines. Horse gins = slow/limited.”

I think you’re making a big mistake that a lot of people make when they read a textbook.

Most textbooks are not written for brevity, nor are they written for totality. They are written to justify the large price tags. And they are written by academics who love to go on and on. And they are written to be “approachable” to students.

Look at the passage you provide: “Animals have been used by man since prehistoric times to provide power, oxen for ploughing and pack-horses for carrying goods being two examples.” Now, you already knew that though, didn’t you? I’m not trying to sound like a bully, but, seriously, do you REALLY need to memorize that way back when, people used horses to carry goods? You already knew that. Why develop a mnemonic for it?

So let’s go to the next part of the paragraph: “Horses were widely used in industry to operate gins, which were used for lifting coal and draining mines. Horse gins, however, were slow and very limited.”

Really, the only “information” in the paragraph is that horse gins weren’t very reliable. And what’s the point of that fact in context? Will horse gins come up throughout the course? Or is this just one blip of information? It sounds like the point of the passage is to trace the evolution of power, probably something like “horse to steam to oil to atomic.” A lot of that information is “self-deductive.” That is, just by thinking about it, you provide the memory triggers for what you need to remember. What were the forms of power. Well, at the beginning it was animals. Then wood and coal. Then steam. What supplanted steam? Hmm. Oil. That’s right. Of course, oil started to cause problems and people started looking for greener alternatives. So solar and wind are in there to. Nuclear as well developed after oil. And after nuclear will be fusion, probably.

Sure, there’s more to it than just that, but you get the idea I’m trying to put across, right?

You have to read the textbook actively. It took me years to figure it out because no one ever simply pointed it out to me. Most of us start off reading fiction. And in fiction, we are taught to adhere to a strictly linear method. Page 1, then 2, then 3 … . That’s how most of us read a textbook. Start at the beginning, go page by page, and arrive at the end.

The most important parts of the textbook are skipped by almost everyone. Read the table of contents. Read the introduction. Read the index. Why? Because those are the sections that give a grasp of what the heck the book is about. If it turns out to be a book on nuclear reactors, no one is going to care whether you know what a horse gin was, whether it was good, bad or ugly, or how long it was used before being replaced. The author threw it in because he or she had to start with something!

After you read the stuff everyone skips, as you go through the chapters, determine the point of each chapter. Then construct a summary of the key facts (i.e., take notes). THEN develop a mnemonic to cover your notes.


The best way is memory palace with special rooms for different books.
do this to paragraph (after many tests i found this the most effective)

1-Read each paragraph and while your reading underline the words which makes any image in your brain.
2-imagine the palace special room for that chapter of the book and then put each 5 pictures in a sub place of the room.(make good stories and try to focus on each link for several my self count from 1 to 5 if the data is really important to be remembered for weeks)
3-review all chapters of the book daily using speed reading with out any fear!(no one asks you to tell the book word by word)
4-review your palaces weekly to reconstruct the lost connections.

after a 2 week the information will be fixed(learned) and you can use the same palace for different information but try not to do so.

(The Nightingale) #8

I totally get what you’re saying. I will admit to having a “completion complex” of sorts where I always feel I’ve got to remember everything in great detail regardless of its relevance. I know this is not an effective way to study, so I’m working on stopping it as much as I can. It was my downfall last time I was studying - I was trying to take in insurmountable amounts of information (thousands of Historical dates) when only around 1/10th of it was probably needed and relevant.

I think following your advice on finding the “point” of the chapter (what purpose it serves in the overall book/course), summarizing and THEN finding a mnemonic to cover the notes will be helpful for me.


Hm, interested concept. Is there any good reference where I could get some more information about Dominic’s method, or journey in memorizing the trivial pursuit cards? I’ve been contemplating your post, on just how to organize such a drastic and wide array of information. Is it organized or chunked in some way, or rather, are we looking at once loci per fact? Is there anything more that returns him to that location when confronted with the same question in the future, or is it as simple as using the first loci that pops into your mind’s eye, and assuming that you will once again return there to retrieve the answer?


If my memory serves me (another bad mnemonics joke) Dominic O’Brien talks about this technique in How To Develop a Perfect Memory. You can find it for free to read online at It’s my understanding and the result of my limited practice with this technique that the same loci continue to be the first places I “see.”

Ex: Where did the first flight occur? Answer: Kitty Hawk. My first thought after reading the question is the nearby airport. I’ve been there several times. My first thought after reading the answer is my cat Bob chewing on a hawk that is trying to fly away. After learning the fact, picking my locus and image, I’d review this process a few times. I’m pretty comfortable in saying that if you asked me the question in two months (just an example time) I would still “see” Bob chewing on a hawk trying to fly away in Terminal D at Love Field.

The reviewing process should cement the locus. Using the first locus that comes to mind seems to be better than discarding your first locus and choosing one that isn’t as organic.


Thanks for the suggestion Josh_Too. I just finished O’Brien’s book yesterday and it has shed a lot of light on the methodology behind memorizing both solitary facts and chunks/strings of information. The process for switching to long-term memory seemed straightforward and realistic.

As far as studying from texts, little information seems to stand on its own, so I may have to focus more on a journey method, than direct location associations


Sorry to bring this subject again. But i have a concern…Is it true that we should use the Journey method to memorize all information of different subject: literature, history, physics, geography, maths…? Actually i see the Journey method is greatly helpful in memorizing. So in this case, we have to creat lot of different journey? My target is that if anyone later raise the question related with subject i had learnt, i can give the answer immediately.
Plz everybody advise your ideas? Can anyone share your experience? Thanks a lot for your help.

(The Nightingale) #13

It’s up to you - you don’t have to use memory techniques to remember the content of all those subjects. But you may find it useful. I would advise trying to understand a subject/theory before memorizing it.

You can create many different journeys to remember these things. After going through your journeys several times the information will sink in and you will be able to recall it “out of order” (i.e. without going through your entire journey to retrieve it.)

Very best of luck.


It is best to memorize the textbook using memory cards. H)