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Here’s a great question about how to memorize textbooks I received from a Magnetic Memory Method fan:
What if I wanted to memorize a chapter in a textbook so I could ace a test on that subject?
That would be cool, wouldn’t it?
Good news: It’s 100% possible.
When I was studying for my doctoral examinations and later for my dissertation defense (rigorous 2 hr. + grilling sessions in front of a committee of 4-7 accomplished professors), I read a total of over 500 books and articles.
I’m not kidding. I almost broke my back at the library on several occasions!
Here’s exactly how I used to operate – and still do when I’m conducting research or just want to memorize the contents of a book using memory techniques. It’s an ongoing memory improvement project to continue learning from textbooks and it all begins with this important step every time:
Leave Your Fear At The Door:
These Details Will Show You How To Memorize Textbooks
Unfortunately, a lot of people get hung up on the details when learning how to memorize textbooks.
For good reason:
There are some operational factors in what I’m about to describe that might not seem to involve memorization.
Trust me: Each step is essential as you learn how to memorize textbooks. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have included it.
Before I take any of the steps that I’m about to describe, I always begin with a carefully defined Memory Palace. As I talk about in all of my trainings, I always make sure that each Memory Palace involves a location that I’m intimately familiar with.
If you’re having a hard time finding good Memory Palaces, check out the MMM Podcast episode: How to Find Memory Palaces. It will help.
Plus, make sure that you have the free Memory Improvement Kit so you can use the worksheets and videos as a guide.
Create Limited Set Memory Palaces Based On The Textbooks
You Want To Memorize
I always chart out between 4-10 stations within each room of that Memory Palace. In the past, I usually made more (like 50 or so, often with between 30-50 stations within a single room). These days, I’m more focused on small sets of information.
Because I find that leads to more meaningful quantity over time with my current Mandarin Chinese learning project.
For more information on how to create a Memory Palace, get my free memory improvement kit:
Create The Right Mindset
This is important:
Decide to work with the correct mental attitude. For example, when sitting with a textbook or journal article, I need to have the attitude that I will walk away with the most essential information firmly magnetized into my mind.
You should do this too.
Take a moment to relax.
I recommend that you adopt a traditional meditation pose on the floor, or lay down for awhile and do some progressive relaxation. Either way, I spend time practicing a bit of pendulum breathing and maybe even the Human Charger.
With those operating procedures covered regarding how to memorize textbooks, let’s get into further detail.
1. Look At The Book And Read The Conclusion First
When approaching a new book, carefully examine the front cover and the back cover.
- the colophon page
- the table of contents
- the introduction
- the conclusion
Finally, scan through the index (if available).
The scholar Gerrard Genette calls these parts of a book the “paratext,” (the text beside the text). This step takes about five minutes and effectively trains your brain to understand the scope and dimension of the book with respect to its topic.
Why read the conclusion first? Part of the reason is to judge whether or not the author’s conclusion about his or her own subject was profound enough to warrant reading all of the steps needed to arrive at it.
The introduction and conclusion also give clues regarding which chapters of the book might be the most important to focus on.
2. Manage Index Card Mania
It’s important to decide how much information you want to take away from a textbook in advance. That way, you don’t overwhelm yourself.
And you can start in a structure manner. Like this:
Take out an index card and write down the name of the author, the title of the book and all of the bibliographic information.
Number this card “1” in the top left corner. Before starting with a book, I tend to decide in advance exactly how many pieces of information I want to retain from it.
This is the principle of “predetermination” that I discuss throughout the Magnetic Memory Method training.
Often, I default to three facts or details per chapter, but always keep enough index cards on hand in case I want more.
The reason for deciding these matters in advance is because
a) failing to plan is generally planning to fail (especially when it comes to structured reading), and
b) predetermination prevents overwhelm.
Less is more. When you use the Magnetic Memory Method for something like foreign language learning or studying, you’ll find that by focusing on just a few key points, a lot of the surrounding information will automatically “stick” to the memorized material.
