Vitamins for memory – the top 10 memory techniques
It has been found in piles of scientific research that clever techniques can serve as vitamins for memory. The top 10 techniques used by experts, scientists and memory champions are as follows:
1. Picture and story method
- To remember a simple list of names or words
The key to the picture and story method is making associations between names or words in a list. These links can be combined into a picture or a story to serve as vitamins for memory.
Example: when you have to remember tea, house, Melbourne, king, iPad, you could make a vivid picture of a king, drinking tea in a house in Melbourne, while working on his iPad. Admittedly, it is a weird picture, but funny or weird associations are remembered best – they are great vitamins for memory. The words could also be combined in a story: when the KING of Scotland did some research on his IPAD, he found a beautiful HOUSE in MELBOURNE where he could have some TEA.
2. Roman Room technique
- To remember a middle length list of items in a specific order
You make a path through a room which is familiar to you, and you will follow this path twice: the first time to place the items you need to remember in specific spots in the room, and the second time you ‘collect’ the items when you pass the spots. Works especially good when you have to remember items you normally would not find in that room (i.e. a zebra on the bookcase). Remember: weird associations are vitamins for memory.
Example: look for an example here.
Vitamins for memory: the Major System forms the basis for memory feats performed by experts
3. Journey system
- To remember long lists of items in a specific order
Similar to the Roman Room technique you follow a path to place and collect items at landmarks along the route. Only this time you do this along a route you know very well, for example to your local sports club or – for longer lists – to your favourite holiday destination. Works best when you prepare the journey and select the landmarks before you learn the list of items.
Example: see how you can use these vitamins for memory in the Roman Room technique.
4. Face association
- To remember names
One of the most embarrassing moments – to realise you forgot someone’s name – can be easily prevented with the Face association technique. When introduced to someone you find an unusual feature in the person’s face and you create an association between that characteristic and the name. These associations serve as vitamins for memory.
Example: I remember Jessica because of her pale face (JesSICKa) – it is recommended not to share these associations and to look discretely for a feature in the person’s face.
5. The Major system
- To remember very long numbers or a lot of numbers
This technique often forms the basis of almost magical memory feats performed by memory champions and magicians. Pivotal to the technique is converting number sequences into nouns, these nouns into images, and linking these images into sequences.
Example: the technique is wonderfully explained in the on-line course by my former professor Jaap Murre at the University of Amsterdam. This course is free!
6. The Number/Rhyme Mnemonic
- To remember short lists of items in a specific order
Before you study the list of items you want to remember, you rhyme numbers with an object (i.e. 1 = gun, 2 = shampoo, 3 = tree, etc.). Subsequently, you combine these objects with the list of items you need to remember.
Example: when taking the first three items from the list we used in the picture and story method (tea, house, Melbourne), you could picture tea coming out of a gun, followed by a house that gets shampooed, and a tree in a park in Melbourne. When you have to remember the items, the objects serve as the vitamins for memory.
Vitamins for memory: the face association technique saves you social embarrassments
7. The Number/Shape Mnemonic
- To remember short lists of items in a specific order
Similar to the Number/Rhyme method, you make associations between numbers and an object. This time you make an association between the shape of the number and an object (i.e. 1 = candle, 2 = swan, 3 = love heart).
Example: To remember tea, house, and Melbourne, you could picture a candle under a pot of tea, a swan making a nest on top of a house, and someone wearing an ‘I “love heart” Melbourne’ t-shirt.
Weird associations are vitamins for memory
8. The Alphabet technique
- To remember middle length lists of items in a specific order
Similar to the Number/Shape method, with the Alphabet technique the letters of the alphabet serve as vitamins for memory. Before you study the lists of items you need to remember, you make associations between the letters of the alphabet and an object (i.e. A = tent, B = glasses, C = arc).
Example: To remember tea, house, and Melbourne, you could picture someone drinking tea in a tent, a pair of glasses on the doorstep of a house, and the Arc de Triumph in Melbourne.
9. Mind maps
- To remember groups of items
One of the most popular techniques with students. By summarizing, structuring and connecting information in lists, study material can be memorized better. These vitamins for memory work best when they are combined with one of the other techniques in the top 10.
10. Making study and test environment similar
Level: beginner, intermediate, expert
- To remember all types of information
Research after research shows that people memorize more when they are in a similar environment as when they studied the material. One study found, for example, that divers who studied different items under water, performed better when they were tested under water than on shore.
Example: it is highly unlikely they let you take your exam or test home where you studied the material, however, there are other ways to make the test environment as similar as possible to your study environment. You could think of creating habits during study days that you continue on test days. For example, waking up at the same time and similar eating patterns can help to stay in the same ‘modus’. Be especially aware of your caffeine intake. Research shows that caffeine drinks like coffee can serve as vitamins for memory, but make sure your caffeine intake is the same on the study and test days; research shows that memory improves when caffeine levels in the blood are similar between study and test days.