Entering the Mind Palace: Memorization Techniques from Memory Champions

As our name implies, PathDojo is a virtual training space for pathologists to build skills which will help them conquer obstacles and emerge victorious. We know that preparing for exams like the AP/CP Board exams is hard work and that much of the difficulty comes from the sheer mental focus and discipline it takes to memorize everything you need in order to pass.

The AP/CP Board exams are made up of a combined 15 hours of test questions, which is an awful lot of information to stick in your brain.

If you’re having a particularly hard time memorizing something (or many things), you might want to make like Sherlock Holmes and try the Mind Palace technique.

Creating a ‘Mind Palace’, also called the ‘Method of Loci’ , it is a skill that humans have used for thousands of years to help mentally organize complex information through visualization, thus making information more deeply ingrained in the brain and easier to recall.

You can learn more about the system and learn its basic principles through the link above (and many other internet resources). The system essentially requires you to take a mental journey through a well-known location, such as your home, and strategically place memorable mental images and extraordinary characters which all represent something you want to remember throughout the space. It is especially good for helping you remember sequences and relationships. Below, we’ve listed an example using the basic model of the extrinsic pathway of blood coagulation.

Example: Mind Palace and the Extrinsic Blood Coagulation Pathway

As you likely know, a simplified model of the extrinsic clotting cascade steps through the following enzymes: tissue factor, factor VII, factor X, factor V, factor II, and factor I. If you had a difficult time remembering this order, you could employ the Method of Loci and imagine something like the following scenario:

Imagine that you are returning home from breaking up with a significant other. You are extremely upset and when you get home, you just want to grab a massive box of Kleenex to dry your tears. However, when you step into your apartment and try to put your coat away, you find the seven dwarves in your closet. Confused, you walk into your bedroom and see a lifesize cut-out of your ex above your bed and on your nightstand sits the bouquet of dried out, dead roses you were given for Valentines Day. This makes you really upset, so you run into the kitchen and pour yourself two massive drinks, holding one in each hand. You then move to the livingroom and sit in your unicorn chair.

This silly example incorporates the coagulation sequence into a story: tissue factor=Kleenex, factor VII= the Seven Dwarves, Factor X=picture of ex, roses/Valentine’s day=Factor V, two drinks = Factor II, unicorn chair = Factor I.

Although this is a silly example, putting information in the context of a narrative in a place you are familiar with will help you remember things. The trick is making sure you truly visualize yourself in the space and use outlandish or ridiculous examples (e.g. dwarves and unicorns) to connect it in your mind. It is a little difficult at first, but, like most things, gets better with practice.

You can also learn more about the system on wikipedia and more about how competitive memory masters use this technique on through a fun Ted talk. And you don’t even need to feel bad for watching a video instead of studying, because it is for research purposes. For science.

If you need help reducing distractions, our previous blog post has some tips and pointers.