Try it. It just happens.
Then try these 5 Note Taking Techniques That Force You To Remember More.
3. Get Started
The beauty of having operating principles is that you never sit around wondering how to get started. You just dive in.
So after reading the introduction and conclusion, you should now have in mind which chapters you want to read first. Just get started with one of them.
If you’re having decision anxiety, just go in the order they appear in the book from beginning to end. Don’t let thinking get in the way of forward progress.
4.Think In Threes
Here’s the deal:
At this point, you know that there are three pieces of information you’re going to walk with away from each chapter. You’ve got your index cards ready to go and can start gathering the information.
It doesn’t have to be a limit of three. You might want to go for five or ten. The important point is to pick a structured operating principle and go with it.
5. The Ownership Mindset
Since you’ve already adopted the attitude that you’re going to succeed and literally “own” the key information in the book, it’s time to play a game totally unlike other brain games I teach. This game works especially well if the book is boring or completely outside your interest.
Pretend that you’re the talk show host of a program and later that evening and you’ve got to interview the author. Millions of people will be watching, so you really need to the book. And you need to read it fast.
What this mindset allows is for you to ask questions while you’re reading. You’ll get really curious, and instead of reading passively, you’ll actively engage with the writing.
Also, ask “else” questions. This means that instead of stopping after a round of:
You add “else” to each one:
- Who else?
- What else?
- Where else?
- When else?
- Why else?
- How else?
This technique will help you create new knowledge as you learn.
Try it. You’ll love it.
6. Categorize Every Gem
(Studying Is A Numbers Game)
When y0u come across a gem of a detail, write it down on the index card. Write down the page number where you found the information on the bottom right corner.
Do this regardless of whether or not you’ve jotted down a quote. Should you ever need to find that information again, you’ll know where to go. If you have any secondary ideas, use the back of the index card to capture them.
At this point, don’t do any kind of memorization. You’re familiarizing yourself, learning, connecting the details with information you already know and gathering new facts and details. That’s it.
So let’s assume now that you’ve read a book that has ten chapters and you’ve got three index cards for each.
Each card is numbered, meaning that you now have 30 index cards. All you need now is to be prepared with 30 station in 1-3 Memory Palaces that you’ve hopefully already assigned to the book.
7. Start Memorizing (Magnetically)
Your next step is to simply start with card #1. You want to remember the title of the book and the name of its author. That information is memorized at station #1.
If you happen to know the title of the book already by heart, then you don’t need to use the first station in this way, but it can still be useful to do so, and here’s why:
8. Use The Author As A Visual Element
You can use the author as a “lexical bridge” or “Bridging Figure” to move from station to station as you learn how to memorize textbooks.
See if you can find a picture of the author online. Let’s say that you are reading the book Paratexts, by Gerrard Genette.
I’ve Googled him up and Genette looks like this. Gerrard Genette reminds me of Gillette razor blades, and so I see him shaving in that first room. To remember that it’s Genette and not Gillette, I see him shaving away a beard of Ns growing crazily out of his face. For “Paratexts,” I could ease either a pear bouncing up and down on a textbook, or a can of Para Paint splashing over a book – there are always options.
Here’s another option you can try for finding memorable characters to use as you learn how to memorize textbooks:
9. Exaggerate Everything
Now let’s say that card #2 says: “A text does not exist outside of the text itself.”
That sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?
Maybe, but we don’t often think about the fact that until someone comes along and reads a book, the book essentially doesn’t do anything. There are billions of books standing unread on shelves around the world that only “exist” when someone is reading them or talking about them. This is what Genette means when he says that “a text does n0t exist outside of the text itself.” Our minds are a kind of text, so when we are reading, two texts are intermingling.
To remember all of this, my second station will feature the book Paratexts itself. I imagine it as an object in the Memory Palace I’m using.
On that specific station in that specific Memory Palace, words are trying to escape from the book, and there’s poor Genette trying to beat them back in because, according to him, there is no text outside of the text itself. He needs to get all of that text back in!
