Many of my readers and students practice medicine. All memory methods we teach are perfectly suited for medicine. Moreover, in 1:1 Anna uses some exclusive methods SPECIFICALLY developed for the medical students. Since memoization is any extremely important and time-consuming part of any medical practice, and since medical practice is so long and intense, you have no excuse for skipping memory practice.
Here Chase goes into the methods he actually uses, ending up with the methods we actually teach. There is a chance you already know everything Chase has to say, so I will help him out. I will add some more advanced stuff below Chase’s work for the more advanced students.
If you have spent a little time practicing the starting with training methods from Part 1 of Best Mnemonics Training for Medical and Nursing Students and would like to take the next step, here are some recommended mid-range to advanced mnemonic techniques. Like in Part 1, the techniques and order of which they are used can be very much personal preference. You do not need to follow this order if you find another method more productive.
Stronger Visual Mnemonics for Medicine
Okay, so now let’s say we have a little bit of experience. We may not have dedicated a significant amount of daily time to training, but the techniques above or other starter methods have been practiced a bit. We have probably practiced for a few weeks or even a few months at this point. But we may be finding that the basic strategies are not sufficient for some of the more complex concepts we are trying to remember. This is especially true for those in very rigorous degree programs, such as medical and healthcare students.
This is where the Memory Palace can become very useful. Memory Palaces are any structure or space – real or imaginary – that you can recall vividly. Some individuals create digital Memory Palaces with MindCraft or use architecture from other popular video games. Some use their jogging or bike paths that they frequent on their daily routine. However, the most common starting place for many is likely the home you are currently residing in. No other structure is going to be quite as familiar to you as the one you see every day.
When I have guided students new to memory palaces in the past, I always recommend starting off with your bedroom if you are having trouble deciding on a location to begin. However, if you find a different location is coming to mind more readily, feel free to use it. Many students also don’t want to start off with their strongest palaces for fear of “wasting” them and not being able to reuse them. If this applies to you, use a recent restaurant, gas station, or any other location you have visited. You can find some more specific school and class-based techniques in Memory Palaces for Medical Students.
Finding The Right Spaces
No matter what building or space you start in, point out a few features of that space that stand out to you. For a room, this could be a doorway, closet, furniture, and wall or ceiling fixtures. For an outdoor “palace”, this may be a park bench, fire hydrant, patch of flowers or bushes, or anything else that distinguishes that location from the rest of the path. These are your “microstations” or “compartment” (the terminology is flexible).
Since you have been developing your Visual Dictionary and your skills at developing interesting and poignant visual associations, these locations within your palace will be where you place your visual mnemonics. There are many potential rules to follow to decrease the chance of mixing up where an image is placed, but these seem to be specific for each individual and I’m not familiar with many that are completely generalizable. For some great examples of Memory Palaces, I recommend my interview with Anthony Metivier, as well as his other materials found on the Magnetic Memory Method.
As medical students, you can use the entire human body as your mental palace if you want. Neural paths can serve as itineraries.
Of course, if you are using this technique to recall a course or textbook material you may want to cluster similar information together. You can have one station for microbiology and one for pharmacology, for instance. Once you have placed your visuals on all of your micro stations (i.e.: furniture and fixtures), move to the next macro station (i.e.: rooms, pathways, outdoor segments). Continue this process until you have filled up all of your micro stations.
You may be thinking, “but I have way too much information to fit into these small rooms and only a few micro stations in each!” This can be overcome in a few ways. One tactic used by polyglots (those that train to remember many languages) is to have a separate home (palace) for each letter of the alphabet. This way all of the words that begin with “a” are in Albert’s house, all “b” words in Bethany’s home, etc. You associate the letter with someone you know who’s name begins with that letter. You also ALWAYS document your lists and associations so that you can revert to them if you get stuck or forget something later on. A notebook or word processor document is always a great tool to make sure you don’t lose your hard work.
Similarly to the alphabet scheme above, medical students may want to have one, or even several, palaces per medical discipline. If you have experience shadowing a physician or working in a hospital laboratory, then perhaps these would be great locations to use. Libraries, college campuses, and other larger palaces make for great options when remembering large quantities of information as well. Just make sure they are places that you can vividly picture so that your micro stations do not become out of place over time.
Besides having multiple or large palaces for each topic, we can use what Lev Goldentouch refers to as “linking markers.” For instance, if you previously had one visual mnemonic of a cat for catalase-positive microorganisms, consider expanding on this. If you place the cat at a micro station by itself, this is quite wasteful. However, if the cat is now urinating on the floor and the urine is bubbling up, you can remember that this enzyme reacts with H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) and bubbles up as the oxygen is released. If the cat is also holding a to-do list and scratching our the word “car” (“No car” = Nocardia sp.) with a pencil shaped like a walking staff (Staphylococcus sp.) you can remember some of the microbes that are catalase-positive.
