It was the middle of August and the height of the British summer in 2006. The sun was out and the smell of freshly cut grass filled the air. I was standing in line to enter the exam room for the first of five exams I had to re-sit in order to progress to the third year of the pharmacy degree I was reluctantly studying for.
A couple of months back when I had received my final results, you could have cut the stress with a knife. Five repeats in a week? Two on the same day!? And I had to pass all of them. Was this even possible? Failure would result in having to repeat a year and my parents finding out that I’d lied to them and actually had five repeats and not three.
I didn’t see exams as fair or even a particularly good way of testing knowledge. It was all nonsense. What difference would it make whether I knew biochemical reaction pathways anyway? It had nothing to do with being a pharmacist. (Six years later, I know as fact that it did indeed have nothing to do with being a pharmacist). It was all jumping through hoops. Learning for the sake of learning. But hey, there’s no point fighting a system like that one. You won’t win. In the paraphrased words of Russell Crowe in Gladiator, “I am required to learn. So I learn. That is enough.”
But now I was at ease. While some of my comrades had spent weeks cramming for this exam, trying to painstakingly reproduce chemical pathway diagrams from memory, I had spent a little over an hour reading it just before the exam. The unfair thing? I knew it better than most of them did.
Why? I had found and mastered little known techniques that allowed me to flash memorise information relatively quickly.
In this post I share tricks and techniques that I used during my own education and now in my magic act, to learn things and commit to memory facts that I had little or no passion for. If you master these techniques, there will be no need to write on your hand again. They are almost like cheating, yet completely legal to use in any exam.
I hate it when I’m told, “There is no easy way.”
These methods may seem a bit cumbersome at first but I assure you that if you practise them and really get them down, it becomes easy from then on. Since I have mastered these techniques, I have never failed an exam in my life.
The basic method involves associating facts with existing well known sequences like letters or numbers.
The Numbers Method
So for the numbers method, we take the numbers 1 to 10 and we consider them as words, rather than numbers. We then match with each word, a visual anchor. If this isn’t making any sense, it will in a minute:
ONE = BUN
TWO = BLUE
FOUR = DOOR
FIVE = HIVE
SIX = BRICKS
SEVEN = HEAVEN
NINE = WINE
TEN = HEN
You can use these or you can think of your own. Ultimately, once you’ve done that, you now have a list of visual anchors which, because of the numbers they rhyme with, go in a specific order.
Now, you create mental images incorporating the fact or piece of information you need to remember, with the visual anchor from the mnemonic list above.
The alphabet method is an expanding mnemonic device which uses the same principle as the numbers method, with the notable improvement of being able to memorise 26 items instead of just 10.
Same method applies
[I shall sooner or later upload a video demonstrating the alphabet method]
This is more difficult but still only intermediate level difficulty. It’s harder to teach because I can’t do the work for you. It is predicated on the assumption that you know the layout of your house in enormous detail. You can then place visual symbols of information in various rooms in your mental version of your house. With practise, this method has a much greater capacity than the alphabet or numbers methods, which means you can remember more facts with it.
Consider your route to work, or somewhere else you go very often. This method utilises that method in a similar way to the previously mentioned methods. Every time you want to add a new piece of information, you choose another point on your journey.
Now that we’ve been through the basic methods, you’ll start to get a feel for how this works. But before long you’ll find limitations: types of information for which the methods just don’t seem that effective. I created a number of hacks for types of information that I found that just didn’t work.
Words in foreign languages and long chemical names don’t have much meaning. And because they don’t have much meaning, they’re not all that easy to remember. Especially when there are lots of them.
In order to make them stick in the brain more easily, we need to convert them into something that means more to us. So I created visual symbols for each part of words in order to make them mean more to me.
So glucomethylpentoxyphenelate for example: GLUE + ME + PEN + OXY + PHENEL + LATE. So now I create an image containing all of those elements and use that to remember the chemical name.
Like quite a few of the articles on my blog right now, this is not perfect yet. As I said before, I shall be adding videos to this article shortly to better demonstrate how the techniques work. If you have any questions, or think I could be clearer about certain things, or don’t understand something, please do comment. It is through your comments that I’ll make the blog better.
Most of all, I hope this helps you to kick ass in your exams.
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