The guide to memorizing 10x more using the method of loci

by | Apr 12, 2021

According to a legend by Cicero (106-43 B.C), in ancient Greece, the Poet Simonides was hired by Scopas to sing poems of praises of the host at his banquet.

Simonides first praised the gods as were the customs. He then sang the poem praising his employer. After his performance, he wanted to receive only half of the performance fee, arguing that the gods should pay him the other half for his services.

He was called outside the banquet shortly. Soon after, the gods crashed the banquet to teach him a lesson.

The faces of the guests were disfigured. But Simonides was able to identify everyone by recalling the visual memory of their positions.

This was the origin of the Method of Loci. In fact, “Loci” is the plural for “locus” which means “place”.

The Method of Loci is a memory technique that uses visualizations of places to store and recall information.

You start off by imagining a place in your mind also known as a memory palace. It could be imaginary or based off on real places like your house or school.

Start to decorate the rooms of the place with items. For instance, a sofa and a tv set in the living room of your memory palace. Once that’s done, associate a piece of information with each item in the room.

Afterwards, memorize the information and its association with the item. By doing this, you make it easier to recall information.

Below is a video of Sherlock Holmes using The Method Of Loci. Unfortunately, it isn’t an accurate portrayal of using the method of loci, but it is one of the rare moments that it’s featured on TV.

Why does the method of loci work?

The human brain contains a huge amount of tissues devoted to spatial and visual information. It means that we memorize items, rooms, and places more efficiently than lines of text.

This makes sense primarily because of human evolution. Hunter-gatherers had to develop their ability to retain information of the spatial position of important places and items — shelter, river, etc. — in order to navigate.

Furthermore, the method of Loci helps to organize information by associating it with a cue (an item) in the memory palace.

Cued recalls make it easier for our brains to retrieve information. By remembering part of a pattern, it becomes easier to remember the entire pattern.

How effective is the method of loci?

In 2013, a study was conducted with a class of 78 second-year medical students at Rawal Medical College, Rawal Institute of Health Sciences (Islamabad, Pakistan).

The study was conducted to explore the use of the Method of Loci (MOL) to recall medical concepts.

All students underwent 2 lectures after which 28 of them were randomly selected to memorize the concepts using MOL while the rest underwent self-directed learning.

After a period of time, the students underwent an assessment quiz which composed of 10 multiple choice questions (MCQ), the purpose of which was to compare class performance.

The result was a significant increase in performance for those who studied using the MOL with an average score of 9.31 points out of 10 vs those who underwent self-directed learning with an average score of 8.10 points.

Additionally, the 28 participants who used MOL were given a questionnaire to evaluate the effectiveness of MOL. The questionnaire found that:

%

of students found it helpful

%

were able to recall facts better after learning them with MOL

%

found that MOL helped them understand the topic better

These were some of the thoughts on their experience:
It helped me make a better connection with the topic and made me want to go more in-depth and learn about Insulin.”

It was a creative form of brainstorming; definitely helps in understanding medical ideas in one’s imagination, thus making it fun and easier to recall”

“Very time-consuming…I would rather use that time to try to memorize text, however, if a Memory Palace was provided by someone else, I would not mind using it. It can be helpful”

Although MOL seems to be effective and well-received among most, some also mention that it can be rather time-consuming.

How to use the method of loci in your studies?

Step 1: Create your place

..Your palace has to be a place you’re extremely familiar with. I recommend that you pick a real-life location like your home, a familiar street, school, or workplace.

Once you’ve picked your palace, envision walking through it enough times till you’re able to accurately recall it.

The next step is to create a specific route to walk through instead of staying in a static position.

This allows you to recall information in a structured order. For instance, you could envision walking from the living room to the kitchen then to the bathroom.

Depending on the nature of the information, you can store more information if your palace is bigger.

Also, to be more structured, you can create more than one memory palace to remember another category of information.

Step 2: Place Unique Items

Now decorate your palace with ornaments or items that could be imaginary or based on real life. For instance, if your mind palace is your house, unique items could be your front door, dining table, or PlayStation set.

Follow the route you had created and place these items as you go.

The purpose of these items is to act as memory slots to place information. Therefore, it’s important that it catches your attention.

Step 3: Associate

After the items are placed, walk through the route and begin associating pieces of information with the items. Some tips on making associations easier:

  • Make the items crazy & unique. The more out of the world an item looks, the likelier we are to remember it.
  • Relate the information with an item that elicits strong emotions. We tend to remember feelings more than facts and actions. This is why you usually remember how you feel about the person than the good or bad deeds he or she has done.
  • Add in other mnemonics. Other mnemonics like Acronyms or rhymes can be used in conjunction with The Method of Loci by acting as information to be associated with the items.

Let’s look at how we can apply this process to remember a quote:

Time is very slow for those who wait
Very fast for those who are scared
Very long for those who celebrate
But for those who love, time is eternal
Shakespeare

English Playwright

1.) You can imagine a cuckoo clock with an imaginary brand label titled ”extremely slow” (to symbolize “time is very slow for those who wait”).

2.) Every time you look at it, it rings loudly which scares you and during that brief moment, the hour hand moves by 1 (to symbolize that time is “very fast for those who are scared”).

3.) The cuckoo clock then extends a bird wearing a party hat (to symbolize time is “very long for those who celebrate”).

4.) After the bird recedes into the clock, the clock stops (to symbolize “for those who love, time is eternal”)

Step 4: Visit your memory palace

Just as buildings require repair & maintenance to avoid it from being rundown, memory palaces require visits now and then to ensure that everything is right where its supposed to be.

Once you’ve memorized your memory palace, a basic thumb of rule to maintaining it could be visiting it every month. Unless of course, the memory is no longer needed, In which case, you could discard it.

Conclusion

The Method of Loci can be a time-consuming tool to use but if done with diligence and discipline, it can be rather fun and creative.

With just some time invested, we can retain information in our heads for weeks or more.

Furthermore, we can create as many memory palaces as we want to store different types of information. The benefits far outweigh the cons.

Try it out for a week or two and decide for yourselves whether it’s something you should adopt as a study habit.