Perfecting Those Not-So-Perfect Memory Passages

2:23 PM

I was quoting Psalm 49:12-15 to my mom.  I finished the passage and was beginning the reference when I realized that I had left out that last word.  Remembering that the reference was only one word--I could stop midway and go back and add the last word--I yelled "Sheol!"

My mom gave me a weird look.  "I think you meant Selah."

In this last month before Nationals, we Nationalists are trying to memorize those last few passages (in our family, Acts 17:19-31 seems to be a favorite passage to put off 'til the end) and perfecting those ones that we've already memorized.   Let's face it--no one wants to be the one triumphantly shouting "Sheol!" in their oral round.  Or maybe that's just me.  But I kinda think it's not.

So here are a few of my strategies for perfecting those passages that are not-so-perfect.

To begin with, I have these passages that I would have recited perfectly--except that I quoted a different passage (James and Revelation are the especial culprits).  Please tell me I'm not the only one who does this!  So last year I came up with illustrating my cards.  I draw a picture of the passage (sometimes using puns--hence, the i's all round and within), work the reference into the picture, and write the first few words at the top of the picture.  I am by NO MEANS an artist (and it's taking more self-confidence than I thought I had to post my "art" on the world wide web), but if that improves my oral score--and I think it did last year--then I'm fine with drawing four unrecognizable creatures on my verse card.

As to the other markings on my cards...the "R" next to the reference is to remind me that the reference is my problem, not the first few words that I had to get prompted.  The "J" by the card number is because I have siblings who qualified for Nationals (including two other Seniors) and I don't want them to "steal" my cards.  And the highlighted "to say"--well, stick around 'til the end of my post and I'll explain.

For those specific words that I miss...and keep on missing...and missing:  In this case, the word was "bear", as in "bear me witness".  My mom testing me, and when I said "bore", she (unbeknownst to me) drew a bear head on the card.  I did a double take when I was going through my stack of missed cards, but it worked!  Now I always think, "Grrrr, I'm a bear" when I quote John 3:27-31--and I haven't made an error on it since!  (Let's just hope I don't actually say that last part in my oral round; talk about embarrassment.  It would be worse than the time--at Nationals 2013--when I said that Judah's teeth were "darker than wine" and then was so flustered that I said that his eyes were "whiter than milk".  It wasn't one of my shining moments.)

For phrases that I often blank out on, I come up with some sort of mental picture to help me.  For example in Psalm 37:1-11, I get caught up in thinking about the "man who carries out evil devices" (a thief in an electronics store) and can't remember what comes next.  So now I picture that, as he's making his getaway, he gets run over by  train with an angry engineer--and there I have "refrain from anger".

For those looonng lists, you can try a couple of different things.  In Psalm 19, I tend to confuse verses 7-9, so we came up with an acronym--Lucy Teaches Piano 'Cause Fat Rules.  Okay, so fat does not rule, and if it did, I still have no idea why it would make Lucy teach piano, but, hey, whatever works!  While my brain is thinking "Lucy", I'm able to quote perfectly "The law of the LORD is perfect...", and so on.

My sister Anna tried something different this year.  She made a list of the works of the flesh  in Galatians 5:13-26 in the colors of the rainbow and now just goes through the colors as she quotes the passage.  Sorcery is blue, so she knows it comes after the green idolatry.  (She taped this list on the wall next to her bed for a few days, but decided to take it down when we had company, for obvious reasons.)

This tip is my favorite.  I cannot believe that I waited until the last couple of months of my Bible Bee contestant life to figure out a way to remember the whether it is "he" or "Jesus", "answered" or "said", etc.  As you know very well, there's no rhyme or reason; if a pattern works in one passage, it completely throws me off in another one. 

So I went through all my cards and made a chart of who is speaking, how they're speaking, and to whom they are speaking.  I also added a little list at the bottom of words that didn't fit any of those categories but were still important.  Then I went back over it and chose colors for each word.  All names are the same color, partly because I only had six highlighters and partly because I generally know who is speaking.  I also decided not to mark "cried out" and "bore witness" because they only occur a couple of times and (as aforementioned) I only had six colors.  If you are a Senior ESV-er, you're welcome to use my list.  If not, I recommend you check your own cards and make something similar.  It may take about an hour, but if it saves me ten by nailing all the conversation passages, then I'm okay with that. :)

Then I went through all my cards and highlighted the words/names with the corresponding color.  You would not believe what a tough time I had perfecting this passage (the early release John passages are supposed to be the easiest), but no more!  Now I think "Purple, pink, yellow, blue" and say "Nathanael said to him".

And my last tip is the best of all.  Are you ready?  I'll make it short and sweet: Review. Your. Verses.  All of the previous tips are not going to work if you never review.  I don't have any tricks or shortcuts to reviewing, although you should spend more time on the problem verses.  But mostly, it's just going to take time.

More importantly, apply your verses!  If you can quote it perfectly but you don't live it, you're just one more noisy gong or cymbal.  Let us press on to know Christ!  (And if we perfect our verses along the way, that wouldn't hurt either ;) .)

What are your strategies for perfecting those not-so-perfect memory passages?

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  1. You're not the only one messing up James and Revelation! I'll never forget Revelation 4:8 though- it didn't hit me for a few seconds about the 'i's ;P

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these tips, Joy! This was such a fun post! :) I like to find patterns in the passages. For example, in Galatians 5:13-26, the works of the flesh are in groups of three. This also works for some difficult dialogue parts, but not always. ~Kaitlyn


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