How To Memorize Scientific Papers

origin_471679559Scientists have to read many papers in order to be up to date of the latests scientific results. Remembering the important data of each paper and knowing from which paper a specific fact comes is an important issue if you want to take profit of reading them. However, even if we read many papers, we barely remember a few of them.

This post is about how you can memorize a paper in real time as you read it. First you will be introduced with the technique for memorizing the data. The technique describes how to structure the information in your mind, what do you have to memorize and how to do it. Then you will find a workout with which you can achieve the skill.

To be able to learn this skill you will need to master previous posts describing the basic techniques used for this skill. The posts involved are:

  1. Creating the basis of a perfect memory
  2. Improve your memory using visualizations
  3. Building your memory palaces
  4. How to memorize names
  5. Skimming is reading at light speed!

If you do not master those techniques yet go and master them before continuing. If you do not master the previous posts, it may happen that you are not going to understand the explanations below, because this build on those posts. So go now and study them!

The Technique

The technique to memorize a paper is composed of the following steps:

Step 1: skim the paper

The first thing that you have to do to memorize a paper is to skim it. Dedicate 5 minutes to skim the whole article and pay special attention to the number of sections it contains and the title of each one. Also speed read the abstract and the conclusions. Pay also special attention to the figures.

Skimming the paper will give you the idea of what you are going to read, preparing your mind to understand it more easily. Remember, you have to memorize what you have understood. Understanding comes first, memorization is secondary and builds on understanding.

Step 2: memorize the structure

Select one of your memory palaces that contains places enough to accommodate the number of main sections that contains the paper.

Memorize in each location the title of each section. Create in each location of your memory palace a vivid and clear image that reminds you the title of a section. Follow the order in the paper to move along your memory palace.

Step 3: memorize the title

Divide the title into the main and most important concepts. Then create an image visualization that links each concept, from the beginning of the title to the end.

Step 4: memorize the authors

Memorizing the authors is very very important, in order to know from who comes an important research. Also, learning the authors will help you create a network of the important guys in your field.

To memorize the authors, create a visualization that links from the last word of the title. Link the last word of the paper title with the name of the first author (name and surname). Then create a story that links each author with the next until you include all the authors.

photoStep 5: select the conductor of the paper

Decide a famous person as the conductor of the paper. He could be George Clonney, Madonna, or Eduard Punset. This person will be the one that leads you through your visual image from a section to another.

Now create a visual image in your mind that shows how the last author image links with this famous person. Then visualize how the conductor goes to the first location of you memory palace and interacts with the image that you selected to encode the title of the first section of the paper.

Step 6: memorize each section

Per each section you need to memorize the main points that the section contains. While reading the section, use two markers: a blue marker and a violet marker (for instance). Use the blue marker to mark the important concepts (just the concept). Use the violet marker to mark the definitions or ideas (see the figure).

Try to mark as few concepts and definitions as possible. Once you have the concepts you want to memorize, create a triple visualization for each concept or idea. Each triple visualization must contain:

  1. The location in your memory palace that the section you are reading belongs to.
  2. The word that corresponds to the number of the concept you want to memorize, as described in the table of numbers and concepts. For example, if you are memorizing the 3rd concept of that section, then the word that you have to use is Ham.
  3. The images, or sequence of images that you choose to express the concept or definition. Remember to put as many details as you consider necessary to express the whole idea. Link to this sequence as many images or actions that allow you to include the concepts.

Use the conductor for that paper, to visualize how he moves along the memory palace from section to section, introducing you to each location and getting involved with the title of the section that is visualized in that location. Repeat this process for all the sections, locating the visualizations of each section inside the location of the corresponding memory palace, until you reach the end of the paper.

Step 7: review

If you want to remember the paper for a long time, you will need to review what you just memorized. For this purpose the best thing to do is to apply spaced repetition, and if it is possible for you, even create Anki cards about the paper for later easier review. Follow the indications in this post to perform spaced repetitions.


The Workout

Making this memorization technique something you can use quick for any given paper requires hard training work. I recommend performing the following workout once per day for a whole month at least. Continuity and persistence is the name of the game. You will build more on repeating it each day a short paper memorization than a long memorization every few days.

  • Select a paper you would like to memorize and prepare your two markers. Start with short papers 2 or two pages long.
  • Start a timer to control the time of memorization.
  • Decide who the conductor for that paper will be.
  • Select your memory palace.
  • Skim the paper and memorize the sections in your memory palace. Write down your skimming time.
  • Memorize the title and link with a movie with the authors one after another until you reach the last one. Write down your memorization time.
  • Link the last author with the conductor.
  • Read the paper while looking for the main concepts and ideas. Mark them with the corresponding marker and memorize them, linking them into the corresponding location and number of concept.
  • Write the time it took you to reach the end.
  • Mentally review the whole paper, starting from the title up to the end. Write down the time it took you to review the paper.
  • Next day, try to improve all the times you wrote.

Depending on the length of the paper, the workout can take you hours. It is very common that a 6 pages paper takes 3’5 hours to do the workout. I would recommend you to start with smaller papers like abstracts for poster sessions that contain 1 to 2 pages until you get the mechanics of the system. Those kind of papers are very common in all kind of scientific conferences. Then progressively increase the length of the papers.

Also, while doing the workouts start creating your personal image library for recurrent concepts that appear in your subject. This means that you have to create some fixed images that mean something to you, and that express each of the concepts or terms that appear very often in the papers you read. Hence, you will have them at hand very quickly when you need it. You don’t need to create a list, but just build as they appear while practising. For example, in my case, I have a very clear image for the word sensorimotor or the concept embodied.


This post teaches you the technique to memorize a paper, at least for the main ideas. As you can see, the memorization of the paper looks more like a movie. You create a movie that has continuity and that

The method is good enough to be used for real time memorization, that is, memorizing the paper as you read it. However, before you will be able to do it fast enough, you will need to practice a lot. My recommendation is to perform the workout at least once a week, even if optimal results can be obtained in weeks if you practice it once per day. Go for it!


photo credit: Cartel82 via photopin cc

photo credit: jepoirrier via photopin cc

2 Responses to How To Memorize Scientific Papers

  1. Diego 11/01/2016 at 22:58 #

    Is there a Speed Memory V7 alternative for Mac users?

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