Aren’t brains funny things? It seems like they remember all the random facts we don’t need yet refuse to digest and absorb and recall the important ones. I’ve always wanted to have a vast knowledge of scripture stored for easy access in some incredibly organized and easy to access portion of my brain, yet it seems like whenever I “memorize” a verse, it’s gonna within a couple days. With two notable exceptions:
1) Verses I use a lot.
2) Verses set to music.
I can easily recall several scriptures that I learned in Missionettes (basically Christian Girl-Scouts/Awana but for Assemblies of God churches) because they had little songs sung by pre-teen girls that we listened to over and over at our meetings and would sing along with. We got drilled on our verses and they would honestly get stuck in your head. School House Rock uses the same concept! How many people who can successfully recite our United States Preamble can do so without singing that catchy song? (Check out the song here.) This is also why advertising companies come up with “jingles” to help you remember them. If I sing, “Like a good neighbor….” or “Ba-da ba ba baaa… I’m lovin’ it.” You instantly know what I’m referring to. The flow of the words helps you remember them.
Secondly, verses that you go back to time and time again. Repetition. Tons of people know John 3:16, even many people who may not be Christians. Or Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” Or even the Christmas story as told by Linus of the Peanuts: “And there were in the same field shepherds, abiding in the fields and keeping watch over their flocks by night…” Etc. Repetition. I remember verses that I have been flooded with my whole life. Or the ones that you love using but keep forgetting, so you look them up time and time again until they finally stick.
From these observations it seems like melody/rhythm and repetition are the main keys to the things I remember most.
So then I guess we should just make up a song for every verse we want to memorize and sing it over and over to ourselves? Well, technically that would work, but…
What if you don’t have a musical bone in your body?
That’s where my favorite method of scripture memorization comes in.
I learned this technique from my youth pastor about five years ago. We were going through the teen version of Experiencing God, and we were challenged to memorize the verse that went along with each chapter. There were nine chapters and used this method to memorize all of them. I got to the point where I could recite all nine verses in order from memory. Are you ready? Here it is:
How to Memorize Anything
1. Read it OUT LOUD. 10 times.
2. Close your reference, and say it OUT LOUD 10 times without looking at it. (This is the hard part.)
3. Repeat the next morning.
In about a week that verse will be locked in place. Does it stay forever? Yes and no. Once you memorize something like this it stays for as long as you choose to reference it. But if you don’t keep going back and saying it from memory every now and then, you will have to use this technique for a couple days to freshen it up in your memory. I can’t say all of those nine verse off the top of my head anymore, but others I can. The ones I can’t remember would come back really fast though if I were to just do this little method for a couple days to refresh them.
Why does it work so well?
1) When you say the words out loud it creates that melodic flow that helps your brain remember things. It’s not quite as powerful as if you set it to music, but (at least for me) it’s the next best thing.
2) Repetition is what makes up for it not being a song and really gets it deep down in there. You become used to HEARING it. It becomes familiar.
3) Reading it from the page the first 10 times really makes your eyes follow the page and visualize the words as you say them. This way you get a whole ‘nother level of ways to interact with and store the information.
4) Closing the book and repeating it from memory is really what straps it down in your mind. The first time you do it will feel like taking off training wheels, and you’ll. realize, “Hey, I wasn’t really paying attention to that…” and you may need to glance back at your text. But when you do your brain will be focusing on storing that missing word because you are putting it to the test and it realizes now that it can’t just be passive. You have to force your brain to recall the verse. You are making it remember where it put it and bring it back out for you to recite.
Now then, a few tips to make this extra successful:
- You HAVE to follow the method exactly. If you don’t read out loud it won’t work. If you don’t read from the page and then without looking it won’t work (exception below). If you don’t do it more than one day, it loose alot of it’s efficacy.
- When you are doing the second step, it is okay to cheat a couple times for the first day or two because you probably won’t be able to say it perfect the first time. But really try to struggle through each repetition without looking, and then just check your work against the text you are memorizing. If you don’t check yourself, you may memorize the verse wrong. But if you check too much, you aren’t really doing the work to get it in there. You have to find the balance there. The first day you will have to check alot. The second day, very little. If you’re on day three and you still have to check you probably aren’t trying hard enough to force your brain to focus during the initial reading.
- If you are memorizing a scripture verse, say the reference before and after the actual verse. References are really hard to remember accurately, so get it in there as much as possible. The same would apply to the author of a quote, if that’s what you’re memorizing. It can help to break down the selection into natural phrases, so instead of just memorizing it as it’s written on the page, re-write it in a format that fits best for you. For example if you’re memorizing John 14:26, you might break it down like this:
“But the Advocate,
the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you all things
and will remind you
I have said to you.
John 14:26 (NIV)”
- Lastly, freshen up every couple months or so. If you spend a couple weeks on a verse, it should be locked tight in your memory, so if you find that it’s kinda hard to recall, just refresh it and spend a few days repeating it again. It should come back good as new.
Our brains run on the concept of “Use it or lose it!”, so make sure you USE the things you want to KEEP using. I hope you’ll have as much success with this method as I have! Let me know how it works for you and any awesome memory tips and techniques you’ve found too!