How to Memorize Verbatim Text

If you are visiting from StumbleUpon and like this article and tool, please consider giving it a thumbs up. Thanks!Memories in Your Brain

Memorizing does not have to be as hard as most people make it. The problem is that most people only know how to memorize by reading the same thing over and over again. You have to learn to memorize. In this post we are going to look at how the brain remembers and then show how to use that knowledge to come up with a method for memorizing verbatim text.  Any tip or trick that will improve your memory even slightly is well worth the effort.

In this article we are going to focus on a technique that will let you easily:

  1. Memorize a speech
  2. Memorize the Bible
  3. Memorize lines
  4. Memorize Scripture


At the end of this article is a Javascript tool that makes it easy to implement this method. If you are reading the RSS or Email version, the tool may not show up.

Synapses and Neurons and How to Memorize

In the simplified model of the brain in this discussion, we’ll be looking at neurons and synapses. Neurons are parts of the brain that can send and receive electrical signals. Synapses are the paths between neurons.

When you remember something neurons fire signals down particular synapse pathways to other neurons which in turn fire signals to other neurons. The particular sequence represents a memory. In fact, scientists have been able to make people “re live” experiences from the past by poking around in their brain with an electric probe and starting this interaction.

Strong Pathways

Synapses appear to exhibit plasticity. The strength of the signal they convey is determined by use. The more a particular synapse is used, the stronger the signal it conveys.

For example, consider remembering your home telephone number. Since this is a number you use on a regular basis it probably comes very easily to mind. When you try to recall the number some neurons fire of a signal down some synapses that carry a very strong signal to other neurons which do the same thing. The number comes with very little effort.

Now consider a number that you will have trouble remembering. Lets say your driver’s license number. For most people an attempt to recall this number will cause neurons to fire down very weak synapses. If you are like me, the signal is so week that it will probably not create the necessary chain reaction to recall the number. In fact all I get is a vague impression that the first letter is an S or E. To improve your memory of this number it is necessary to fire a signal down the synapses that will trigger this memory.

How to Memorize – Practice Recalling not Repeating

Memorizing BrainThis is the crucial concept of any type of memorization. The act of reading something you want to memorize fires different connections than the act of recalling. This is how you learn to memorize–your practice recalling, not repeating. This means that simply reading a particular piece of text over and over again is going to be the long road to memorization. You need to let your brain practice recalling the data so it can strengthen the same pathways that will fire when you need to remember the information later on. You can’t practice recalling until the information is at least partially contained in your short term memory.

Now lets look at coming up with a method for memorizing text using our understanding of how the brain works. So lets say we are trying to memorize the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The 278 word speech is not a particularly long oration, but it will work for our demonstration purposes. Our goal is to create a method that will force our brain to practice recalling the speech–even before we have it fully memorized. So first of all we need to get it into our mind so our brain has it–even if we can’t recall it. Here are a few methods that will work:

  1. Read through it aloud.
  2. Copy the text by hand.
  3. Read through the text and create a short outline.
  4. Have someone else read it to you.

There are other methods as well, just do something to get a general familiarity with the piece. Now we need to come up with a method to give our brain, just enough information to recall the original text without simply reading the original.

F s a s y a o f b f o t c, a n n, c i L, a d t t p t a m a c e.

N w a e i a g c w, t w t n, o a n s c a s d, c l e. W a m o a g b-f o t w. W h c t d a p o t f, a a f r p f t w h g t l t t n m l. I i a f a p t w s d t.

B, i a l s, w c n d — w c n c — w c n h — t g. T b m, l a d, w s h, h c i, f a o p p t a o d. T w w l n, n l r w w s h, b i c n f w t d h. I i f u t l, r, t b d h t t u w w t w f h h t f s n a. I i r f u t b h d t t g t r b u — t f t h d w t i d t t c f w t g t l f m o d — t w h h r t t d s n h d i v — t t n, u G, s h a n b o f — a t g o t p, b t p, f t p, s n p f t e.

What we’ve done is taken the first letter of each word. Now try to recite the speech while looking at the text above. You’ll probably get part way into it and get confused. Backup a few letters and look beyond the letter you are struggling with to see if you can figure it out. Remember you are trying to help your brain find the right connections. If you have to consult the original, make note of what confused you and start over.

