Recitation is widely recognised as a highly effective tool for putting information into the long-term memory. This is where it needs to be if you are going to recall it effectively. There is no complexity or science to it – you just recite aloud the information that you need to remember. You may have done this in the past automatically.
As well as vocalising the information, recitation can take the form of mentally repeating information to yourself (i.e. in your head) or by writing or typing the information out.
The ease or effectiveness of these forms of recitation will depend to some extent on your preferred style although repeating information in your head possibly has less impact than speaking or writing since there is no physical activity to create association and no visual trigger.
Verbal information goes into our short-term memory initially. With recitation, the information makes its way into our long-term memory – as we recite, we hold an idea in mind for the four or five seconds that are needed for the temporary memory to be converted into a permanent one. The information is retained or forgotten according to how often we access it again, as well as its meaning, value etc. Regular recitation will obviously reinforce the long-term memory.
Making it work well
There are ways of making it work well. It needs to be underpinned by an organised set of notes, perhaps in list or bullet point format. Repetitive recitation helps reinforce the long-term memory and in saying something out loud, we have to make sense of it and really understand it.
You need to recite the information and then check back on your notes to see how well you did. Keep reciting at regular intervals to prompt your memory and until you become accurate.
There is plenty of research to show the effect of recitation on the memory. For example, one study shows us that after a week, the amount remembered by people who did not recite information was 33% as opposed to 83% remembered by people who did.
After two months, the amount remembered by people who had recited information had dropped to 70% although this was still vastly more than those who had not, who remembered only 14%.