New Member: My experience with memory palaces

This is a short position paper/essay on my experiences with mnemonics at university. Mind you, this is a very subjective review. Nonetheless, I wanted to give back to the community that changed my way of learning forever. Hence this paper.

Who am I and how I got into mnemonics

First of all, I think it is appropriate to provide you with some background information about my implementation of use of memory palaces in my life. I recently graduated in interpretation in English and Italian at a Belgian university. I wanted to continue my academic career by starting a new bachelor, this time in law, but I found out that five years of additional studying just out of interest, with no intention to become a lawyer or judge, is quite an engagement. Besides, I missed making use of my language skills. This, however, formed the perfect occasion to put my new study method to the test for my exams: memory palaces. Next up is quitting law and starting a master’s degree in diplomacy that I have been wanting forever.

I found out about mnemonics, memory palaces in particular, little over a year ago. I started relearning my Italian vocabulary and was amazed by the powerful method of creating vivid images, neatly organized in a place in the mind. For learning new vocabulary, I believe, it is the only method to achieve something in a short amount of time. No more late nights reviewing dead words only to discover you already lost half of what you learned when you went to the bathroom. Making the palaces has the additional benefit of adding an incredible fun factor to studying: I can let my youthlike creative mind do what it does best.

My study method

During the semester, talking about law school now, I would read the material before class and take notes during class. After class I would make markers of the material I jotted down, and carefully organize them in a massive memory palace along with the information from the text book material. Then I would forget about it for weeks, only to walk through my palace three to four times before my exam.

My findings

This was a big mistake. I think it is safe to say that it is more important to repeat the markers you already have, than to just cram in new ones. The reason I did it like this was the overwhelming amount of study material and the lack of time to study it all. I was rushed, constantly. Besides, because I went so quickly through the course material, I was only able to make markers of the most important stuff and put them in a palace. During second and third reading I had to make many markers in addition to what I already had in my head, but I couldn’t reshuffle the order of my already existing markers. This resulted in cramming more and more markers, attaching them to the ceiling and walls just to give them a place. What a mess.

On the exam

The memory palaces, generally speaking, worked like a charm. By repeating the markers, I was able to recall, sometimes almost literal lines from the textbook. I even got a question I didn’t know the answer to but by analyzing the words of the question, I was able to make the connection between the terms on the paper in front of me, and the terms in my mind. This allowed me to “locate” the information linked to the question and successfully answering what was asked by just translating my markers into the information they contained.

What I will do differently in the future

I believe memory palaces truly come to life and make you feel like a genius if you take time for making good markers, with lots of details and colors and textures, repeating them as much as you possibly can, and making the effort of not rushing through the course material but carefully examining every bit of information and diligently giving it a place in your palace, so that the second and third reading don’t escalate into a marker cramming fiasco.

I will definitely continue this path for the rest of my academic career and the rest of my life. Thanks to everyone taking the time to post excellent information, tips and tricks on how to make use of what we already carry with us. Finding high quality content is getting harder by the day on a platform where everybody can let their mind speak.