Remember Lists of Words With the Roman Room Trick

Do you need to remember a list of items, but you don't have a pen and paper at hand? All you have to do is visualize a room in your mind where you can place all the items in the list, and then mentally return to it whenever you need. This memorization technique is known as the Roman Room due to its ancient origins, since it was used by Roman orators such as Cicero and Quintilian to memorize the key points of their speeches. [1] As a visual association technique, it works especially well for visual learners or those who are required to memorize lists of unrelated words or things (like a shopping or to-do list). [2]


Creating Your Own Roman Room

  1. Create and memorize a room in your head. Make it as big and beautiful as you wish. Smaller rooms are easier to remember, but big rooms work just as well.
    • This can be a temporary room, if you’re using it only for a specific list, or a permanent mental place you can return to any time you need. Having a permanent room will make it easy for you to memorize the space and go into smaller details about its design.
    • You can use an existing room, like your bedroom or kitchen. This will save you time and make it handier for you to return to it anytime you want to. [2]
  2. Spend a little time each day revisiting your room. As you go back, don’t change details or move items: just memorize everything and familiarize with it as much as possible.
    • Each time you can get into smaller details about where things are located: for example, you can add furniture, objects, paintings on the wall or decorative plants. This will give you more cues to link your memories to.
  3. Test yourself by making a list of 10 words to remember tomorrow. For example, consider the following random list:
    • shoe
    • dog
    • desk
    • the date 12/09/1990
    • cow
    • your grandpa Billy Bob
    • turkey
    • $20 you owe your landlady
    • computer
    • eggs
  4. Place each item on the list somewhere in the room. This will create a link (association) with the elements that are already present in the room.
    • For example, you can add an ugly shoe-patterned wallpaper to the walls, have a barking dog on your couch, put an elaborate desk below the window, write the date in pink neon letters on the frame of a famous painting, put a fat cow in the doorway, have Grandpa Billy Bob eating sloppy Joes on your new carpet, picture a Thanksgiving turkey on the dining room table, have your landlady standing in the middle with a $20-bill in her hand, a broken computer on the floor, and eggs smashed into the door.
  5. Visualize people’s and place names as items. If your list is made up of proper nouns, like the main battles of the Civil War or writers’ names, replace them with words you can picture first, and then place these in your room.[3]
    • For example, if you have to memorize a list of modernist writers for your next exam, like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Ezra Pound, you can have: a wolf tearing off your wallpaper, a joystick on the table and a bunch of British pounds scattered on the floor.
  6. Try to remember your whole list the next day. Picture the room again and go through all the details to check how many you’ve memorized so far. The more vivid the associations are, the easier it will be for you to remember the list. [4]
    • For example, writing a date in big pink neon letters on the bottom of the Mona Lisa will give you a better chance of remembering it.
    • Try to have your items engage actively with something in the room, rather than just dropping them somewhere. For example, placing the dog on the couch might not be enough: visualizing it while it gnaws on the couch cushions and smash them into pieces is much more effective.

Maintaining Your Roman Room

  1. Revisit your Roman Room regularly. Do this until you know it like the back of your hand. This will make any addition much more noticeable, as if somebody made a drastic change to own your bedroom.
    • This doesn’t take a lot of time: just devote a little time each day to this exercise when your mind is clear (like, during a bus journey or a session at the gym).
  2. Add more details to your room if you want to expand it. The room doesn’t have to get bigger: just visualize smaller elements in it, and this will give you more things to associate your memory lists with. [3]
    • For example, furniture can have drawers you can open and put more stuff in. There can be appliances and decorative objects all around, patterned curtains and rugs on the floor.
  3. Make as many rooms as you want to! This is another way to extend the mental space and expand the amount of information you can potentially store in it. This will also give you different rooms that you associate with different items.
    • In this case, your landlady can be in the kitchen while the dog is playing in the bathroom.
    • The extension can go on indefinitely and make your room Build-a-Memory-Palace or town. [3] [5]

Using an Actual Room for Presentations (the Lecture Hall Method)

  1. Make a list of key points you want to memorize for your presentation. Even in this case, make them as visual as possible: proper nouns and abstract ideas should be turned into physical objects.[6]
  2. Get to know the room. Once you know where the presentation will take place, visit the room in advance and try to notice as many details as possible. [7]
    • If it’s a room you already know well, you can just revisit it mentally. However, going there in person will give you an opportunity to focus on extra details you’d never noticed before.
  3. Link your key points to existing items. However, make sure you associate each key point to items that won’t be removed on the day of the presentation.
    • If there’s a used coffee cup on a desk, don’t bother taking note of it. It will certainly be trashed before your presentation day.
    • It’s better to go clockwise as you link your key points to each item. This will make it quicker for you to find the next cue as you present.[8]
  4. Rehearse on location. If you have a chance, it’s always better to practice your presentations a couple of times in the actual room. If you can’t do it, just memorize the room on your first visit and then picture it when you’re practicing.
  5. Rehearse elsewhere. Even if you have full access to the room, practicing in a different location is always a good exercise. You never know what might happen on the day of the presentation: having a mental picture of it is safe if there are any last-minute changes. [9]
    • For example, if the room is moved, you can use your mental picture of the previous room as a Roman Room. Picture it in your mind as you present and you’ll find all your items there, instead of in the room where you’ve been moved.
  6. Look for your cues on presentation day. As you deliver your presentation, look for the cues in the room that you've linked with your key points.
    • Memorizing a presentation will impress your audience and make your performance more engaging.
    • Remember it’s always safer to still have some notes with you, in case your memory fails you.


  • The Roman Room is better for short lists, but can be used for long lists as well. This obviously depends on the size of your room and details you fill it with.
  • Another similar technique is the Familiar Path, where each item in the list is placed on a path that you mentally travel on. However, this works best for connected information, like the steps of a cheesecake recipe. [4] [10]


  • Try not to memorize everything at once. Take baby steps, gradually moving up.

Sample Roman Room Lists

Doc:Roman Room,Roman Living Room,Roman Kitchen

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Sources and Citations