Qualifying Exam for Med School - Strategy for Memory Test


I’m from Switzerland and my big goal is to get into med school this fall. For that, here in Switzerland we have to take a special exam and around 20-25% make it.

The exam takes around 5 houres and is divided into 9 sub categories, and 2 of the 9 sub categories are memory exercises. I’m quickly going to explain the two sub tests:

  1. Figures
  • You are given 4 minutes to look at 20 different figures.
  • Each figure is build of 5 parts, of which 1 is colored black.
  • You have to remember which part is colored.
  • After 45 minutes, you’re given the same figures in a different order, no part is colored and you have to determine which one is colored
  1. Facts
  • You have 6 minutes
  • You get a list with 15 people and for each person a name, gender, (age), profession, charateristic and illness which you have to remember
  • The 15 people are subdivided into 5 groupes of 3 people of the same age.
  • After 45 minutes, you have to answer 20 questions. Here two examples: The person who is introvert is called: A/B/C/D/E; The person who suffers cancer is A) introvert B) confident C) shy …of course they are way trickier in reality and sometimes people have the same

I have attached two images of each test - it’s in German but I think it still gives you an idea how the test looks like.

My strategies have so far been the following:

Figures: I try to associate the profile of the figure with something that comes to my mind. Could be a face, a donut, whatsoever … and then I try to create a memorable/crazy picture in my mind together with the darkened part.

–> Problem: If the profil of the figure is unique, it’s not a problem. But very often, all the 20 figures are very similar which makes it hard for me to distinguish them.

Facts: I use the loci method and use my house for it. I use five rooms (kitchen, living room, my room, bathroom, office). Since the people are subdivided into groups of 3 with the same age, I always put these three in one room and create active images for them, one item for each fact I have to remember.

–> Problem:

  • Here I struggle very much on time. I’m practicing on 10 minutes (in the test I’m given 6 minutes) and get around 75% on average right.
  • I have problems cleaning up my memory from old pictures which disturbs me sometimes
  • I don’t know if I need a better structure in order to improve more and how it could specifically look like. Right now, if I have to remember a person and their facts, I just create animated/active images and each item stands for either characteristic, illness and so on. The problem is, when I’m answering the questions and I have to find out what characteristic for instance this person has and I’m going through the picture I have created for that person, I don’t always and automatically know which of the 5 elements is responsible for saving the characteristic. Sometimes it’s something on the person’s head, sometimes the car in which she sits and so on. With having more structure I mean maybe say I always remember the characteristic with something she does with the left hand, then illness with something she does with the right hand, and so on … I’m just not sure if that makes sense or if it restricts me too much on creating images.

Why I am posting here is because I’m hoping that you guys could give me some feedback what I can do differently and how I can improve in these two subtests to hopefully pass the test for med school. I have actually just read Joshua Foer’s book “Moonwalking with Einstein”, which is the reason why I am doing a little bit of research now.

Thank you very much for helping me out and that you’ve read so far! :slight_smile:

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Here a picture how the figures look like

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Here a picture how the facts testing looks like:

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I have been busting my head since yesterday evening trying to think of how I would memorize the figures with the 5 parts and the black section.

Out of curiosity, may I ask what medical skill this corresponds with?

I have no idea why you need to memorize black spots but I think I have something! haha

So you need to establish how you will count the pieces. I would start counting at the top left then go clock wise. Then I would make an image for what black represents. Maybe a black hole. Each blob will have it’s own location in a memory palace. Let’s do the first one for example.

I would count from the left upper corner. SO the black one is in the second position. In my room (first location) I see a black hole shooting out shoes (for 2). If I was given that blob, I would walk in my balance and see a black hole shooting shoes so I know the second piece should be black.


Hey Glasi,

This looks tricky! If only this wasn’t an exam I’m sure it could be quite fun! I think what you’re doing is good.

Here are my tips

  1. For the ages I recommened you try mnemonic number system such as the major system (this converts the digits 0-9 with a sound)
  2. For the characteristics I would interact with the person and their response would give me the impression of their personality trait.
  3. To avoid getting confused with previous images the solution is to make more memory palaces/loci

I’ll give an example for the first person of each age group to show how I would remember it.

Example 1
I would imagine a rotting corpse [rot] with tape [19] covering his eyes. He is trying to sell me a house [real estate agent]. He’s not giving up and loudly demands that I buy his house [determined], while he does his tooth falls out [tooth caries]

Example 2
I would imagine a burgler [Fraud - Freud] who has many nail [25] shaped body piercings. He has stolen a bus [bus driver] which is the shape of an inhaler [asthma]. I have no idea what Dauerpatient means oops.

