It is that fuzzy feeling of curiosity that should drive learning decisions; it should never be driven by the competitive ego.

To start this journey, you will first need a physical copy of  the collection of Shakespeare’s work. In most of these undertakings I recommend using physical versions of books. There are countless scientifically-backed reasons for why this is important, but these are beyond the scope of the present topic. Suffice to say that for any learning, the physical trumps the digital. The following goodreads link contains my personal favourite version of the complete works of Shakespeare (Disclaimer: I have not been paid to advertise this; it is just based on the copy I chose while shopping and currently own.)


The technique is simple; the majority of the effort is in the revision process. The recommended strategy is as follows:

  1. Use the Link System as Applied to Poetry (for more information about the Link System’s application to Poetry, see The Manual). When applying the link system here, it is crucial to focus on key words for each line, rather than link each word. The words not linked are picked up while linking their neighbours, and are reinforced when testing, as was described for Poetry in The Manual. So for Shakespeare’s poetry, the procedure is already given. For Shakespeare’s plays, though, some additions should be considered. When a dialogue with multiple actors occurs, it may be necessary to link the name of the person speaking to the first keyword being stringed together. At times this will not be necessary, as it is obvious who the speaker is; at other times it may be absolutely required. To avoid confusion in long multi-speaker portions of the text, bundling, as discussed in The Manual, should be applied.
  2. Set a Clear Schedule. Set a period of time (as much as your other priorities will permit) each day both for memorising new pages and for revising old ones. The key point here is revision: you can miss a session of acquiring new pages, but you cannot miss a revision session. A missed revision session sets you back significantly. Memorising one new page each day is a reasonable rate (it would take approximately 3.5 years to complete the challenge at this rate).
  3. The Importance of Revision. To perform a pragmatic yet effective revision that accounts for the optimal revision intervals, I propose you use the following 4-cycle revision approach.
  4.  Cycle 1. Say you memorised one new page on the morning of Day 1; review the page by testing yourself immediately after having memorised it. Then, in the evening of the same day, review said page once more. On Day 2, first review the page learnt on the previous day, and only then begin to memorise the next page (immediately after memorising a new page, review it by testing your recall). At the end of Day 2, review the new page that was memorised on Day 2. On Day 3, review the two pages you already know before learning a new one; at the end of Day 3, review the new page. On Day 4, review the three pages you already know before learning a new one. Continue in this way until you have learnt ten pages (call this Set 1), then proceed to Cycle 2.   
  5.  Cycle 2. Continue applying Cycle 1 to new pages; however, now the revision session begins by first reviewing five pages from Set 1. So, overall, you would review five pages from Set 1, and then review all the new pages already learnt from Set 2—and only then can you begin learning additional new pages from Set 2. Once you know 100 pages, proceed to Cycle 3.
  6.  Cycle 3. Continue applying Cycle 1 to new words; however, now the revision session begins by first reviewing a full set of pages (a full ten pages). Say you are learning new pages from Set 11 (i.e., you already know ten 10-page sets), you begin the session by first reviewing an entire set, say Set 1, and only then begin to memorise new words from Set 11. Once you have memorised the entire book, proceed to Cycle 4.
  7. Cycle 4. You simply review a set each day—that is, ten pages each day. For long-term memory storage, it is advisable to perform this cycle for two years (this can depend on the size of your book: basically, the point is to review the entire book once a  year). Thereafter, each fifth year should be used as a review year for the book.
  8. A Note on Reviewing: when you perform a review of known material as part of the revision process, you should not merely re-read through the text. You should instead test your ability to independently recall the information (for more on the mechanics of the revision process, see The Manual).

Challenging enough? The first few weeks will be the most difficult, but it gets easier as you gain proficiency. Both the review and new-page-acquisition periods will take very long at first, but they will shorten dramatically with practice. If you are new to USM, it is advisable to start with smaller sets, say a paragraph a day, and scale it up once you become comfortable.

Most importantly: HAVE FUN. If you are not having fun, I suggest you stop. Learning should—first and foremost—be enjoyable.

Good Luck!

(For more about The Manual, see here.)

Nor sequent centuries could hit
Orbit and sum of Shakespeare’s wit.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

If Shakespeare does not thrill you, consider applying the challenge to other literary giants: William Blake, Voltaire, Goethe, Cervantes, etc.

For this challenge, you really have to have a passion for the writings of the Bard. If you are not so inspired, forget this challenge. The key is to only dedicate time to learning that which you need and that which you desire. If you force yourself to learn something just for the memory challenge of it, it may take the fun out of learning.




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