I have found this method to be much more productive for memorizing verbatim text than just about anything else. I used it extensively in school when I was trying to find how to memorize scripture quickly. It will help improve your memory by giving you a way to practice. However, keep in mind that it is simply one method. When you need to memorize something, think about how to help your brain practice recalling the information–not merely reading it over and over again.  Your goal is to quickly get the information into your short term memory so you can start practicing the recall process and move the information into long term memory.

Below is a tool to help you produce first letter text as shown above. Simply paste the original text in the top box and hit the button. All the letters other than the first one of each word will be stripped out and placed in the bottom box. You can then copy this into a document for printing.

Comments

  1. Desmond Gialanella says

    not a very effective method for learning the v for vendetta speech.

    -B o t m a o n, p m t, i l o t m c s, t s t c o t d p. V! I v h v v, c v a b v a v b t v o f. T v, n m v o v, i a v o t “v p” n v, v. H, t v v o a b v s v, a h v t v t v a v v, v g v a v t v v a v v o v.
    T o v i v; a v, h a a v n i v, f t v a v o s s o d v t v a t v.
    V t v o v v m v, s l m s a t i’s m v g h t m y a y m c m V.

    • David A says

      That’s why Mark made it plain that first letter text is ONE method. There are many more, and he has helpfully made a few suggestions in the narrative of his article.

      It is up to you to select one or more method that is best for you (and the Vendetta speech)

    • says

      It is an *incredibly* effective method to memorize that speech. You just have to devote a little time to it. For a text that size maybe 1-2 hours per session, maybe a little more and then keep going back to it every day, each time it will be easier, until you don’t even need the aid anymore. Print it out on a page with the full text up top and the shortened text below and as you go mark the places where you make a mistake with a pen. That will remind you of where you keep missing a word or two. Memorize it one line at a time and only move onto the next line once you’ve got the first line down. It can totally be done. I’ve memorized MUCH longer texts using it, like most of the NY Penal Law and the content of the New York bar exam.

  2. says

    Very interesting method for verbatim text. I wonder if you couldn’t start by getting rid of the vowels first or scrambling the letters except for the first and last, before moving on to just having the first letter. Perhaps you could progressively eliminate data until you got to that point?

    • says

      That is an idea. I thought about some type of system that would gradually leave out letters until you get to just the first letter and then start removing those and replacing them with spaces as well. However, my experience has been that if you read over two or three sentences a few times and then switch to the first letter method, you’ll have it memorized very quickly so I’m not sure if you will gain anything over a slower approach. You don’t want to spend more time on fiddling with your tool than you do on actually using it to memorize….still it is an interesting idea.

  3. says

    I have to thank you for this application. I would not have passed the New York and New Jersey bar exams without industrial use of this method (I memorized all of the subject areas of law using it, that’s over 17 separate outlines for one test). You really literally saved my life. Please never let this site go down, as a lawyer I memorize almost every important piece of law I need verbatim using your application.

    I am currently using it to memorize the laws of Puerto Rico for the Puerto Rico bar exam. I can’t wait to recite the Puerto Rico code verbatim to my clients or in court >:D

    • says

      Also, awesome side-note, in Spanish it weirdly highlights all of the words that have accents (they are left in)! So the word “deberá” is shortened to “dá” instead of “d”. That’s an amazingly useful glitch. It should dramatically improve my spelling on the test :-) since it will force me to remember the words that have accents. Anyway bravo, you should put this on the App store for money and also make a native desktop version for it. I’d buy it and keep it forever lol.

    • says

      “I would not have passed the New York and New Jersey bar exams without industrial use of this method (I memorized all of the subject areas of law using it, that’s over 17 separate outlines for one test). You really literally saved my life.”

      By “literally”, you mean that you were going to be killed if you had not passed those exams? Perhaps you mean this figuratively or metaphorically (i.e. the exact opposite of “literally”)?

      • says

        Well English can be a confusing language Oisín, especially if you’re not very familiar with it, so I will try to clear this up for you:

        The word “life” doesn’t just refer to biological life, as in I would have been dead had I not passed the bar. Most words have multiple meanings that vary by context.

