How to Train for the USA Memory Championship

Among all the competitions happening around the world, my 3 favorites are the USA, Welsh and Cambridge/Friendly Memory Competitions.

I always wanted to go to one of the competitions here in Europe but each time I was either, not well prepared or did not have time. I ‘work’ full time at the hospital, in addition to my studies. :frowning:

Most people on here are from the USA, so I have written this guide to help you guys as the USA MC is a closed event. If I ever was going to one, here is how I would train.

Disclaimer: Please note that I’m not a champion or even a mentathlete. I have never taken part in any competitions. But I have studied the various techniques used by the memory champions over the years. So please take this with a grain of salt. If you follow this training and do not become the next USA memory champ, don’t lay the blame on me please. Nelson Dellis is just too strong. :wink:

Training Tools

Keep your training tools as simple and real as possible. Don’t bother with games like memory ladder or software like Memocamp. You need to get into competition mode as from Day 1. Just get a Speedstack Timer and use only pens and papers like in the competitions.


The USA Championship is mostly a speed event one. So your aim is to increase your speed.

As I see the USA events, I can group them in 3 categories:

Speed Numbers, Cards (If you are using the same system for both the numbers and the cards.)
Random Words, Poetry
Names & Faces
and finally, Tea Party which is a combination of all the above.

I’ll be using the same set of images for the numbers and cards, so I grouped them together.

Poetry is just like memorizing words but with punctuations.

I’ll only talk about memorizing numbers. You can use the same steps for the cards as they use the same set of images.

Image System

My motto is K.I.S.S. Wang Feng became memory champion with only 100 images, no PAO or whatever.

So I’ll go with a 2 digit system because this is the best system which strikes a balance between fast encoding of numbers into images and the amount of images you can retain in 5 minutes.

I’ll show you in a minute why you need not bother with such details like PAO or Dominic. There are no hour events in the USA so the system need not be highly developed like for the WLC.

You won’t take months to master the system and you won’t have that much repeat images because you’ll only have to memorize numbers for 5 minutes.

For Session 1: You will be focusing on your images for now. Do not try the speed cards. Do only the speed numbers. Create a set of 100 images for the numbers using whatever systems feel the best for you: Dominic, Major, etc. Just create 100 images. Do not attach objects or actions to them yet.

You can do this easily in 1 hour.

I’ll go for a modified version of a major system with a combination of images that comes to my mind immediately when I think of certain numbers.

So the modified major system will be:

0: O (Looks similar)
1: l (Looks similar)
2: D (Deux in French)
3: M (The 3 looks like an M when you tilt your head to the right!)
4: A (The 4 looks like an A)
5: S (Looks similar)
6: b (Looks similar)
7: F (F is the mirror image of 7 with a strikethrough)
8: H (Huit in French)
9:g (Looks similar)

I do have images predefined for certain numbers in my mind like 0:ball; 1: sword; 2: Swan, 24: Jack Bauer in 24; 25: Santa Claus, etc.

You should always use images that are personal to you!

Image Fixing

Now on to fixing the images into your mind.

Note: Do not attempt to memorize or use a journey! I repeat do not memorize!

Try to reach the time I have given you below.

Session 1 can be subdivided into 2 parts: Reading & Linking.

Reading can be further subdivided into 2 parts: Fast reading & slow reading.

Reading is just seeing the image associated with the number in your mind.

Fast reading is where you see your image in your mind when you read a pair of numbers or a card. You need to decrease your reading time to a minimum to increase your speed. You need not see the whole image in your mind. Just an impression is enough but this impression must be unique so as to know which image you had in mind.

Slow reading is where you go over your image in details, trying to imprint it in your memory. Use all your senses. Try to see it just as if it is in front of you. You can stop slow reading later on when you have all your images in your head and you know your images like the back of your hand.

So for the cards, you must reach a fast reading time of 30s for 100 numbers.

I took the time from this chinese guide:

The linking part is where you use a fixed action for your image and just focus on this action. Like if you are using James bond as an image for 07. Don’t use him shooting a gun in one image and kicking someone in another image. Always use this fixed action (like shooting) each time in the same position.

