Quick-Sand Memory: Lecture to the Wall and Beyond

 “The Overnight Student” by Michael Jones which can be found here. The book is wonderful. Read it, it only takes about an hour. Jones recommends doing things this way:[1]

  1. Take a bite – Read a manageable portion of your source material.
  2. Use Your Tongue – Explain what you’ve just read out loud to an imaginary audience without looking at the book or at any notes. Take note of everything that you cannot explain. You do not understand those things.
  3. Reread – Read your source material again asking yourself consciously, “what does this mean, how can I explain this to an audience, to what does it relate?”
  4. Repeat steps two and three until you have mastered the material.

Lecturing to the wall makes you embarrassingly aware of your gaps in knowledge, but with a plus! You’re embarrassed at home with nobody around to hear it but you (or a roommate). This is far better than being embarrassed by not knowing the material on a test, at a job interview, when giving a speech, while defusing a bomb, during a hostage situation, while fighting Godzilla, or during a group project.

Update: In a 2014 study, John F. Nestojko found that “participants who expected to teach learned more from a passage than did participants who expected to take a test.”[2] In the experiments, subjects did not actually teach, but were told to study material as preparation for teaching. So, the expectation of teaching primes learners to learn more, probably because they expect to have to explain things. This goes nicely with the fact that we learn while we teach. So lecture to the wall is not only anecdotally effective, but it has more scientific support than I had initially supposed.[3]

Another technique, which is similar to Lecture to the Wall, but less helpful is PQ4R.  It’s from Richard Restak’s Think Smart:[4]


  1. Preview – Skim through a chapter of material, noting the headings, vocabulary words, and concepts.
  2. Formulate Questions – Ask questions about the material you have read.
  3. Read – Read the passage looking for answers to the questions you’ve asked.
  4. Reflect – Think about what you’ve read and how to apply it as well as its relationship to the subject at hand and its relationship to other subjects.
  5. Recite – Repeat the material from memory after you’ve learned it. Do this with the text book closed, and only open it to check your accuracy. Put it in the exact language of the text as well as in your own words.
  6. Review – Try to recall and summarize the same points.


Restak’s system is helpful, but it is slightly disorganized. For instance, how can you know what questions to ask about the material until you’ve read it more carefully? I think that Preview, Read, and Formulate Questions should be somehow in the same step. It’s also too many steps to remember. You’d have to study the method to utilize it.



[1] Michael L Jones, The Overnight Student (Bellingham, Wash.: Louis Pub., 1990), 44-60.

[2] John F. Nestojko et al., “Expecting to Teach Enhances Learning and Organization of Knowledge in Free Recall of Text Passages,” Memory & Cognition 42, no. 7 (October 2014): 1045

[3] K. J. Topping, “The Effectiveness of Peer Tutoring in Further and Higher Education: A Typology and Review of the Literature,” Higher Education 32, no. 3 (October 1, 1996): 321–45

[4] Richard Restak’s Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance, (Riverhead Books, 2009), 109.

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