How To Memorise For The Long Term (Hifz Method)

How do you be the best you can in memorising the Qur'ān? Deep encoding or purposeful practice has long been used by elite performers. Deliberate practice is considered the best technique for achieving expert performance in any field.

There's a Qur'ān memorisation method that uses the same process. Repetition has a major part to play in memorisation and long-term retention. But to see improvement in retention you can't just recite and recite. The idea of "I just recite and try to remember" won't always bode well in the long term. When we do this, we are playing a short-term game. You're racing against time and competing against yourself. You're just pushing yourself each day to see what you can remember.

What is deep encoding or purposeful practice?

Deep encoding and purposeful practice are all about taking a series of small steps toward a larger goal. This practice is where you are practicing with a clear awareness of the specific things you’re aiming to improve and exactly how to improve them. The idea that you are memorising and repeating the verses of the Qur'ān in a way where you're aiming at constant progress.

When you do this your repetition:

  1. has well-defined and specific goals (for measuring success)
  2. is done with full focus
  3. involves constant feedback
  4. challenges comfort zones
  5. gives attention to meaning and context.

A real example

At the age of 67, a teacher memorised a 17th-century English poem that is 12 books long. It took him 9 years to do this. Yet at the age of 74, he was still able to recall it perfectly 88-98% accurately.

It took him 3,000 hours to learn by rote memorisation. He would just recite the piece, line-by-line out loud, for about an hour daily.

Scientists then studied what he did. They found that his memory was ordinary and that exceptional memorisers are made, not born. There were three key components:

  1. He would practice rote daily walking on a treadmill.
  2. After finishing a book, he would begin to perform it and keep it alive in repertory while committing the next to memory.
  3. He focused on meaning: "The whole poem began to take shape in my mind, an insight would come, an understanding, a delicious possibility. As a cathedral, I carry around in my mind, a place that I can enter and walk around at will."

The Twenty Qur'ān Memorisation Technique

When you're repeating from the Qur'ān, you must set yourself a goal like reciting at a good pace without a mistake three times in a row. Listen, have a feedback loop, and try to bring the meaning to life. These are three components.

There's a technique I call "Twenty" that uses the purposeful practice theory.

  1. Start from Juz' 30.
  2. Study a surah first and start memorising (a page max, if not whatever you can). At the same time every day, recite and study Juz' 29 once by looking.
  3. As you build up memorising Juz' 30, combine each day for review.
  4. Once you finish the 30th, you will have recited Juz' 29 between 20-30 times.
  5. Now start memorising the 29th in the same way, review the 30th, and recite the 28th once daily by looking. In this way, you build up and can create a review cycle like any other system.

You can even do the same but on a smaller scale with your memorisation portion. So let's say you're memorising, and you have a class in two days' time. On the first day, you can memorise your portion up to a level where you kind of know it but it's not perfect. On the second day, you can perfect it but you should also begin memorising the next portion that you'll recite for the next class. So on the third day, your memorisation will be solid but you will also solidify the next day's memorisation and have already done the memorisation of the day after as well.

So what is key to the long-term? Repetition over time with a form of deep purposeful encoding. Spaced repetition also helps. This is basically the idea that through repetition (but with a richer experience), you will gain much more ground long-term when compared with mere repetition.

If a man can memorise a 12-book poem like this, what about the Qur'ān? The Qur'ān is a blessing. It has been made easy as a reminder. To be a reminder, you need to have a conversation. You don't just swing at it again and again. You recite, you practice, you reach deeper, you listen, you enjoy it, you experience it in prayer, and you try to live every moment.

May Allāh grant blessing.

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