Also use only 1 action for 1 image. Do not use the ‘shooting’ action with both James Bond (07) and Jack Bauer (24). You must have 100 unique actions for your 100 images.

You need to find actions that occur in split seconds in your mind. Actions like shooting, cutting, etc. are actions that occur in split seconds and have the highest impact in your mind.

Slow actions like “hitting a golf ball and seeing it fly in the air to land on your next image” takes too much time.

You’ll really cut down your time if you master this. For the linking part: aim for 40s for 100 numbers.

So you do 30 minutes of READING and 30 minutes of LINKING every day.

Combining Reading & Linking!

Still do not attempt to memorize anything here!

You need to combine the reading and linking part once you reach the times I specified above.

Use a random number generator and print out a sheet of numbers used just like in the competitions. Cross out each time you have read a pair of numbers.

Record the time taken for each reading and linking you do.

Now you’ll create images by using 4 numbers or 2 pairs of numbers.

From this set: 07251102

You’ll divide the numbers into sets of four mentally: 0725 1102

and picture the first pair doing his action on the second pair.

Here are my images:

07 : James Bond (Shooting)
25: Santa Claus

I’ll picture James Bond shooting Santa Claus head’s off. Always from the same point of view. Always in the same direction. If I picture the bullet going through Santa’s left eye, I’ll always try to picture the same image each time. This may sound contrary to popular advice given but I’ve noticed that if you keep the same set of image and action each time, your time decreases a lot.

You’ll need to picture this in less than 1 second.

For the next 4 numbers:

11 : Chopsticks (Piercing through)
02: Swan

I’ll picture a pair of chopsticks piercing through a swan’s neck always at the same spot.

Note down whatever scene you pictured for each pair and try to recall the same scene each time.

If you do that for everyday for a month, I assure you will cut down on your memorization time.

Actually Reading Faster

Now you’ll need to learn to speed read for the numbers. Try reading ‘breakthrough rapid reading’ which is a good book on this subject.

I’ll try to expand this guide when I have more free time. If you have any tips to share, please do so. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the post. Good timing for me, I just started training a couple weeks ago and I guess Im sort of stuck in the image fixing stage and this might’ve helped guide me a little better from the start. Why not memorize or use a journey?

After reading a few books and a lot of the wiki then lurking here I just went and built a full PAO around my house. Is that a bad way to get the images to stick? I just sat down for the 12th time to memorize a deck and got them all in 10 1/2 mins which feels like it’s pretty good but it took 15 minutes to recall because i had to run around my house (made the cards the same as #'s 00-51) to try and remember which piece i was missing in quite a few spots. Should I just scrap it for now and trade for your system then and go back to my system later once the PAO is erased from my palace and I have a better grasp of these techniques?

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Hi birdman19, sorry for the late reply.

I’ve broken down the memorization process into stages:

  1. First you read a data (card, image, whatever…) and create an image. (Reading Phase)
  2. Then you ‘read’ another data. (Reading Phase)
  3. Then you link the 2 pieces of data together. (Link Phase)
  4. Then you place the images on a point in a journey (Let’s call it anchoring phase.)

You’ll need to ‘read’ more data if you are using a PAO.

Now to gain speed, it is better to master the basics first i.e. reading and linking before moving to anchoring. If you try to do all 3 at once, you will take more time to master your system.

The key here is Divide and Conquer.

I don’t recommend using journeys at the start. Journeys are easy to learn,etc. but the image creation and fixing is the problem.

If you try to do both at the same time, you won’t increase your speed at all. Master the images first, then apply it to journeys.

Train your cards like I wrote for numbers. Just train the images. Try to go through a pack of cards in your hands and just think of the images.

I’ll say simplify your system if you are training for the USA Competition only.

Scrap the PAO if you want speed. Use only the PA in your system and discard the O. And use unique ‘A’ like I said.

If you master the “reading” and “linking” concepts I wrote above for cards, you’ll decrease your time considerably. No kidding!