Example 3
I imagine a traffic cone [Konig] with a picture of a face attached to the front and back [multiple personality]. There is bile oozing off the top of the cone [gallstones]

Example 4
I imagine an man with an olive for a head [olofsson] and a lolly [55] sticking out on top of his head. He is welding [welder] the white floor [asbestos] when you tell him to stop he refuses as he says he doesn’t trust you [suspicious]

Example 5
Imagine a really short person [Low] who is writing graphs on a blackboard using chalk [67]. He is surrounded by computer screens [analyst]. He has a solar panal to power the computers [ecological]. The computers explode and rocks fly everywhere, they are shaped like kidneys! [kidney stones]

Hope this helps! The more you do the faster you will get!

PS if any of the examples were wrong it’s because I used google translate lol

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I think Parkouristx is on the right track. His idea led me to related approach.

Like him, I think I would simplify by focusing on just the black spots. But I think it might help to not follow the temptation to work from left to right, then top to bottom. Instead we are going to start by looking at all the figures at once and pick out the individuals that have black spots in a particular section of its respective shape.

For example, I might start by looking at all the figures to pick out the ones where I judge the black spot to be positioned in the bottom left hand corner. So, looking at your screen shot, I see 5 that match this criteria in my mind:
Bottom Left #1 is at row 5, column 1 and reminds me of a hammock
Bottom Leff #2 is at row 5, column 3 and reminds me of a big tilted triangle
Bottom Left #3 is at row 4 column 3 and reminds me of a tilted cave opening
Bottom Left #4 is at row 3 column 3 and reminds me of a sail blowing in the wind
Bottom Left #5 is at row 2 column 2 and reminds me of a kite

For my next step, I would review each of the imaginary images (kite, sail, cave, etc) and for each one, I would look at alll the other figures that do not have a black spot in the bottom left position to make sure they do not have a shape that I am likely to get confused about in that position. So, I would now look at all the other figures and ask myself: is there any other item that looks to me like a sail in the bottom left position? If the answer were ‘yes’, I would need to find a way to refine my image at that point. In this case, the answer is ‘no’. A sail-like shape is unique to row 3, column 3, as far as I am concerned.

Now, assuming I have imaginary images for all the cases where the bottom left corner is black, I need a way to remember what I learned. Here’s how I might encode the 5 above images:
Bottom Left 1 = hammock => BL1, hammock => BLooD in hammock
Bottom Left 2 = big triangle =:> BL2, big triangle => BaLooN the shape of a huge triangle
Bottom Left 3 = tilted cave => BL3, cave => Caveman plants BLooMing flowers at mouth of his cave
Bottom Left 4 = sail => BL4, sail => Sailer using leaf BLoweR to fill the sail, thus propelling ship
Bottom Left 5 = kite => BL5, kite => Holding string to kite being ridden by Jolene BLaLock (T’Pol, Star Trek Enterprise).

So, that would get me through the ones that were on the bottom left. Next I might do the Bottom Right, then the Top Left and Top Right. After there would still be a small number where the black spot is not really in either of those corners, so I would need to think in terms of Middle Left, Middle Right, Top Center and Bottom Center.

Hopefully this all makes sense.

So, I think I can see a way to do it, but I really am not sure how long its would take. Now that I know what I am doing, it would be a lot faster for me to do than to explain, but I am not sure if it would be fast enough for an exam.

I wonder how many points it’s worth. Maybe it makes sense to only try to do the minimum in order to get the points you need while saving time and energy for other questions.

Not sure if this helped you, but I had fun trying to figure out a strategy.





Thank you for all the feedback. I’m really amazed how much input you guys have given me. Sorry for the late response, I’ve been quite busy but now I’m 100% back and excited to dive into this.

Answering the question about the test: This test doesn’t really correspond with any medical skill besides the ability to work concentrated, efficiently (everything is under a lot of time pressure) and use logical thinking, at least in some excercieses. It’s a really tedious and exhausting test, but they needed to find a way to regulate the admission and at the same time ensure as much equal opportunity as possible since no medical knowledge should be required. I will be glad when it’s over with and I have hopefully passed it.

Okay, now coming to your strategy. Again, thank you very much for your input, I think it’s a great and interesting approach which I wouldn’t have thought of! I tried to memorize the figures that way and of course, it took me way more time since it’s a new technique for me, but I must say that I got almost all of them right. So I think that’s really a stratgy I could go with but this approach got me also thinking about a slightly different strategy; I’m very curious what you think of it.

I realized: Coming up with images for the black spots isn’t the hardest for me anymore, but creating the association for “BL” or “TL” and find matching words/images is. Of course I would get better with more practice, but since I’m already using the Loci-method for learning the facts in the other test, I think it might be more efficitently to try to also use this technique here.

There are five possible spots in each figure that can be black. If I divide them into a system - whether it is from bottom to top or clockwise - I can focus on learning 4 out of the 5 locations (The ones that are extant belong to the fifth location) and save some time. I figured (haha) that for me, dividing the figures into a clockwise system makes (naturally) more sene to me, so I’ll just go with that to explain my thoughts, of course it can still be altered to another “system of division”.

So, I start for each figure at the bottom left and go clockwise. The bottom left part is #1, the next part touching the profile #2, and so on. What I now need is a memory palace with 4 rooms in which I create for each black spot an image.