        According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, life can also mean “the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual”. Now, you are probably of at least average intelligence… I guess… well… maybe. Let’s say there is a slight possibility that you are a person of average intelligence, since you seem to know how to write in English with somewhat decent punctuation. Therefore, you probably know that failing the bar exam would entail some consequences, or at least like any person of average intelligence you should be able to guess that there could be such consequences.

        Had I failed the bar, it would have meant 4 stressful months of waiting for the results, then finding out that I had failed, and another 3 months before I could have taken the bar exam again in February of the next year. I started working at a firm after the bar exam, I might have faced the real possibility of being fired (depends on the firm). Which would have meant that I would have had to stop working in the middle of my first year after graduating law school, stopped earning income, and faced the scorn of my peers for failing a required exam (the results are public, so everyone in the legal community can find out if you passed). On top of that, taking the exam the second time would have meant another months long wait for results, and had I failed then, it would have meant ANOTHER giant wait to take the exam. Failing the bar exam can have a devastating effect on the career of a lawyer. Which could have seriously affected my physical and mental experiences. Not failing it, thanks to this site, saved me from having to go through that. Therefore, this site literally saved my life (from sucking).

        Furthermore, let’s assume that failing the bar exam would have led me into a massive depression, and this had resulted in a desire to kill myself. Lawyers and law students can face incredible pressure to perform, so these things are not uncommon. Perhaps there is a history of depression in some members of my family. And with the economy the way it is, and all the money we’ve thrown into a legal education, it’s a highly plausible outcome. Certain things in life can be pretty devastating emotionally. And in the legal profession, there are very few second chances. Fail to get into a decent school, fail to do well in that school, fail to pass the bar, and you can bet that you’re going to have a very difficult time repairing your career. So in that sense, my life could have also been terminated.

        Therefore my saying that this method “saved my life” is correct for at least two meanings of the world life. I’m not going to write a dissertation here about how it might be correct for even more meanings, because that would just be beating a dead horse.

        I’m glad I could clear that up for you. If you are confused about the proper use of other English words or expressions, feel free to send me more questions. I know English can be a hard language to understand for some people. I don’t judge.

        For additional reading, I suggest you look up the terms “hyperbole” and “context.” You might not be familiar with the usage of hyperbole in the English language either. Also look up “sarcasm” and “irony.”

        Have a nice day.

        • says

          “Furthermore, let’s assume that failing the bar exam would have led me into a massive depression, and this had resulted in a desire to kill myself.”

          “Fail to get into a decent school, fail to do well in that school, fail to pass the bar, and you can bet that you’re going to have a very difficult time repairing your career. So in that sense, my life could have also been terminated.”

          William, If this were a cheesy TV courtroom drama, my lawyer would at both of these points interject with something like “Objection! Speculation, your honour”. I don’t know if that happens in real life; perhaps you can shed light on that.

          My point – which was genuinely made without any assumption of idiocy or poor English skills on your part, since it’s a common error – was simply that by using the word “literally” before “saved my life”, you accidentally indicated that you physically would have died had you not passed the bar exam.

          No amount of ad hominem attacks on my intelligence or English language ability, nor drawn out hypothetical scenarios change that fact. Rather than bitterly insulting me, wouldn’t it be more productive to simply accept the correction and move on, very slightly wiser?

          BTW I’m glad that you “made it”, after many years of hard work. I myself have suffered at the hands of a long, drawn out PhD which may or may not end successfully soon, with only my own lack of discipline and focus to blame. However, I don’t insult the intelligence and language skills of everybody I come across simply because I’ve been poor and struggling since starting as an undergrad 9 years ago.

          I’d encourage you to re-read your entire comment from a neutral perspective and ask yourself whether it was really warranted or appropriate.

      • William says

        You are still wrong and failed to address all of my points. But it’s ok if you can’t figure out counter arguments and choose to focus on straw men, it only helps prove I’m right.

        I will restate a few of the arguments you did not address and counter your silly last comment:

        (1) My original comment was valid as hyperbole, it is not incorrect for me to use “literally” if any reasonable person could see that I was exaggerating. You literally don’t understand that hyperbole is a valid rhetorical device in the English language (and I don’t mean that last sentence as hyperbole). Being an unreasonable person doesn’t make you right about grammar.

