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How to study and remember, according to famous people

Keanu Reeves starred in "Johnny Mnemonic" directed by William Gibson, portraying what the mnemonic technique is. Source: Frederic J. Brown/AFP

Remember “Johnny Mnemonic,” that film written by William Gibson starring Keanu Reeves about hiding information from the Yakuza? The plot about a data trafficker who has undergone cybernetic surgery is a lil’ extreme, but it portrays a famous tool: the mnemonic system. It’s used to remember a large portion of information using song lyrics, rhymes, acronyms, images, phrases, or sentences. It’s one of the most useful methods to study and remember.

Another nifty tip on how to study and remember is the Pomodoro Technique. Invented by Francesco Cirillo in the 80s, this teaches you how to work with time, instead of against time. Pretty handy for students to learn for exam periods — tick tock, against the clock!

Influential people are fans of these techniques and have come up with variants of their own. We list the best of the best for students below, as well as more special tips on how to study and remember:

Tony Buzan

In the memory world, Buzan is the godfather. He learned the techniques on how to study and remember and then worked as a substitute teacher teaching them to students. He came up with a method called “Mind Map” which is a sort of memory palace where you use lines, colour, and images to connect things all on a piece of paper.

Scientists at the University of London studied Mind Maps and found that they resulted in about a 10 percent increase in retention over the mainstream method of writing notes down. Tony Buzan now makes a living selling books about memory. He also started the World Memory Championship in 1991 — imagine the Olympics, but instead of physical athleticism, it’s how well and fast you can remember.

Ed Cooke

Cooke is a Grand Master of Memory and co-founder of Memrise — an online educational platform that uses memory techniques for learning — who grew up in Oxfordshire, and author of a book called “Remember, Remember: Learn the Stuff You Thought You Never Could”. 

Cooke’s way of memorising? Turning raw data like packs of cards or series of numbers, into colourful imagery. This YouTube video shows how this works:

Ben Pridmore

Another tried-and-tested way to study and remember? The Ben System, invented by Ben Pridmore — a former world memory champion, memory sport competitor and an accountant from the UK. 

Although Pridmore doesn’t really call it the Ben System, he just went with the flow after several of his fans and supporters coined the term. He calls his memory technique the basic Major System which is visualising points along a mental journey. 

Here’s how Pridmore describes it: “I don’t use the person-action-object ideas of some people, I just have three ‘objects’ at each point on my route. Some of these objects are people, some are things. I ‘see’ them arranged from left to right, or top to bottom, and interact in various ways according to rules I made up as I went along, depending on which objects come together in what order. Each object is made from a combination of two playing cards, or three decimal digits, or ten binary digits. The name of the object starts with a one-syllable sound made up of a consonant, a vowel and another consonant.”

Dr. Gunther Karsten

A pioneer in the memory realm, Dr. Karsten from Germany was nominated once for the “Brain of the Year” award alongside Steven Spielberg and Bill Gates. He is now a keynote speaker, giving seminars on how to study and remember and the great capabilities of human memory. The 17x World Memory Champion’s method? Creativity. 

His book “BRIGHTER” promises to “catapult your memory quotient (MQ) to genius levels: expand your vocabulary, learn new languages, remember important dates, and never forget a face again” — all in the span of 30 days. 

Corinna Draschl

This method to study and remember by the Austrian mental athlete Corinna Draschl is all about finding the feels. She remembers complex poems by breaking them into small chunks and matching emotions to them. For Draschl, feelings make the world feel less abstract, especially when they are put together in a continuous stream of emotion. “I feel how the writer feels, what he is meaning. I imagine whether he’s happy or sad,” she says.

 

Clemens Mayer

Mayer is another German memory athlete and World Memory Champion in 2005 and 2006. He was also the youngest champion in 2005. How does he study and remember? By using the method of loci — which is the mind palace technique like Tony Buzan. 

For example, he will arbitrarily assign a picture to each number from zero to 99. If there are more numbers, he uses the pictures to create stories of different lengths, which depends on the possibility of concatenation of images between two and eight members. These stories are then placed on mental pathways.

Rajan Mahadevan

Mahadevan is an Indian mnemonist with an exceptional memory for digits. The technique he uses to study and remember is a retrieval structure which demonstrates a reduction in study time with practice. He is more famously known as a man of numbers, being able to recite all the digits in pi. 

Kim Peek

Lest we forget Kim Peek, the American savant who inspired the movie “Rain Man.” He had social difficulties but exceptional memory. 

On a final note, the Medical Mnemonist Podcast hosted by Chase DiMarco is a great podcast to check out. It aims to help students in medical courses and provides an overall handy tool for those interested in improving their learning capabilities.