Anyway good luck with your training mate! If you need any help, don’t hesitate! :slight_smile:

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Ok thanks I’ll go with your advice, the O is now gone. Now it’s time to practice and get reading and linking down to 30s and 40s :slight_smile:

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Hi Yan,

I really like Your training programme and i think that kiss apporach is a good one for it.

I do not consider myself total begginer, i can remember deck of cards in 2:30 and i can do 100 digits in 5 minutes, but i think that to achieve meaningful results i need some kind of programme and i think i will try Yours;) But can You clear me 2 things:

  1. I had different images for Cards and numbers but now i think that propably it is cool and some people say that it is just a matter of taste, but i think it is not so effective, so it will just bring twice as much practise to get proper visualization and linking, so i will switch to it. (maybe that was not a question, but still, am i thinking right?

  2. I thought that i understand PA, but maybe i am not. Liket the system that You described is the same as PA.
    Here is the deal. Always i had a person and he has an action, and when i was remembering things, i had the person from the first 2 digits and the action from second 2 digits. So it was like 1112 David Duchovny riding on the skatebord (12 is tony hawk and his action is riding on the skatebord). And in Your system it is somehow different. Like 1211 (maybe it is better, because action of 11 was to making intercourse with a sexdoll;)) will be Tony Hawk riding on a skatebord bumping into David Duchovny? Am i right? And for all the other persons he will just bump in the same manner to them? Is it good?

i have some problems with actions, like for example aragorn, for me he shoud be cutting with the sword, but i don’t know what, like the shield - i will need someone to hold it, to timeconsuming to imagine this, so people with his action were just cutting the air in my practise everytime and i think it was not that memorable. With Your system i think It will be like 4411 (Aragorn is 44) That will be Aragorn piercing the chest of David Duchovny (pretty memorable).

Am i thinking right? I think that my PA will have some pretty substantial changes;)

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Hey birdman19, if you want to compete at the international level, then I recommend you create a solid system for the hour events. Because my system is not enough I find for the hour events, unless you are like Wang Feng! :wink:

But for the USA Comp, it is enough. Let me know how the training goes. If you want any other help or suggestion, don’t hesitate to message me! :slight_smile:

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If you are using the same system for numbers and cards, then it is better to use the same images. I convert the cards to numbers, then I convert the numbers to images.

To convert the cards I use this system:
Spades: 1 (Looks like 1)
Hearts: 2 (2 sides)
Clubs: 3 (3 leaves)
Diamonds: 4 (4 sides)

Then the numbers Ace - 0; 1 - 1; 2 -2, etc…

I read the symbol first, then the numbers 2nd.

So 2hearts will be 22; 8Clubs: 38; etc…

I only create special images for cards such as Queen, King, etc…

With practise, you’ll find that you can instantly create the image in your mind when you see the card.

Here too you need to apply the principles of reading and linking before memorizing.

You train to first come up with the number instantly when you see a card. After that you train to come up with an image when you see a card.

Yes. You got it right. Just using one action for the same person frees up your mind. You do not need to look up the action of the 2nd person and have the first person do it. It may be better for long term memory but you’ll need to train a lot to increase your speed.

Yes again you got it right.

But like I said in my original post, you need to find actions that occur in split seconds and are unique and natural to that person.

Plunging a sword is a nice, fast action. But if you make aragorn take his sword from his scabbard, lift it up in the air to finally plunge it in the chest of David Duchovny, then you are wasting precious seconds.

Just scrap the ‘taking’ and ‘lifting’ part and plunge the sword directly in his chest.

Also don’t waste time imagining David Duchovny falling with the sword in his chest, agonizing on the ground to finally dying from an open chest wound. Again you are wasting time.

Also use actions that are unique and natural. Don’t force Aragorn to roller skate in your mind even if this is more memorable. You’ll take more time to create this image because it is not natural.

Anyway just wanted to add that’s it has been months since I have trained and tested these techniques out. You may find that it won’t work for you. Go with whatever techniques that shorten your time! :wink:

Always, I mean always keep a record of your time. And always note down what little tips or techniques helped you out. Hope this helps.