        (2) You also did not address the argument that this website “literally saved my life from sucking” (where I used one of the other meanings for the word “life” and provided a reference).

        (3) A great deal of that was not “speculation”, I’ve led an incredibly difficult life and without describing every detail of my personal life, many of those scenarios (and far worse) have applied to me far more directly than you think (I merely implied that they were speculative examples). So again, you are wrong by stating that I am providing merely speculative arguments, I LIVED through those examples. Prove that any of those things didn’t happen to me. Prove that my life wasn’t in danger. Using this technique literally “literally” saved my biological life. Literally.

        (4) Furthermore, objection overruled, speculative arguments are allowed if they plausibly make my use of the word literally valid in at least some cases (which would make you wrong and me right). This isn’t court, the Federal Rules of Evidence don’t apply.

        I suggest you either re-read my comment and refute all of my arguments or concede that you were literally wrong to correct me. You’ve lost in the eyes of the internet court. PHD or not, you were not right to correct me.

        Next time you correct someone, try to be sure that you know what you’re talking about. Or better yet, don’t correct people, it’s really rude and most people won’t thank you for it, especially if you’re correction is wrong.

        Pardon that I replied to this comment rather than your last one, but the website won’t allow me to reply to the last one for some reason.

        • says

          “I suggest you either re-read my comment and refute all of my arguments or concede that you were literally wrong to correct me.”

          Oh, the old “death by 1,000 papercuts”. Good one. I’m honestly not sure why you think I need to “prove” to you that your usage of the word was incorrect. If you don’t agree, fine, smarter men than us have differed over even more trivial things.
          I do not accept your suggestion that the use of hyperbole somehow cancels out the wrong usage of “literally”, unless your argument is simply that obvious hyperbole means it’s okay to misuse the term because everybody will figure it out. In which case, sure – I never suggested that people would actually fail to understand you – simply that you used the word “literally” but meant exactly its opposite, “figuratively”.

          “You’ve lost in the eyes of the internet court. PHD or not, you were not right to correct me.”

          For a lawyer, you have a funny definition of what a court is. It most certainly is not “the one person with whom I’m arguing over a trivial issue”.

          “Next time you correct someone, try to be sure that you know what you’re talking about. Or better yet, don’t correct people, it’s really rude and most people won’t thank you for it, especially if you’re correction is wrong.”

          No, I absolutely do not agree that it is rude to correct people.

          If I make a basic error and someone corrects it, then I’m happy to learn something. If I do not agree with the correction, then we discuss it and move on, hopefully both having gained a new perspective.
          Either way, I don’t start raging and accusing the other party of being stupid or unable to speak English properly, as you accused me.
          Again, I urge you to re-read your comments and ask whether your aggressive tone and response were appropriate.

      • William says

        So according to you:

        1. The word “literally” can never be used in a figurative sense in the English language, ever?
        2. Or are you saying that everyone who writes something figurative or hyperbolic is making a mistake by not usig the words in their literal sense *gasp!* and should be corrected?
        3. That I should have said “this website figuratively saved my life”? (That doesn’t sound like stupid way to phrase what I wanted to say to you?).
        4. That even if my statement was meant literally, I still used the word “literally” incorrectly? (Explain that to me, please. I don’t have your PHD mastery over logic…).

        I admit I was a bit harsh, but in my defense you seem like a sheltered, pompous, arrogant jerk who thinks he knows it all (even when you’re wrong) and I don’t feel too bad about what I wrote. Also, you’re stupid.

        • says

          William:
          “So according to you:

          1. The word “literally” can never be used in a figurative sense in the English language, ever?”
          2. Or are you saying that everyone who writes something figurative or hyperbolic is making a mistake by not usig the words in their literal sense *gasp!* and should be corrected?”

          What, not using the word “literally” in its literal sense? You are free to use any word for any purpose you like, but of course people are also free to point out when you’ve used the wrong word for the wrong purpose.
          Note how I did not insult you in my original post – in fact I didn’t even “correct” you; I simply _asked_ if what you meant was “figuratively”, which is the exact opposite of “literally”.
          You responded to this question in an incredibly immature fashion, insulting my intelligence and language skills.

          “3. That I should have said “this website figuratively saved my life”? (That doesn’t sound like stupid way to phrase what I wanted to say to you?).”