As always, the images are big, bright, colorful and filled with exaggerated action.
To get some of the other concepts in Genette’s thinking that I’ve just described, I might see Genette giving up the battle, and then opening up a lid in his head, which is also filled with words, and allowing the words from Paratexts to mingle with the words in his mind.
From there, on to the next index card.
Now that you know how to memorize textbooks, you can model this process to remember any point, historical date, or formula in a book!
10. Test Yourself Before The Teacher Does
The final step when learning how to memorize textbooks is to test your memorization of the details, facts and concepts you have memorized from the textbook.
I recommend writing a summary from your mind and then checking it against the index cards. One of my supervisors required me to submit summaries to prove that I was reading the books on my list, so I got into that habit and have always been grateful for it.
If you’re a student, I highly recommend that you take this step now that you know how to memorize textbooks.
It will not only deeply immerse you in your topic area. It will also provide you with material that you’ve already written when it comes to composing essays, pieces for publication and even your dissertation further on down the road if you decide to complete a PhD.
Also, be sure to revisit the information in your mind following a procedure like the Rule of 5 or the more rigorous Recall Rehearsal procedures of the Magnetic Memory Method. It’s by rehearsing the information into long term memory that you really make it your own.
The best part is that the more you read, the more connections you naturally make, reinforcing what you’ve already learned. Now that you know how to memorize textbooks, you’re going to be a Magnetic powerhouse of information!
Learning How To Memorize Textbooks Is Fun!
What happened during my doctoral examinations? Instead of being stressful as they are for nearly everyone else …
They were fun!
I had been in a relaxed state while reading and memorizing the material, and complimented this by spending a bit of time relaxing before attending the exams. I literally threw myself into a state of self-hypnosis in the corridor outside of the examination rooms.
When I was asked a question, my mind zoomed to where the material was stored in one of my Memory Palaces. Once I found the information, I was able to talk at length about, whether it was Gerrard Genette’s idea about “paratexts” or Aristotle’s philosophy of friendship in The Nichomeachean Ethics.
In case you’re wondering what I did with all those index cards:
I used to wrap them with an elastic band, one per book, and then store them in a shoe box. Somehow, index cards and shoes boxes were made for one another. But all those index cards are gone now and so I enjoy having nothing to do but go through the Memory Palaces in my mind. And thanks to the memory techniques and ongoing memory improvement work I do, that step is often unnecessary.
But it’s fun. And I’m confident it will be just as much fun for you.
Check out this infographic from How to Memorize A Textbook, a similar episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast.
Thank you, just thank you.
Not only for your great work, but for being awesome in the sense of intelligent and practical with that intelligence. I don’t appreciate too much when people use these honorable techniques to just compete, instead of to what they were thought for: being a wise person first, and a genius then.
Thank you from Spain and I hope to have you on Facebook.
Thanks for the kind words, César. I’d be very glad to meet with you on Facebook. Here’s my address there: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Anthony-Metivier/480537711995886
I would also like to meet you on Facebook sir. And also thank you for this amazing stuff.
Thanks, Satyam. You can always visit me on Facebook if you wish. I post a few things there that I think you will enjoy. 🙂
I’ve used this technique for a few books now. It’s worked great so far. But I wondered about the justification for step 6. I tested some and found I preferred to omit step 6 and instead directly add info to the memory palace while reading.
I am missing out on something by doing this, or is it just preference?
Thanks for the comment, Jake.
You can skip step six if it doesn’t serve you. I always did it at that time for academic purposes and as an extension of my interest in library sciences.
It’s also good exercise and often useful to have memorized the page number associated with the information. You can also connect it to the chapter and get an on overall comprehensive understanding of the book as a system. I think you’ll find it useful if you keep it in.
But if it’s not useful, then by all means, it certainly can be excluded from the Magnetic Memory Method without reducing its overall power. 🙂
I am studying for a law exam currently, and I have a question concerning this method.