I’ll try to write something about cards and journeys later on this week. If you have got any other questions, don’t hesitate guys! :slight_smile:

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I’m always looking for perspectives on memorizing poetry, word lists, and N&F, pretty much the exact things you didn’t address :slight_smile: sorry about that. Also what is your opinion on reviewing mid-memorization? With digits, I could put about 300 in 5 minutes, just catchig a glimpse at max speedbut I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of remembering them.
Ultimately, I think the goal is to be able to keep going and going without review - I don’t think Feng had time to review - do you have advice on how to strengthen this skill? Some images I just pop in place - 2 or 3 seconds for 6 or 8 digits, and they stick, others I really try to ‘glue onto the loci’ with time and energy, but which ones will stick has been so far entirely unpredictable and only weakly correlated with time spent visualizing :/.

Thanks Yan!

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Thank You for Your response Yan! You are really helpful and it’s nice that You take Your time to answer this question.

First i always want to find the answers by searching in previous posts, so explaining convertion of cards was not really necessery, i just wanted to hear the statement like; yes,in my opinion it is more efficient;) or something like that. But maybe someone else will benefit from that.

I have some thougts aobut this system. Don’t you think that sometimes it can look like AP, like we had this example with Aragorn sword and David, so if you go fast sometimes i think that u will be just picturing sword and dawid duchovny face and chest, not need for Aragorn anymore, cause you know that only Aragorn use the sword.

Second thing that i quite straggle is actions. Everybody is speaking about memorable actions, i was searching for examples, but really, it is not that simple. There are many examples of PAO, but i have litlle doubts about them and are not really suitable for this system. I made the list of first 20 person action (actions are connected with the person, but it is not a problem to have some artificial actions attached to some of the characters), can you take a look and see it is ok, make some sugestions. Because when i were doing this, i’ve started to think that i will have 100 ways of how to kill the men, voilence is memorable, but don’t we have something else to mixed things up?

It’s 20 figueres, but i think that some people can later benefit from it, because you have many pao, but not that much pa.

01 Snoop Dog throwing a hut into someone’s face/ i also imagine him with this nice type of hut, that can be a cylinder also, so he can throw the rabbit out of it, but it won’t fit with the person situated next to him…
02 SaNdra Bullock spraying someone’s face with peper gas - i have an image of her as a sexy policewoman, also she can be a busdriver or me, but i don’t see better action
03 SuMo he throws somebody through his arm, like some kind of wrestling move
04 Zorro i will have one guy with a sword, so maybe spade is not the best option, for me 04 can be also sub zero and he rn somebody in to the block of ice i think it will be memorable;)
05 SheLdon Cooper he was always knocking the door to me, but he is a scientist, maybe telescope, he can pierce through someone’s eye with it?
06 Steve Jobs he was sliding through his ipad for me, but this need to be action that could interact with the person, so maybe smashing large ipad against someone’s head? It just feels that in that pao it will be hell lot of negative energy;) so i need to think about 100 different ways of killing somebody?:wink:
07 Zack Galifianakis previously he sniffed cocaine, but now maybe he can throw the bucket of cocaine against someone? Like floor…
08 Sara Walker she is a sexy spy, but has also some other options, but yeah, to me this sexapeal is the most important, maybe she can jump at the other person, with legs crossed behind his or her back
09 SPiderman throws a spider web into someone’s face - or maybe into legs, because many things are going around people heads here…
10 Zeus he was throwing a lighting into someone, but maybe now he can just elecroshock other person
11 Dawid Duchowny smashing a guitar against someone’s head
12 ToNy Hawk bumping into someone on his skatebord
13 Ted Mosby smashing the pumpkin at someone;s head
14 ThoR knocking someone’s head out with his hammer
15 TaL Mikhail he was throwing a dynamite to somebody, is it good? Or do i just imagine a huge explosion under someone’s feet
16 DJ David Guetta he was always mixing on his dj mixerm what he can do now? I am thinking about actions connected to him, like with parties and so on, but to interact with another person, hard…
17 TiGer woods smashing guy’s stomach with golf bat
18 Here are 2 of my friends, but strangly enough, they don’t stick in my mind with any particular actions. Examples for an action - spraying with foam gel somebody. throwing a birthsday cake into someone’s face
20 eiNStein he was writing on the board, but know, i don’t see special action that could interact with other people…

So yeah, it would be great if You could take a look, i was really thinking about them, not that i didn’t put effort in that, and propably i will post a larger list somewhere else, that other people could see it and maybe contribute somehow;)

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I’ll have to see if I can compete at the US level before building a system for the world competition.

