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Get Organized!

DR. FRANK BUCK: How I memorized 57 pages of notes in one day (column)

Life presents situations we’ve never faced before, and those new situations cause us to grow. 

It starts the day we breathe our first breath. If we’re lucky, it doesn’t end until we breathe our last one.

“School and Society”

If you were an education major at Jacksonville State during a certain time period, a class called “School and Society,” taught by Dr. Harry Rose, was unforgettable. 

Dr. Rose was an amazing storyteller. At 7:30 a.m., he could keep a room full of college students spellbound. He did it without ever looking at a set of notes. Everything was from memory. 

He was preparing the next generation of educators and he was the very model of what excellence in teaching looked like.

While Dr. Rose never used notes, you were taking your own … plenty of them. The class was fast-paced. As the first weeks rolled by, I saw the number of pages in my notebook grow. All the while, I was wondering one question.

“When’s the test?”

Class meeting after class meeting came and went with no mention of a test. Finally, the day came when Dr. Rose announced the big date.

He said it would consist of one question. When Dr. Rose gave examples of questions from past tests, it was obvious a general knowledge of the material would not be enough. 

To be prepared, I would need to be able to recite all of my notes from memory from beginning to end or from any starting point in the middle.

I counted the pages. There were 57 of them, and the information was pretty detailed. While I had always been good at memorization, nothing had prepared me for this. I needed a new approach.

“Places”: The magic memory aide

I ran across a little paperback entitled “The Memory Book.” That book began with a discussion of memory systems used throughout history. 

It took only one page to give me what I needed to approach not only this test, but every single exam I faced through every collegiate program thereafter.

Authors Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas talked about a technique used by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Orators of those days delivered long speeches from memory. The orator prepared the speech by associating each part of it with a place in his home.

The first point would be associated with the front door, the next point with the foyer, etc. As the orator delivered the speech, he would take a "mental trip" through his house, talking about each room as he came to it.

This technique was called "loci," or "places." It is from this early memory technique that the expression "in the first place" originated.

I read no further. Starting at the beginning of the 57 pages, I began associating each major topic with a room. 

I visualized certain people in each room, people discussed at that point in my notes. I mentally placed pictures and posters on the walls, each reminding me of details about that topic. 

When all was said and done, I could literally recite the entire 57 pages as I mentally walked through each room. Now I was ready!

The one-question test required me to discuss the history of American education from its beginnings to the point where our class discussions had stopped. That material turned out to be the final 10 pages of my notes. I was able to supply every detail about those 10 pages.

I made an "A," but more importantly, I had a technique that never failed. I was delighted to have found something so simple that made such a huge difference. Maybe it could make a difference for you as well.

Frank Buck is the author of “Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders.” "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019 and 2020. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: FrankBuck.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.

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