So the way I understand it is that if I memorize a few key points from each chapter, the surrounding details will just stick to the memorized material, so am I right in saying that I need to first memorize the key points, and then start reading the book from cover to cover, and then the material will immediately stick? Or does it take some time for the memorized material to consolidate in order for them to become magnetic? Because I have memorize some key points last week, and just read through the textbook today, and yet the details didn’t seem to stick.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for this note, Oscar.
With practice, you should find the details consolidating more and more as you master memorizing and recalling the key points. But the promise here is not that all the details will immediately stick, but rather that you will experience your mind filling in the blanks. Again, this is all relative to your experience with using mnemonics. You also need to consider the integrity of your Memory Palaces in accordance with good construction principles and how effectively you are using associative-imagery to decode the target information. This episode of the podcast will help you with troubleshooting any of these problems.
It also helps if you have a memory friendly diet, a good fitness program and regularly receive fitful sleep.
Hope this helps and look forward to any further questions or experiences you have. 🙂
If I’m reading 3-4 books at the time and don’t have sufficient Memory Palaces with me as I always try to use my house or my path to work, how would I not confuse myself? (I know, I should make more Memory Palaces right?
Or, can I use the same palace somehow so to memorize more books at once?
Can I use the same Memory Palace for different books and HOW not to confuse the stations from one book to another? How do I start from Station #1 (TITLE of the book!) and link to ONLY THAT to the next stations without confusing with same Station #1#2#2 of another book in the same Memory Palace?
When you have 30 cards, how do you subdivide them with concepts/details?
Thanks and congrats for your Method!!
Thanks for these GREAT questions, Marco.
First off, yes, always create more Memory Palaces. It is an important chain of events: create and use, create and use, create and use. In a short period of time you’ll be a master.
Yes, you can reuse Memory Palaces, but please be cautious of The Ugly Sister Effect. That podcast will give you a lot of help in that respect.
The ultimate answer to not confusing stations and memorizing a lot of information and managing it all is simple: practice. Just dive in and do it. The art of memory is learned by doing and then experiencing what happens during the process. That’s the path to mastery without overthinking the process.
As for subdividing 30 cards for concepts and details, ideally, the author of that book will have already done that for you. If not, then that’s the reason why index cards are so awesome: You can arrange them in any order that you want.
In other words, you don’t have to memorize all the points from one book in one Memory Palace. You could memorize points from multiple books based around a theme. And because you’ve gathered the data on index cards, you can shuffle and sort them to match the stations in a Memory Palace in any way that you wish.
I’ve done this as well and it is super powerful. It’s also very good for when you want to memorize things like speeches or just have things in mind in a particular order during presentations.
Hope this helps and thanks again for your post. I look forward to your next one here on the Magnetic Memory Method website! 🙂
With regard to the idea of memorising a specific chapter in a text book, let us take a step back – or a step forward, if you prefer. What if we could memorize the entire book as per the subject – the great subject – of one of Anthony’s great videos.
To my mind, the one thing that stands out – above all else – is the spine as the easiest part of a book to recall. We see it the most don’t we? This is perhaps one good reason for thinking that even the seemingly least important details should engross our attention when it comes to utilising our minds and learning memorisational techniques as per Anthony’s creation, the Magnetic Memory Method.
Thanks for this great post, Glenn. I really appreciate you stopping by to leave this comment. You’re absolutely right that memorizing the title and the name of the author is right in front of us as a great memory project and/or exercise.
You remind me of the years I spent working in various libraries. I used to know the Library Congress and Dewey Decimal systems by heart and can still recall some of the basic letter and number associations with different topic areas.
At one point, I had my entire book collection alphabetized according to author, which is also a great exercise that involves memory and being familiar with one’s collection.
The only problem is that I donated everything in my library (including a signed copy of The Name of the Rose!) before returning to Germany to play in The Outside …
In any case, I can reconstruct a great deal of my library from memory and have “rebuilt” some of it in Kindle. It’s not the same, but I am currently working on finding a home and have a top secret project for collecting a ton of books that I hope to be revealing soon.
