This article is my response to request I received from a student. That student was looking for a way to memorize a list of words for a foreign language. Now, I would normally recommend using my typical study strategies outlined through this blog, one thing changed that. This student didn’t want to memorize the list for class. She wanted to memorize the list for her own personal scholarship. Since grades aren’t the primary concern anymore, a ton of details in learning change. To really memorize a set of information and make it stick, I recommend a different set of strategies.
The basic layout to think about when trying to memorize a large amount of information is as follows. First of all, you need a standard method of memorization. You need to have a strategy that you plan on using through the whole process. Flash cards are going to be used as the example in this articles. There are alternatives but flash cards are usually the most accessible method.
Second, you need to set up a cycle of sessions for studying based on the amount of information you need to remember, the time you have to study them, and the accuracy rate you want to achieve. The faster, the better, and the more, you want to learn, the more sessions and cycles you’re going to want.
Third, you need to adjust the information to be palatable on flash cards. For foreign languages, this should require no work at all. If you’re applying this strategy to biological processes or something complicated, it’s essential that you scale back complex details and only force yourself to memorize the macro details at first.
Throughout this article, I’ll go over how to make sure this basic layout turns into something practical, easy, and quick. Most of the information provided so far can get you into an effective study strategy but without the details you may end up wasting a ton of unrequired study time.
If you don’t have any better ideas, don’t feel the slightest bit bad using flash cards as your go to method. I’ve practiced similar strategies for years and they’re my go to method. Sure, flash cards suck but they provide more versatility and effectiveness than 95% of methods.
There are other options if you get creative though. For foreign languages, there has been one particular strategy around for years. To memorize a language just put post it notes on everything that you own and write the foreign languages word for it on the post it note. This is a powerful strategy for languages but unfortunately, you need to combine it with another method to include parts of speech other than nouns.
There are a ton of game methods as well. There are boatloads of websites that create games based on learning. Using those games instead of flashcards is reasonable. Of course, it comes with the risk of not learning the exact words you need. (No game was specifically designed for your learning needs.) Also, you need a computer to use them.
See the complexities I’m talking about? Flash cards are usually way easier.
Don’t use those flash cards in the typical “study for an hour” style method. Sure, it will work better than some things but that’s one of the least efficient ways to learn.
Use your flash cards in sessions under 15 minutes long. It’s much better to require extra short study sessions than increase the time you sit and study. The human brain learns best early in the study session. By doing multiple study sessions, you learn best for more time than using just a single study session.
If you need to learn a ton of information then increase the number of sessions you use per day. If your motivation is for school then I don’t recommend more than 6 ten minute sessions per day. (Ideally, don’t use this method for school though. Use my other strategies outlined in this blog.) To the student that asked the question: Since your motivation is personal, you can add in virtually as many sessions as you want every single day. (Max perhaps around 1 per hour. You don’t really need that many in most cases though.) If you ever feel drained then just cut back on the sessions.
Lets say you have 1000 words you’re trying to memorize. It would be absolutely insane to try and cycle randomly through 1000 different flash cards. That’s why you should break up the flash cards into sets of 10-30. Then design a schedule to go over all of the different sets of flash cards.
So, if you’re studying 50 sets of 20 flash cards, you may schedule them one after another with 5 sessions per day. That would take 10 days to get through. That comes with some problems though. By day 10, you won’t remember most of the information from day 1. So try to cycle day 1 flashcards in on day 3, then day 2 flashcards on day 4, and so on. Notice how complicated this is getting? Yea. Write down the schedule to make it work. (Also don’t feel bad about combining sets into fewer larger sets of flashcards as you get through memorizing them. So, instead of two sets of 20 you can make one set of forty to be memorized in a couple days.)
You need to be really damn motivated to make this work. I’ve personally done it but I wouldn’t judge anyone that struggles at this. If it’s too much then cut back somewhere until it’s reasonable for you.
Macro VS Micro
Throughout school, I got in the bad habit of studying almost anything with flash cards. I would write one word on one side of the flash card, then on the other side I’d have a wall of text that I’m trying to remember. That doesn’t work too well.
Some information is not designed well for flash cards. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use flash cards though. It means you should probably adjust the information into something that’s more accessible with flash cards. Let’s say you have this monster of information for your flash card:
Metazoa: Heterotrophic and motile multicellular organisms. (Some have adopted a sessile lifestyle.)
Yikes! Do you have any idea what that means? Well… I don’t but that shouldn’t be an issue for my point.
The easiest flash card to make would be “Metazoa” on one side, and then the line after that on the other side. That wouldn’t be a miserable flash card but it’s definitely not an ideal one. There are ways to make this easier though.
First of all, if you have any flash cards explaining what “heterotrophic,” “motile,” and “sessile” mean, then learn those flashcards first. Put this flash card into a set you study after those other words are learned.
Second, don’t be afraid to lop off a semi-essential piece of information like “(Some have adopted a sessile lifestyle.)” At least, be willing to lop it off early in your study session. Maybe write it on your flashcard but don’t force yourself to remember it to get through that flash card until the second or third time through the set of flash cards. (Write it in blue or something to make it obvious.) Using a strategy like that you can include unbelievably complex concepts on a single flash card and not feel like banging your head against a wall.
By using a cycled sessions strategy like this one, you should be able to memorize virtually anything you’re looking to memorize. It requires significantly more motivation than many of my methods but for personal use, it can be absolutely ideal.
Do you want to know how to study in less than fifteen minutes a night? That’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to check out the articles in the archive and follow to learn more. Also, please check out the ebooks in the sidebar.