3 Ways to Internalize What You Study

Today’s post is by guest-author Brayden Brookshier. Brayden is the Head of Publishing for Sermon To Book. He is involved in various biblical teaching ministries in San Diego, California. Brayden is the author of The Dawn of New Creation: Exploring the Christian Hope as Told by Revelation.

I have yet to meet a student, pastor, or professor who is absolutely satisfied with their memory internalization techniques. Effectively internalizing information is something all students should be concerned with.

Before proceeding to the tips, I think it is important to flesh out what and why this is consequential. Memorizing information for a test can be motivated by achieving an excellent grade. However, internalizing information is more about allowing the information to affect you, shaping your values and your character. We should want to invest our time into being reformed by what we learn. We ought to desire the knowledge we seek to seep into us and manifest itself in our beliefs and behaviors.

With that said, here are three disciplines I have learned to incorporate into my learning process to help internalize what I actively study. These aren’t mental shifts, these are practices that, if applied, will help you internalize content.

In a nutshell, this is all about convincing your brain that the information is worthy of moving from short term to long term memory.

1. Practice creative note-taking

When taking notes, don’t just quote the lecturer or the reading verbatim in your notes; write it down in your own words to help you adopt the material as your own.

I tend to do a both/and approach; jotting down specific quotes word-for-word and writing it in my own voice. Creativity doesn’t end here, however. Try mind-mapping your notes. The combination of words and pictures with literal connections linking the ideas together makes mind-mapping incredibly effective as a memory tool. The visual-spatial arrangement helps trigger the brain with memory association.

There are many other ways in which to creatively take notes, I encourage you to research methods and try a few until you learn what works for you. Different types of note-taking may take more effort (and sometimes more time) but it will help you better master the material.

2. Practice consistent repetition, not crammed reiteration

It is no secret that repetition is a key to memorization. However, too many people are cramming what they are supposed to be internalizing.

I recall quite a few of my first sermons where I would stay up late on Saturday evening preparing. Or preparing a paper that needed to be turned in within hours. Cramming is both taxing and ineffective. I learned quickly that my habits would have to change, or I would have to settle for sub-par quality.

The key is to have consistent repetition versus crammed repetition. 15 minutes a day for 5 days will make something stick in your brain better than a 3-hour cramming session of study. Transferring information to our long-term memory is about consistent, focused time being given to comprehending the idea. When it comes to studying the biblical languages, learning vocabulary words or rules of syntax will actually stick if they are visited with higher frequency, without needing a ton of time.

This isn’t simply about internalizing information, this is also about producing better content. Think of a major research paper, the quality is radically diminished when we tax our brain to try to come with its best work in a single day’s supply of energy. Therefore, this is about bettering the quality of the content just as much as it is internalizing it.

Try it for yourself. See how your study time is enhanced by applying a manageable amount of daily time to the content you are studying.

3. Practice communicating what you study

Nothing is a better litmus test of knowledge than the test of communication.

As we verbally process, we discover the aspects we are more familiar with, and the ones we still have questions or even gaps in our understanding. Not only as a litmus test, but as a means of internalization—communication is probably the best way to process information from our short term to long term memory.

Serious students of the theology and missiology quickly realize that complex concepts can be abridged, and simple subjects can be appreciated as much more intricate. The task of communicating knowledge challenges us to make information accessible and applicable to the intended audience. As Albert Einstein once stated: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.”

Try communicating what you are studying to those around you, whether that be a spouse, co-worker, fellow student, or friend. It doesn’t have to be polished, remember, this is for when you are still studying the material and attempting to better master it. These are the two questions I ask myself when studying that I will ask you:

Can you simplify the content so that an 8-year old at your church could understand it?

Can you expound upon the content showing the intricacies and details of it?

These are questions that help me gauge my progress in my learning. Just in case you are skeptical of this point, remember that we study not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those in our sphere of influence.

Because the knowledge we attain doesn’t end with our internal acknowledgment, rather being able to externally verbalize content makes us better ministry leaders. And those who can communicate concepts seamlessly are likely those who have the content internalized into their long-term memory.

Enriching your studies, and your soul

Practicing these three study habits will enrich not only your studies, but your soul. Internalizing content isn’t just about bettering our grade or impressing our ministry audience—it is about our values and personhood being changed by the God-glorifying information we are intaking.

These three methods are not complicated. These aren’t even difficult to apply. Take creative notes instead of mundane ones. Consistently (daily) revisit content instead of cramming it. And internalize what you are learning through verbal communication. Incorporate this into your studies and I can guarantee that your memory internalization will improve.

Jonathan Watson