What does your personal library look like? Do you have any of it committed to memory? 🙂
I am a science student and in my physics and chemistry book I just can’t link whole chapter with just 3 to 10 places + I have to remember equation and reactions, so how should I do it?
Thanks for this question, Zayeem.
I’d recommend that you have a wide variety of Memory Palaces prepared in advance. Since numbers are involved, you’ll also want to know the Major Method. Are you familiar with it? 🙂
no I am not familiar with major method please enlight me with that
Here’s a full training on the Major Method, Zayeem. Enjoy learning and using it. A real game changer! 🙂
Hello there is a topic that I am very curious about. I have seen the Derren Brown but you have memorized a book for 20 minutes. I am very curious. How can I memorize the page on the line of the page.
Thanks for this, Steve.
I recommend along with Derren Brown that you learn to create and use Memory Palaces.
From that point, learn to create powerful Magnetic Imagery that helps you recall the target information.
Then practice what I call Recall Rehearsal and the Big Five of Learning.
It’s easy and fun.
After that point, from where can I learn how to create powerful Magnetic Views that help recall target information? and the Big Five, Call and Learning Where can I find the Big Five thing?
Thanks for this, Steve.
First, I recommend that you register for this webinar to learn more.
There’s a video about the Big Five on this post about language learning.
It is a great tool, thanks so much. I gonna use it for my studies at the University. Especially, because i am studying Law.
Thanks for the comment, Benjamin.
Yes, I’ve had a few students complete the bar. They found this very useful for law.
Is there any particular area of law you’re focusing on?
I just came here from your podcast on https://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/how-to-memorize-a-textbook/ . I just have the following 4 words: YOUR WORK IS AMAZING!!!
I especially liked the fact that you highlighted the fact that memorisation isn’t everything. Many science students in my country (India) these days try to learn things by rote and not understanding. Few people like me try to learn things by understanding but as you are an experienced person, understanding does take a lot of time. And the true learners get defeated in exams which only focus on rote memorisation. I believe however that the understanding of things i have developed will surely help me in the long run (even though times at present are tough) and maybe i will be able to contribute something to the world. Like you said, being a parrot is not an asset; creating new knowledge is one.
I took a drop year (that is not going to any college because i wasn’t able to clear any of those competitive exams. You know the reason why 🙂 ) after completing my high school in the June of 2017. My confidence was really shattered so after gathering some confidence, i decided to start from ground zero. I DECIDED TO REWORK MY KNOWLEDGE OF MATHEMATICS, PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY FROM GROUND ZERO. Well i was partly successful. Now i hope that i will be fully successful thank God i found you?.
Meanwhile I read about few people who claimed to have possessed photographic/eidetic memory. Here are some of those whom i researched about :-
1. Swami Vivekananda: Coming from India this was the obvious starting point for me. Though I am a deeply religious person, I failed to understand how could just turn over pages and remember entire volumes of Britannica claiming it to be only a power of concentration and chastity. That seemed illogical. My mathematics oriented brain wanted proofs, but i failed to get any except for legends and fairy tales. [I saw later that you wrote and article about Vivekananda. And some people bashed you up for that. I say sorry on behalf of those people, for one thing i have learnt being in India and a Hindu since birth is that no one tries to question religions and their practices and religious people. I am glad that I am not so much blinded by such things. Thank God for my logical brain ??].
2. Nikola Tesla: Who claimed to have possessed an eidetic memory. He could solve integrals in his head. No account of fast reading of books was provided. Although Tesla did claimed that he used to read a book from beginning to end and this caused him several health problems, thanks to evergreen sleep eliminator COFFEE ??.
3. John Von Neumann: I decide to take computer science as a hobby and encountered this legendary Hungarian mathematician who was popularly called as the Martian. You will love this guy.