          No. You can say what you like, but I would have just left out the word “literally”. It has no more meaning than saying “this website fizzlepoppingly saved my life”.

          “4. That even if my statement was meant literally, I still used the word “literally” incorrectly? (Explain that to me, please. I don’t have your PHD mastery over logic…).”

          But it was obvious that the statement was _not_ meant literally. When you try to think of life-threatening situations, a bar exam does not come to mind. Since your original comment made no reference to any context which would have hinted that there was any mortal danger involved in not passing your bar exam, the reader assumes with near-certainty that your life was NOT literally saved.
          And that assumption would be correct, since you have admitted that you used it as what you call hyperbole (a.k.a. wrong).

          “I admit I was a bit harsh, but in my defense you seem like a sheltered, pompous, arrogant jerk who thinks he knows it all (even when you’re wrong) and I don’t feel too bad about what I wrote. Also, you’re stupid.”

          What makes you think I’m stupid? How do you expect to make it as a lawyer if your response to someone who politely disagrees with you is a tirade of insults? You will not be taken seriously in court.

      • Robert says

        You say that like it’s a settled thing. However, this literally/figuratively thing is still a controversial debate. The use of literally in hyperbole dates back hundreds of years and a lot of great writers have used it. Half of the dictionaries have examples of its use in hyperbole. The most you could accurately say is that some people think literally shouldn’t be used in hyperbole. But it’s not an established rule or anything. You can’t just say someone is wrong to use it like it’s a fact. Also, using figuratively would undermine the hyperbole, so it’s a bad suggestion.

        • Kieran says

          The literally/figuratively thing has kinda been settled with the Oxford dictionary changing the definition of the work ‘literally’ to include expressive uses such as “I’d literally have died if ken seen me with those granny pants on!”

      • William says

        “What makes you think I’m stupid?”

        Strict adherence to an arbitrary “rule” that is really just a pet peeve of yours and not an established rule.
        Expectation that others adhere to your arbitrary rule.
        Publicly correcting others when they violate your rule.
        Insistence on a violation of said rule even in a case where there is no violation.
        Inability to take a figurative, sarcastic, metaphorical or hyperbolic statement in anything but a literal sense.
        Inability to see that condescendingly correcting people in public might not be taken graciously.
        Inability to put yourself in others’ shoes.

        It’s like talking to an improperly programmed robot.

        Is your PHD in computer science by any chance?

        “And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.” ~Mark Twain.
        “…the Gloria in that being to his mind the acme of first class music as such, literally knocking everything else into a cocked hat.” ~James Joyce.
        “He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald.
        “The land literally flowed with milk and honey on such occasions, for the lads were not required to sit at table, but allowed to partake of refreshment as they liked freedom being the sauce best beloved by the boyish soul.” ~Louisa May Alcott.

        I’d rather be in their company if you don’t mind.

  4. ANMB says

    * I figured out why I could not see older comments; I did not realize I was looking at the bottom of ‘trackback’ comments section. And when I scrolled up, I could see the other comments through today.

  5. says

    Mike,

    I used your Verbatim Converter to help me memorize the book of Ephesians in the KJV. I started to make a similar document for the Greek, but that proved to be such a daunting task that I never finished it. I may someday for I would like to memorize the Greek after finishing the English.

    http://www.donpotter.net/pdf/ephesians_verbatim.pdf

    I included enough information from your website to make it a standalone document. I included a link to your article and the Verbatim Converter.

    Thanks a million for making the information and Converter available.
    Don Potter

  6. Raheel says

    Hello Dear. Your solution for memorizing is highly capable and I really appreciate your work.My question is that this java script converter is only working with English font. I have to use it with different fonts. Like Arabic etc.. I will be waiting for your kind reply! thanks

  7. Khizer says

    السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

    Rheel i am also looking for the same thing let me know if you have came across any solution for this ??

  8. Andy says

    Mark,

    I am memorizing a large volume of lines for a theater production. I can see where this will be a tremendous help for uninterrupted monologues, but how would you suggest using it for memorizing those two or three sentence lines in response to another actor’s cue line(s)?

  9. says

    I would suggest making a script where all of your lines are the one letter version, but the other lines are the full versions. That way you can read the other lines and then fill in your own.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>