Room 1: Kitchen
Room 2: Office
Room 3: Bedroom
Room 4: Bathroom

So figure 1, row 1 and column 1, has the black spot at #4. So I need to remember something in my bathroom that resembles the structure of that part and doesn’t exist for any other figure in a #4 spot. For figure 1, I imagine a biceps that is flexing. Now I put that image in my bathroom and I imagine a biceps that is showering itself while flexing.

For figure 2, row 1 and column 2, the #5 spot is black. So I don’t remember anything for that figure.

Figure 3, row 1 and column 3, has the black spot at #4 again. I imagine a slide and Imagine a slide in my bathroom, going into the bathtub, which is already completely full of children that slided before.

Figure 4, row 1 and column 4, has the black spot at #2. The image is an old-fashioned scale.

In order to avoid mixing things up, it could be necessary to not only focus on the black spot itself, but also on the surrounding ones to remember a better distinguishable image. For example: figure 5, row 2, column 1 and figure 11, row 3, column 1 - both #2 dots are pretty much identical. By memorizing the black spot #2 for figure 5, I need to distinguish it somehow from spot #2 of figure 11. If I imagine the spot being a penis touching another penis, it’s unique for figure 5 and can’t be mixed up with figure 11 anymore.

I hope you’ve got what I mean. I haven’t really practiced it that way, it’s so far just an idea, so I would be very happy if you have any feedback :slight_smile: And please also tell me when it’s complete garbage. You guys are the experts. :wink:

I could also imagine to use such a method as a “sub strategy”; For all the figures that I think are unique and I could remember the best, I just imagine a fitting association like I’ve done before. And for all the (much) others, I would use a strategy like the one above.

Thank you again for investing time into this and I hope it was clear what I tried to say.

  • Jan

Hi Jifabulix

Thanks for your input as well. The rason why I’m not going that much into detail - like I’ve gone for the figures - is because in this sub test I’ve been doing way better than for the other one. But still, I think there is lots to improve.

I think I forgot to mention that I don’t need to remember the ages specifially. In the reproduction phase, when questions are asked, one of the questions is always one like that: The person that is determned is: A) 19 yeard old, B) 25 years old, C) 32 years old and so on. So I only need to remember (which I do automatically anyway through the loci method) who belongs to the youngest, 2nd youngest, 3rd youngest group and so on.

Your tip “interacting with the person” is a little game changer. I could memorize these facts way better, as long as I had a good association. It gets tricky when a characterisation is unusual or an old-fashioned synonym.

What I’m currently struggling with is how I remember the gender. It’s pretty important, since sometimes you can’t answer the question witouth knowing that. My idea has so far been to imagine either all women with an attribute or all men; for instance, a white, long beard for each man. But I realized that it is not very memorable. Do you have another suggestion?

Thank you again for your effort and Google Translator actually got pretty much all the words right haha.

  • Jan

Hi Glasi,

This is excellent progress. I think your way is a huge improvement. Also, I am wondering if your strategy is similar to where parkouristx was going with his plan.

In order to avoid mixing things up, it could be necessary to not only focus on the black spot itself, but also on the surrounding ones to remember a better distinguishable image.

Yeah, I thought about the same thing. My idea was to focus on just the shape of the black spot whenever possible, but if there is confusion because another figure has a similar shape in that position, it would then make sense to focus on the surrounding spots. I think you are saying that is the same conclusion you came to.

Anyway, this was a really fun exercise. I like trying to come up with ways to solve challenges like this. I especially like the ways you have made it more efficient. It looks like you have a knack for finding ways to make refined mnemonic techniques.

Do you write the exam soon? I definitely hope you will share your results.

Best regards,


Hey Jan!

Last year I did a similar test (for German universities). There are many books about strategies for these exams. With the shapes I think it’s best to see connect the figure with an object you already know. It still needs lots of practice! Good luck!

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I’m a 2nd year med student and I not sure why the test is like that. I used mnemonics last semester, but I have come to the conclusion (for now) that Mnemonics have been useful for me for useless things. Medicine, like other sciences, needs comprehension, then things fall into memory. Tho it is useful for nerve roots, muscle names… but I am skeptical of its usefulness for physiologic or pathologic aspects.

Study Raven Matrices.

Hey Jan,

If you are struggling remembering genders I would recommend assigning a gender to each loci. Dedicate the first 6 loci to the first 3 people (all same ages) and the next 6 loci for the next group etc.

For example:
Lets say your palace is in your bedroom and the loci are 1. bed 2. desk lamp 3. bean bag 4. window 5. chair 6. table
I would make 123 male and 456 female
I arranged it in 3’s because you could get 3 males or 3 females in a row.
So if I have Jamie (female), Daniel (male), Robin (male). I would put Jamie at the window, Daniel at the bed and Robin at the desk lamp. Fortunately we do not need to remember the order in which people came in the list!

It involves skipping a few loci so you might need to create more if you do not have enough.

Hope that helps!