Memory encoding occurs rapidly, but the consolidation of memory in the neocortex has long been held to be a more gradual process. We now report, however, that systems consolidation can occur extremely quickly if an associative "schema" into which new information is incorporated has previously been created. In experiments using a hippocampal-dependent paired-associate task for rats, the memory of flavor-place associations became persistent over time as a putative neocortical schema gradually developed. New traces, trained for only one trial, then became assimilated and rapidly hippocampal-independent. Schemas also played a causal role in the creation of lasting associative memory representations during one-trial learning. The concept of neocortical schemas may unite psychological accounts of knowledge structures with neurobiological theories of systems memory consolidation.