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HOW TO MEMORISE LONG PIECES OF TEXT



One of the questions I am asked most often is how can someone memorise very long passages of text, particularly religious texts such as the Qur'an or the Bible. In fact it was a question about how to remember the Bible from Joseph from one of the visitors to the site, and an experience that I had on a recent trip to Kuwait, that prompted me to write this article.


If you think about a book like the Bible or the Qur'an then it is very easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information contained in those texts and the prospect of memorising them can appear extremely daunting. But it is possible because certainly many millions of Muslims have committed their Holy Book to memory and many Christians have also memorised the Bible.


If you doubt your own ability to learn such a vast amount of information then that is understandable, but think about this: how many songs do you know the words to (and that you possibly sing to at the top of your voice in the bath when no one is listening)? Let me ask you a question - when did you sit down and learn the words? You probably didn't yet somehow you "know" the words. So without even trying you can learn words to a song.


So not only do you have the capability to learn lots of information but you also have the capacity.


Let me tell you about an experience I had on a recent visit to Kuwait where I spent 6 days teaching company executives how to read faster and remember better. During a lunch break, I chatted to Faisel, one of the delegates, about the challenges facing young Muslims as they memorise their Holy Book. The Qur'an consists of 114 Surahs (chapters) which amount to hundreds of pages of text and it is important that the words in the book can be recited perfectly and with complete accuracy.


As one of the topics on my course was memory Faisel asked if I could help and so was extremely privileged to be invited to a mosque to see if I could assist the young boys who were learning the Qur'an.


The strategy I witnessed was simply one of repetition. The young boys would start on the first page and read it over and over again and then try and recall it from memory. When they were happy that they could, they would present themselves to their teacher and recite the page from memory. The teacher would then check to see that their recall and pronunciation were correct.


The boys would do this for about 40 pages until they could recite all 40 pages correctly, then they would move on to the next 40 pages. It takes anywhere from 2-4 years to memorise and youngsters begin learning from as young as 5 or 6 although one youngster in the mosque had learned it within one year.


I chatted with the teachers and asked what difficulties the boys faced. Through an interpreter I discovered that the main problem appeared to be that although the boys were able to memorise and accurately recall 40 pages at a time, when they came back to those 40 pages a few months later after memorising other parts of the Qur'an, they found that they had to re-learn the text again as parts of it were difficult to recall.


This was the main problem that slowed the boys down. This did not surprise me, as it is a typical problem encountered with rote learning, particularly with such a large volume of text. However the process of repetition does work, millions of Muslims who have learned the Qur'an are testimony to that, but it needs to be done in a way that takes advantage of the memory's natural rhythms.


I asked some of the boys about their learning and what struck me most was not so much the process that they were adopting but more the importance that these youngsters placed on the fact that they HAD to learn it and that they enthusiastically WANTED to learn it.


We discussed some of the strategies that they employed and these included being able to "see" the page in their mind's eye as they recalled it from memory to remembering the first word on the page that then triggered the recall of the rest of the page.


I was wary of recommending to the teachers many of the Accelerated Learning strategies available because I was sensitive to the reverence in which the Qur'an is held. Suggestions like making the learning fun just did not seem appropriate in this case.


So instead I told the teachers about review strategies and explained that more frequent reviews of the pages learned should be carried out to prevent any pointless re-learning. The aim when learning anything is to learn it once and then keep reinforcing it in the mind by practising its recall until you can always remember it correctly.


So if you are faced with the prospect of learning large amounts of text (like the Bible or the Qur'an), how would you go about it?


Well the first thing that you should do is to find the motivation. What is the reason that you want to learn this information? Why is it important to you? How great will you feel when you have succeeded in this task? How bad will you feel if you don't achieve it?


Your level of motivation and determination to achieve the task will decide whether you do reach your goal. A passing interest that it might be a good idea to be able to remember something one day is not enough. You need to have a burning desire with strong reasons for doing it that pull you towards the pleasure of achievement and drive you away from the pain of failure.


Having found the motivation, the next thing is to set your goal, write it down and be specific. For example you might write down "I want to be able to perfectly recall any passage from the Bible by Christmas Day 2004". Getting specific is vital because if you don't, how will you know whether you have achieved your goal or not?


Now we get into the actual memorisation part. Elsewhere on the site I have described how to remember lists using stories or peg systems such as the number rhyme or the journey system, and I have described strategies such as Mind Mapping and the Power Browse so I will not repeat myself here.


There is no single answer to this challenge so what I shall offer here is a range of ideas for you to try. The only measure of the success is whether you can accurately recall what you are trying to memorise whenever you want to. The point is to work at it UNTIL you can do it. Some strategies may take longer, some may not work at all for you and your ability to continue working at it UNTIL, will be decided by your motivation and determination to succeed.


With such a large volume of information, it is very easy to become overwhelmed so the first thing to do is to break it down into manageable chunks e.g. in the example of the Bible you can start with the Old and New Testaments, then the books of each Testament, then the chapters of each book, then the verses of each chapter.


You can now approach the book in one of two ways: either you start with book one of the Old Testament, learn the first verse then move onto the next, then the next and so on; OR do the whole book in a more layered fashion. What I mean by this is that at the top level learn that you have two testaments of the Bible. Then the next level is to learn the books of each testament. Then the next level is to learn the gist of each chapter then the next level is to learn the gist of each verse and then finally you learn each verse completely.


In my mind, and this is a personal opinion and it may be different for you, the second option is the easiest and probably the quickest. It has the advantage that at all times you have an overview of the whole book and as you progress you start adding more "meat to the bones" as you go down each level until eventually you know the book completely.


You might want to try Mind Mapping the structure of the whole book and maybe the books within each testament. Then perhaps use the Journey technique to remember the sequence of books or the main themes within each chapter of the book. Each time you do this you are creating more foundations and potential pegs on which to hang the detail of the specific verses.


The important point to remember about learning the actual verses is that you don't have to memorise every single word to be able to recall every single word. All you need to be able to do is to memorise key words that trigger the other words. Again it takes practice and perseverance but it is possible.


A key principle to adopt is that of "Once Only" learning and what I mean by that is having memorised something once, make sure that you have got the recall right and then maintain you ability to recall it by practising its recall after 10 minutes, one day, one week, one month, 3 months and then 6 months. This will condition it into your mind so that you "just know" and make sure that it will always be there for you when you need it.


Introducing music is another thing you could try and do. For example, read the text and visualise what the words mean to you as you listen to baroque music. You could even sing parts of the text to some of your favourite tunes.


In testing yourself, why not set up games with your family and friends and give them question cards for the parts that you have memorised and ask them to test you at any time of their choosing (even the most inopportune times like in the bath!).


It is important to understand that you will have to go through the text many times, looking at it in different ways to do this approach and the value of doing it this way is that there is constant variety and a general and gradual build up of learning that starts with recognition, then moves on to familiarity, passes through knowledge of and finally you achieve perfect recall.


You may have to try a number of different strategies but it is possible to memorise the whole Bible or the Qur'an in this way and even enjoy the process.



To ask about any aspect of Accelerated Learning, e-mail himself (at) michaeltipper.com . Due to Michael's hectic schedule, he may not be able to write back, but will do his best to cover the main issues raised, in future articles [more about Michael on the page here].




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