4. Leonardo da Vinci was also claimed to have possessed such memory. But not any hard evidence was able to find.
5. Leonard Euler: One of the greatest mathematician of all times possessed an excellent memory. He became blind due to extreme fine work and cataract in his life but the man still continued to churn out 2-3 mathematical papers every week. Now that’s something wicked.
6. Elon Musk: His biography by Ashlee Vance states that Musk was a voracious reader and had a photographic memory.
7. My Grandfather: Yes. My grandfather also possessed an excellent memory. He was a very voracious reader and remember him reading newspaper’s every news every day till his eyes got weakened and later died of pancreatic cancer. When i was in school, he helped me in those Shakespeare novel which were so hard for me to understand (English isn’t my first language). He could recite all those novels verbatim by heart. Many times while he was sitting with his eyes closed, his hands kept on moving as if they were writing something. As he was in the office of attorney general, he used to do a lot of arithmetic in his mind. Those hand motions were just that (this habit of his continued till his death. He was doing the same on his deathbed too: he calculated all the expenses of cremating him while we all cried.)
There afterwards I continued my studies and my research in these areas. I STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH SPEED READING TECHNIQUES. THEY ARE JUST A TON OF FAKERY.
Once after reading an Isaac Asimov novel, I started reading my physics book. I found that I remembered the novel better than physics. Why? I questioned myself. I found that I was visualising: interpreting words as images in my head while understanding. I tried to do same with physics and no doubt i was able to remember better. In fact i developed a photographic type of thing. Not exact. But a vague shadowy stuff. And I was able to understand quite fast.
Maths was little tough to visualize. While i was able to visualise geometry, it was quite hard to visualize raw algebra.
Physics was relatively easier. Moment of inertia and theory of collisions came easily.
Chemistry was super easy to understand. Probably because i was able to visualize molecules better and also due to the fact that chemistry links theoretical physics to the practical world. But reactions were hard to learn. I am going to apply your magnetic memory methods to them.
As my exams are nearing, i am going to apply your magnetic memory technique and my visualisation for understanding stuff. I hope it works.
So what’s the conclusion of this research of mine? Here it is:
1. There needs to be a purpose and a motive to study. Else reading the book will be a dull monotonous work.
2. Concentration is paramount in understanding and remembering a book.
3. Visualisation is important for understanding. I believe that visualizing images while reading forms a mind palace on the pages of the book itself.
That’s why photographic memory has a link with it.
4. One needs to be a voracious reader to hone up these skills.
5. Mental calculations must be having a link to excellent memory and understanding of intricate concepts.
6. And i found after a lot of bumpy hits that SMARTPHONES DO REDUCE ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND AND VISUALISE STUFF. I am happy to say that after not using smartphone for almost 5 days, i feel like flying. Feature phones with basic browser just works fine for me.
[I recently found your article on Nomophobia. It was excellent and i agree with it a 100%.]
The gist is that understanding and memory works hand in hand. Memory as ink, and understanding as a pen.
I am preparing to give those competitive exams again.
My apologies for writing such a long comment but i was really excited to have found a person who has on of the same interests as mine.
I really want to hear from you about how those geniuses I mentioned could do the stuff they could, and your views on the points i gave above.
I am really excited to apply what you taught in your podcast to those inorganic chemistry chemical equations. I will update you on any progress or trouble.
I really appreciate your work man. SALUTE!!!!!
LIVE LONG AND PROSPER ?
Thanks for your comment, Praneet. It’s also great how you’ve mentioned other people here.
To be clear, Vivekananda seems to have been a bright guy and certainly his work on Vedanta is valuable. But people elevate the genius of others in ways that is almost always false.
It’s also important to divide the memory a person has from what they do with their memory, or how memory has served them in creating such accomplishments. Memory doesn’t have to be superhuman in order to accomplish great things. Even just a small amount of training will go a long way.
About smart phones, you’ll likely enjoy this post and podcast on Digital Amnesia. We’ve also talked about smartphone addition in depth.
There’s more to explore, so I’m glad you’ve found the site. I look forward to your next post in the discussions! 🙂