By Rachel Poignant
While entering college as a freshman, it is normal to have different feelings go through your head. Some of the feelings you may experience are stress, anxiety, depression, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. In college, the professor will usually put more than just one chapter on the exam. As a freshman college student, you are used to the exams in high schools only covering one chapter. As your first exam is approaching, you are probably thinking “How am I supposed to study?” I am here to explain an atypical way that you can use to study. The approach I bring to you is called the method of loci.
Studying can actually be fun and not as boring and difficult as you think. Many of you are probably thinking, “Why do I need to learn a new way to study when I have done fine in all of my previous classes?” I suggest that you at least give the method of loci a try so you can do a wonderful job on your next exams.
The method of loci is also referred to as the memory palace technique or the journey method. This method is very good at helping you memorize information for a test. In addition, the method of loci is the oldest identified mnemonic strategy. Basically, the method of loci is like a folder that can store all of the information you memorized as well as information you can later recall (4). Also, that folder allows you to store an unlimited number of details in a set order. I will explain the method of loci to you in more detail shortly!
The method of loci was developed over 2000 years ago. The Greeks and Romans utilized this method when giving speeches because it was a difficult task to just write down a 20 or more page script (4). Also, back then it was looked down upon if one just read from their paper. This method came in handy for them to speak from their memory. I am sure you have watched a classmate present a PowerPoint presentation and all they did was read off the slides. You were probably thinking to yourself, I can read the slides, I do not need to be read to. Wouldn’t you rather listen to a speaker who has their speech memorized than one who is just reading off their paper?
Below is a visual image of how to use the method of loci.
How to use the method of loci
You are probably thinking now, how does the method of loci work. The picture above shows you how to apply the method of loci visually. I will now explain it to you now in more basic words so you can better understand how to use it. The method of loci is like a fantasy walk through your house, drive to work, or a walk through your neighborhood. Just know, that when you pick your place, make sure that you are able to mentally walk through it so you can later recall the information you stored away (5).
After you have your place selected, pick a route that is familiar to you and one that you can mentally take when you are trying to recall an item. After you have a route, identify your locations that you are going to store information at. Next, place the items you are trying to remember along the route in the accurate order that they need to be memorized in. When deciding what objects to use, make sure you pick meaningful ones that will help you remember the content you are trying to memorize. When you want to recall the information, you just have to re-imagine walking the route you stored all of your information at (3). In addition, if you need to remember more than one concept you are able to with the method of loci. All you have to do is attach an adjoining mental picture and connect a new mental picture to your original scene you started with (2). A quick reminder, you will have to mentally revisit both scenes that have some information that you are wanting to recall.
Example of the method of loci for making peanut butter bars:
- Kitchen- 2 C. Graham Cracker Crumbs
- Living room- 2 C. Confectioners’ Sugar
- Bathroom- 1 C. Butter
- Bedroom 1-1 ½ C. Chocolate chips
- Bedroom 2-1 ½ C. Peanut butter
The next time you are baking something, while using a recipe card, try using the method of loci.
As you are probably thinking, this method sounds interesting, but when should I begin using it. The answer is now! Start using the method of loci when studying for your next test. When you start using the method of loci, you will be able to better comprehend topics that professor’s cover as well as topics in your textbooks (1). When you can better comprehend information, then your performance on exams will be better. The method of loci will also help you be a better speaker. So the next time you have to give a speech, try using this method and you should see improvements in how your presentation goes. Good luck on your next exam while using the method of loci. Remember, each time you use this method, it will get easier and you will find yourself using this method more and more.
(1) Bellezza F. (1981). Mnemonic devices: classification, characteristics and criteria. Review of Educational Research, 51: 247–275.
(2) Draschkow, D. & Wolfe, J. (2014). Seek and you shall remember: scene semantics interact with visual search to build better memories. Journal of Vision, 14 (8): 10–10.
(3) Madan, C. & Singhal, A. (2012). Motor imagery and higher-level cognition: Four hurdles before research can sprint forward. Cognitive Processing, 13, 211–229.
(4) Reddy B. (1978). Mnemonic devices and natural memory. Bulletin of Psychonomic Society, 11, 277–280.
(5) Roediger, H. L. (1980). The effectiveness of four mnemonics in ordering recall. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6(5), 558-567.