Congrats on taking the first step towards adding memory palaces to your learning strategies toolbox. We use memory palaces to boost our retention of material for almost every subject in medical school. The techniques are not a panacea for learning. Using memory palaces still requires hard work, creativity, and critical thinking. That said, we believe they can be powerful assets to a balanced learning strategy. Memory palaces are based on two concepts: (1) visualizing information as an image, and (2) storing that image in a “memory palace.” Palaces are physical locations, real or invented, which you can see in your mind’s eye. You mentally “walk” through this location to recall the information. This basic technique springs from humans’ natural strengths for remembering images and locations (rather than abstract things like names and numbers).
Follow it up with our Step Up series, which includes a real-time demo and our top tips for applying memory palaces effectively. This article summarizes our argument in favor of using memory palaces (sparingly) during learning.
In this video, Alex introduces the memory palace and how it enhances our recall of information.
Creating your first palace is as easy as picking a few spots in the room. Alex demonstrates in our kitchen.
Now that you've created your first palace, let's go over the basics for visualizing information, or encoding.
Alex demonstrates how to use a memory palace to encode the Spanish words for "apple" and "company."
Alex demonstrates how to use the memory palace to learn new vocabulary, in this case, a medical term.
Alex demonstrates how to convert information from your notes into visual images in your memory palace.
What are memory techniques?
“Memory technique” (also "mnemonic") refers to any tool that improves your ability to learn and recall a piece of information. Most often, this means: (1) imagining that information as an image you can visualize, and (2) storing that image in a “memory palace” (also referred to as "mind palaces" or the "method of loci"). Memory palaces are physical locations, real or invented, which you can see in your mind’s eye. You mentally “walk” through this location to recall the information. This basic technique springs from humans’ natural strengths for remembering images and locations (rather than abstract things like names and numbers).
Why should I learn to use memory techniques? What are applications of the techniques?
Our goal here is employ memory techniques as part of a balanced learning strategy to effectively learn new things, to improve not merely memorization but long-term understanding. The techniques are about much more than simply recalling facts. They allow you to organize, access, and connect the concepts you've learned in a way that capitalizes on your natural memory’s strengths. You learn faster while forgetting less. The techniques are not, however, a panacea for learning, and they certainly won't make you a genius overnight. Using them still requires hard work, creativity, and critical thinking. That said, when used appropriately, we believe they can be powerful assets to any learning strategy. Creating imaginative images can also make learning more enjoyable and add some spice to your study routine. The practice of memory techniques has revamped the way we learn and think, in both our academic and personal lives.
Alex: I use memory techniques predominantly to learn exam material, languages, presentations/speeches, and names of people I meet--with the bulk of my efforts centered around learning medicine, Chinese, and Spanish. As a memory competitor, I use them to memorize numbers, decks of cards, names and faces, historical dates, images, words, and poetry.
Can anyone learn to use memory techniques?
Alex: Yes! Like every other memory competitor I’ve met, my natural memory is quite normal. By training the techniques, I’ve been able to elevate my memory to a level I’d never have thought possible.
How easy is it to incorporate memory techniques into my daily life? Simple example?
You can start incorporating memory techniques into your life with no extra time, while still building a foundation to tackle more advanced challenges if desired. An easy way to do this is to imagine an image each time you meet someone new or hear a name (e.g. a robot for Rob, a microphone for Mike, a salad for Sally). Then imagine that image interacting with an interesting feature of the person's appearance. For instance, if Rob has bushy eyebrows, you might imagine a robot helping him trim his eyebrows.
If I'm a beginner interested in applying memory techniques to my learning, how should I use this site?
Feel free to explore whatever piques your interest, but here's our vision for how new users might progress through our content (one hour's work should have you up to an intermediate level):
A Quick Glance: For a quick look at the techniques in action, try our 20 Word Challenge. After 5 minutes, you'll have a 20-word list memorized forwards and backwards. This video should give you a basic sense of how the techniques work and confidence that you're capable of using them.
The Basics: To get started understanding how memory techniques can be used as learning tools, check out this "Getting Started" video tutorial series (18 min). It covers the basics of memory palaces and how to use images to represent terms or ideas. Alex walks through two Spanish and two medical terminology examples. (Additionally, you can check out this short pamphlet describing the memory palace technique.)
To really get on your own two feet, check out our second series, "Refine Your Technique" (25 min). This series explains how to begin creating your own palaces and images in more efficient ways and gives a comprehensive example (we each discuss our own mnemonics for learning high-yield facts about the disease acute pyelonephritis).
Intermediate: You should now be comfortable with the basic ideas and have a sense of how to begin applying memory techniques to your learning goals. At this point, we strongly encourage you to read "Do memory palaces hinder learning?" It summarizes the three key roadblocks--and our eventual solutions after experimentation--when it comes to using these tools long-term.
Although you're hopefully now feeling confident, you'll probably still have questions after experimenting on your own. In the Qs below, we've aggregated our findings and experiences regarding a variety of mnemonic topics, from palace structuring to language learning to spaced repetition. This ever-growing list contains the most common questions we get. In addition, concrete examples are often the best way to grasp how memory techniques can work in practice. Our Learning Examples page has a growing video/blog library showing how we've used the techniques in specific learning scenarios, from pharmacology to anatomy to Chinese to SAT vocab and more. If you're not sure where to start, we'd recommend Tetracyclines.
That's all, folks! Best of luck to all you budding mnemonists. Let us know how it goes!
I've heard of memory techniques before. Where does Mullen Memory fit in?
Mullen Memory is a nonprofit seeking to answer a simple question: What's the best way to employ memory techniques to effectively learn new things, to improve not merely memorization but long-term understanding? Through Mullen Memory, we (Cathy and Alex) are looking to share our experiences--successes, failures, tips, etc.--using memory techniques for learning. We aim to provide free, easy-to-understand tutorials and real-world examples detailing how we've applied memory techniques to subjects like medicine and Chinese. Memory techniques can be a challenge to apply effectively, and slightly different methods can yield vastly different results. Here we explore the approaches and tweaks that have made the techniques invaluable for us. We are very much students of memory techniques ourselves and don't claim to have all the answers, but we hope that our videos, blogs, and tips can help get you on track to finding learning strategies that work for you.