There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants than for you to get an A+ each and every exam, enter and win (hopefully by default of being the only applicant) the Canadian Memory Championships, and become a long-lasting member of Mensa Canada.
Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.
Today’s study tips are based on a reading of Joshua Foer’s bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (2011).
Remembering Lists and Hard-to-Visualize Words
The Study Dude spent endless hours learning anatomy terms by rote. Repeating and writing the terms out seemed to cause them to sink in after a while. Sort of.
Yet, there is a much more efficient system for memorizing lists and terms. It takes creativity and the ability to conjure up wild images. It takes a keen sense of architecture. Does that sound like you? If not, don’t fear. The Study Dude confirms that you’ve got what it takes by the nature of your awesomeness.
Bear with me as I describe the rather unusual system for memorizing lists (and hard to visualize words) as described by Joshua Foer, a journalist who sought out a story on the World Memory Champions only to end up the U.S. Memory Champion not that much later in time.
Here’s how you use the memory techniques used by the world pros:
– First, you need to imagine a building or place that you are familiar with, such as the home you grew up in. This building or place is what is called a “Memory Palace.” In this imaginary building, you will come to place all the items on your list you need to memorize. (In the meantime, you will scout out or at least pay attention to homes and buildings so that you can recreate them in your imagination for use as “memory palaces.”) Memory palaces are buildings which you, via your imagination, enter and go through room-by-room, wherein each room has visual objects that you place in specific locations. Each visual object represents an item in a list, or a term, or something of that sort, which you need to remember.
– Now, walk sequentially through various rooms (via your imagination) to place and remember the items on the list in sequential order. Make the items appear in your building in an absurd, highly exaggerated, and completely wild manner. Start at the front of the palace (such as at a driveway) and place the first item in your list in place of the vehicle. (In the book, they put a vehicle-sized pickled garlic in the driveway as pickled garlic was the term to be remembered.) Then, imagine yourself entering the gate. Put the next item on the list at the gate, such as (if Red Bull is the next item on the list) a Red Bull charging at you that gets pulled back by its chain. Keep doing this, ensuring that your images are as fantastical as you can possibly make them. Even make inanimate objects, like a piano, have human capabilities, such as the ability to communicate or walk.
– Try to remember each image through multiple senses (so, if you need to remember socks, imagine a sock puppet (on the chandelier of a room you visually enter) rubbing up softly against your cheek. Exaggerate the way the items looks, smells, tastes, and/or feels.
– The book recommends adding beautiful females or males in the images to make them more memorable in addition to making the images funny, lewd, or bizarre.
– For abstract or complicated words that are hard to put a visual to, use similar sounding words such as “she-male” for “email.” For the word “these,” as another example, remember a person walking on their knees. This comes in handy for memorizing passages, such as poetry, word for word.
– For hard to remember words, such as anatomy terminology, break the word down into syllables “and then creat[e] an image for each syllable based on another word that begins with that syllable” (Foer, 2011, p. 132), and then string them together. This is what is called Bradwardine’s system, created by Thomas Bradwardine in the fourteenth century.
Although the memory palaces are meant to be places you intimately know already and the memory devices are meant to be funny, lewd, or bizarre, The Study Dude likes to take places familiar and transform them into heaven-like places (to counter if the places left any bad memories or if the places were run-down and shoddy). For instance, a house your aunt lived in could be transformed into the same house, but made of crystal with a driveway of pure gold. I like these kinds of transformations of memory palaces because they make them more positive and inviting to enter.
Also, The Study Dude refuses to create lewd visuals, preferring always to take the extra time where needed to come up with a positive and often spiritual image. I read that when we create negative or lewd visuals, we can oftentimes block them out as a natural memory defence system. The Study Dude takes the extra time to make positive images, thereby creating a happier world within the mind that uplifts the spirit each time you choose to remember.
Memorizing Numbers: Major System
The Major System for memorizing numbers, which I’m about to show you, comes in handy for memorizing dates, times, or anything that has a limited amount of numbers. For longer numbers, you should refer to the PAO System, which is in Moonwalking with Einstein, but which I won’t go into as it would likely not apply to much other than memorizing decks of cards, strings of binary digits, and, of course, the first tens of thousands of digits of pi. If that sounds interesting to you, maybe you should consider competing in the Canadian Memory Championships, which have just recently begun operations.
Returning to the Major System, it is useful for memorizing shorter numbers and is much simpler than the PAO system. Here is the Major System in a nutshell:
– The first task at hand, is to memorize the following list of number/consonant associations. It is a more intuitive list for someone who has taken a linguistics course, but for most of us, the list will take a bit of time to memorize. (These memory devices only get easy once they are committed to memory.) Here it is: 0 = S, 1= T or D, 2 = N, 3 = M, 4 = R, 5 = L, 6 = Sh or Ch, 7 = K or G, 8 = F or V, 9 = P or B
– Now that you have those number and consonant associations in mind (and eventually memorized, hopefully), take the number you need to learn off by heart, say 32-58-8627, substitute in the consonants–MN-LV-FShNG and then add some vowels as you freely might: Men Love Fishing. Now, that was just too easy. How about an obscure number like 7879 (or KFKP)? How about a coffee cup? (The last example was directly from the book.)
The Study Dude previously read a book that explained an easier way to memorize the number/consonant associations. It suggested that “T” kind of looks like a “1.” “N” is kind of a sideways “2.” “M” is a sideways “3.” “R” is a letter in the number “4.” “L” is “50” in roman numerals, which can be remembered as “5.” “Sh!” is a word to silence the slight variation of the sound generated by the number “6” (which The Study Dude is too shy to reveal, but which you might be able to easily guess. “8” looks like a lower case fancy script “f”. “9” looks like a backward “P.” You get the picture. (However, 0 and 7 are not the most intuitive relationships to the letters “s” and “k” respectively.) Yet, memorizing the sound parallels is not quite as important as just keeping the system consistent–ready-and-waiting in your arsenal of exam taking strategies.
The Study Dude just had to include this gear advice. No kidding, but The World Memory Championship contenders wear industrial headphones and horse blinders (or else spray-painted black industrial goggles with holes in the center) when practicing memorization strategies.
As for me, after being forced to overhear yet another episode of a real life murder mystery playing loudly in the background (complete with hysterical live-recorded screams), I broke down and went to Amazon and bought a pair of industrial headphones. Now that I have been using them regularly, I have to say, they are an indispensable tool for creating a highly focused yet very peaceful environment. I wear them at all times while studying.
Got a loud roommate? Industrial earmuffs are the solution.
So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.
Foer, Joshua. (2011). Moonwalking with Einstein: The art and science of remembering everything. New York, NY: Penguin Books.