Brain Hack: Memory

by Dave Farrow
1 comment

Memorizing Large Amounts of Information

People often ask me how to memorize large amounts of information.
Here is the key: Treat your brain like a computer.  If you store information in a systematic way, it is easier for retrieval later. Just think…if your computer desktop was filled with files, (word documents, photos, apps, spreadsheets, etc.) it would be very difficult to sift through all the material to find a specific item.  Just as we organize our computer files into folders (separated by kind, document topic etc.) so to can we do this in our brain.
The first step is to categorize this information.
Many people skip this step because it seems so basic, but categorizing information and preparing it for encoding is so important to the memory process. I’ve worked with law students and science students who need to memorize large sums of information on a regular basis and this was always stage one.
Before delving into material, set aside time to organize the incoming information. Whatever you are memorizing (whether it is information in textbooks, reports, articles, emails, etc.) begin by chunking the material into categorizes. The specific categorizes should be your choice but it should be logical.

Next, prioritize specific points to memorize.  
Not all information is created equal. Whether it is in the form of textbook chapters, charts, emails, reports, etc., there is a hierarchy of importance when it comes to information. Some facts are really significant while others are simply not. This seems obvious but so many people regard new information with the high level of importance just because it is new. Once step one is completed and the information is categorized, I recommend going through the categories one at a time and selecting the sections for memorization.  Important categories should be memorized in detail while the less important categories can be filled in with schema.
Schema is the reason why our brains remember more information on familiar subjects than on unfamiliar subjects. Having prior knowledge provides a framework on which to build new information. When categorizes are already organized in our mind, it is easier to fit new information into the preexisting template. For example, if an art student learns a new fact about Rembrandt, they likely already have topics mapped out in their head for art history, the Renaissance, etc. They may draw upon this prior knowledge and have a better understanding of where Rembrandt fits into the entire picture of art history. This cannot be under-estimated. One of the main principles of memory is that nothing exists in a void. You only remember something by how it relates to something else.
So how does this relate to you?
Simple. You are overwhelmed by the volume of information hitting you daily. Categorizing and prioritizing information will leave you with a manageable amount to remember using memory techniques.
With regular practice these steps can become second nature. The minute you get a new report, you file it in it’s category and either memorize it or simply read through it for the fact depending on its priority level.
Memorizing large amounts of information is complicated and this hack is only the beginning.  For more information on memory techniques visit


Dave Farrow

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1 comment

Gregory October 19, 2009 - 6:47 pm

Dave, your answer is excellent and very helpful.


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