Im on day 10 of Yan’s training now and just wanted to make a post here to maybe help other people see a normal progression.I’ve been spending about 2 - 3 hours a day working on my training, making sure to get the 30 timed minutes a day of fast reading and linking then the rest of that time is spent here reading, reading books, thinking up palaces, or working on the other events

Im closing in on 1 min reading and linking per deck, here’s my read times from day 1, day 5, and day 10 today (today’s the first day I actually feel like I memorized my full deck, though there’s still slower recall on some cards)

Day 1:
[6.23] [5.06] [4.13] [3.31] [2.54] [2.25] [2.15] [2.58]

Day 5:
[2] [1.45] [1.5] [1.41] [1.54] [1.53] [1.29] [1.32] [1.3] [1.4] [1.38] [1.53] [1.36] [1.38] [1.54] [1.49] [1.45] [1.25]
[1.57] [2.08] [1.39] [1.46] [1.49] [1.33] [2.01] [1.39] [2] [1.32] [2.21]

Day 10:
[2.02] [1.29] [1.32] [1.28] [1.21] [1.09] [1.35] [1.31] [1.1] [1.27] [1.5] [1.09] [1.08] [1.07] [1.05] [1.2] [1.13] [1.3] [1.37] [1.19] [1.18]

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Birdman - I say this only because your last post suggests you may not know, and I could be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure that the competitors in the World Championship are just the national winners - one from each country. Do you know something I don’t know?

By the way, American friend, am I going to see you in New York on Saturday?

Yan - I spent a few hours reading out my digit objects 00-99. I was much faster at the end of it, so I guess I’ve done nothing to enhance this skill so far, so thank you, it should be helpful.

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DH, why are the numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 German if only the national champion can compete?
World Championship 2012 results

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I guess I was misinformed. There are a lot of reasons that what I said wouldn’t make any sense, actually. Maybe I need sleep :slight_smile:

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doublehelix - no I won’t be making it to the American championships saturday. I missed the registration, plus I’d like to be able to compete before I make the trip to New York. Right now I think I could only beat the reporters who solely participate in the competition as a plot device for their article

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I understand completely. Well luckily you are an American so there are only a handful of MA’s that you have to worry about, and a whole year to get there. Man I really do wish I had been doing this exercise Yan recommends from the start. I’ve improved my speed since yesterday…thanks again for the recommendation

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Haha, in Holland we have just 1 guy and he’s alright but nothing extreme (like any of the German people)

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Hey DoubleHelix,

I’ll try to write up a post on random words when I get some free time. :wink:

About reviews, I’m all for it. But there are mental athletes like O’Brien who discourage reviews whereas others like Dellis are all for it. I guess that depends on you. You can try reviews but once you know that you can memorize 500 digits without any reviews I guess that’s where you can avoid reviews.

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Hey Haplo, sorry for the late reply. I had a look at your list of actions and they all look pretty memorable. I think that split second actions are better for speed than actions that take a long time.

So for 01: You’ll waste a few time imagining the hut flying across the room. You can just imagine the hut crushing the other person’s face instead.

05: You can imagine him knocking someone in the ground instead. But I’ll tend to imagine Sheldon knocking 3 times so it won’t be that good an action I guess.

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Wow! Glad to see you validating my training method man! :slight_smile: You have decreased your time considerably!

So what is your reading and linking time for 1 pack of card? Normally if you reach 30s reading time for cards, then you can memorize a pack of cards in under 2 minutes.

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The world championship is an open event. Anybody can compete, no matter what their level.

You are welcome mate! :wink:

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