Thursday, 17 February 2011

The brain drain, my tips for massive memory . . .

I found myself, during my first semester studying Criminal law, a subject which is, by its very nature dependent on case law. As such for my exam i decided to learn as many cases as possible. For each case I wanted to learn the names of the parties, the year of the case, the court in which it was heard, and the key details. By the time my criminal exam rolled around I had over 150 cases committed to memory along with all the relevant details. Did I achieve this by endless hours of repetition? NO! I learned my cases by making use of a number of techniques I had learned through my interest in magic.

Yes magic, card tricks, David Blaine, rabbits and hats, magic. More specifically the type of magic practiced by Derren Brown . I used the kind of techniques taught by the aforementioned Mr Brown, to memorize the order of a deck of cards, or a long list of numbers, the only difference being that I used them for my studies. The key to many of these memory techniques is tapping in to the way our minds and memory already work, by using vivid pictures (don't worry, you don't need to be able to draw), association, and mnemonics. I don't know anyone who has ever learned to read a musical treble clef who doesn't remember that Every Good Boy Deserves Fun, nor do I know of any native English speaker who isn't painfully aware of the 'i before e except after c rule'. These are examples of ways the human brain finds it easy to remember things, following this thinking I try to make everything in my studies easier for my brain to remember, simple (stay with me people, it's worth it I promise!). Many people see mind-maps as a fantastic and underused tool (have a look at  ) I see the easy to learn memory techniques below in exactly the same light.

Remembering Numbers

I found the most useful thing to remember numbers (such as the year a case was reported) was to use a mnemonic system. The system I used works by turning numbers into letters, those letters into words and those words into pictures. (Please believe me when I say this is a great deal easier to do in practice than it is to explain).

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Remembering Cases

To Remember specific cases I'd Build a single vivid picture in my head in which each detail represented something key to the case, for example: Donoghue v Stevenson, I could picture my freind Donna, holding a garden hoe (Donna + hoe =Donoghue), riding the back of a giant snail but feeling sick (to remind me of the facts of the case), talking to my work colleague Ms Stevenson (who doesn't know donna, similar to the defendant) and is looking straight at her (forseeability), and is holding a giant lego man (lego man = 1932, as per my mnemonic). This ridiculous, exaggerated larger than life image is easy to remember, in fact I don't even need to try because by picturing it once or twice, VIVIDLY it sticks in my mind, even makes me laugh! I do this for each case I need to learn. In order to remember anything at all I try to convert it to a vivid, exaggerated, absurd image that way it's more likely to stick in my mind!

Putting it all together

Tying my 'Case Pictures' together I used a 'loci' system to arrange the cases I'd learned in order, grouping them by the area of law they were relative to. This technique relies on taking a trip in your imagination around a familiar route (like your walk home), and placing images which are representative of the items you're seeking to remember along that imagined route. So each 'Case Picture' would get tagged in my mind to a spot along a familiar journey. I could imagine my trip to work, at my front door, I'd imagine the Donoghue v Stevenson picture above, at the bottom of the steps I'd visualize my next 'Case Picture' etc etc untill I had a few cases for each area of the syllabus. . . job's a good un!!

Similar to the mnemonic number system this is a lot easier to do than it is to explain and is massively effective!

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But it all seems a bit contrived, doesn't it?

My personal experience of using the above has been nothing but positive, these are all techniques which took no more than an afternoon to learn properly and have been with me for years. I can honestly say I've used them in one form or another for every exam I've sat in the last few years and they've never failed me, consequently I've never failed any of my exams. I introduced my study partner to them and she swears by them, they've also helped my teenage cousin with her standard grade exams. If you've ever wished you could go in to an exam, meeting, speaking engagement with more concrete information in your head and less notes, these techniques are perfect.

Further Reading

Derren Brown was, in a former life, a law student and in his excellent book Tricks of the Mind, he includes a chapter on memory where he details at length the techniques he used to memorize large amounts of quite dry information. I found this chapter invaluable, it outlines, in greater depth, everything I've mentioned above and more. While the techniques in Derren Brown's book were things I'd come across elsewhere, 'Tricks of the Mind' puts them together in the most concise, useful and entertaining format I've ever seen. It's for this reason that I'd highly recommend it.Buy it on amazon here

I hope you find some of this useful, I certainly did and use these techniques regularly, any questions feel free to get in touch or leave a comment!

1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting! I might try it today during revision. Thank you for such a helpful post :)
    Jessie (www.imake2.blogspot.com0


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