Adding more linking markers can lead a single room with only 8 micro stations to house dozens or even hundreds of associations. Finding the balance between how many linking markers you can use before they become overly complicated is going to depend on you and your level of training. Most beginners can easily associate 2-4 linking markers and more advanced students may connect 7+ to their anchor marker.
Linking markers also do not need to be limited to objects. Some memory practitioners use different color-tone or emotional associations to their images. Using the example above, perhaps the cat’s fur is an unusual color. In my personal notes, I always used my green ink pen when writing enzymes and medications and I could easily use a green cat to depict that it is representing an enzyme. Or perhaps we want to change the texture of the cat’s fur to associate it with emotion. Instead of fluffy cat fur, I could give this cat more spiky fur (something like Sonic the Hedgehog) which might represent being in a hurry (from trying to fight off microbes) or anxiety (from losing the battle in chronic granulomatous disease).
If you have multiple associations with a particular color or mood it may be best to avoid those, but these unique environmental and textural differences can really help separate two very similar topics in your mind. In the Key To Study Skills, Lev discusses what different colors and textures mean to him and how he uses them to add extra depth to visual associations. These are going to be very specific to the practitioner, so try to feel these out yourself and make a list of the abstract associations your mind makes.
Becoming a Master of Memory
If you have gotten to this point and wonder if there’s another level to achieve, here come the mastery level skills. Of course, there is no real limitation on what your mind can achieve through these techniques. It is highly dependent on the individual’s creativity, training, and ability to alter old techniques in new ways and create new techniques. Every year some memory champion blows the past champions out of the water by creating their own strategies and adapting other’s strategies to fit their needs. In an interview with Lev Goldentouch, the truth of this became very clear.
Lev and his wife Anna have created some very interesting and unique mnemonics techniques. They also provide training to those wishing to develop their skills. I had only been aware of using the Person-Action-Object (PAO) technique for remembering numbers before this conversation. Lev has adapted this powerful strategy to be applied for nearly any need. In fact, his anchor marker is often a PAO image, which has the benefit of having both objects and characters as well as some type of action between them. Multiple potential associations can be used here which may strengthen the long-term memory of the associations involved.
Next, he discussed how he uses Mind Cities and Mind Forests to memorize over 1 million items. In simplest terms, he builds a mental cityscape consisting of all of his Memory Palaces to form mental cities. He also uses Mind Maps in the form of trees which he then plants in a forest together. So in a relatively short period of time, these clusters of strong mnemonic devices can be reviewed and the memories strengthened. This is way beyond my skill and experience level so any questions about specific techniques should be addressed to Lev personally.
From memory champions to mnemonics practitioners, there are a wide range of skill levels and techniques used. For students, it is best to keep an open mind and try as many out as you have time for. Do not get discouraged when you hit a roadblock or a plateau in your skill level. This is common, and can often be overcome with time or with mentorship. Between the Medical Mnemonist Mastermind Group and having direct contact with Lev, students have many resources available. Please check out all of the hyperlinked resources in this post for greater details as well. Good luck and let your creativity take you away!
I (Lev) will use a metaphor from Steven Vai (a guitar god). The methods that we learn are just a vessel for our creativity. Some students need huge vessels, while others need more nimble boats. Do not spend a lot of your time building a huge vessel. You might not need it. You need to master the vessel you use. If you see that you need to expand your toolset, you may want to do that, but then be prepared to pay with your time and a learning curve.
We usually advise our students to group the words they need to remember into triplets and place them as a PAO in 8 locations (4 walls and 4 corners) of a small memory palace such as their parents’ home. For more complex stuff like chemical composition, we use the etymology method and a story or a comics.
Then you can mix and match any techniques you fancy. Just try to keep things simple and beautiful. You will need to revisit your memorizations, and you should better enjoy that. Do not try to put too many limitations on how you do things. If you practice correctly for a while, your instinctive associations should work.
Revisit your visualization
After some practice, your visual associations should work intuitively. Different people make different things work, and there is no clear preference for one modality over the other. However, you will need to revisit your visualizations with spaced repetitions. You can use Anki if you must, or simply skim through your notes at your top reading speed from time to time, slowing to review your visualizations. Good visualizations will stand the test of time. Bad visualization will fail.
As a memory student, it is better to spend more time on creating a strong and memorable visualization than to spend more time repairing the visualizations that failed. Learn about yourself and improve your methods. Make a different vessel if you must.
Chase DiMarco is the founder of FreeMedEd.org and host of several MedEd podcasts. For a list of FME recommended education and mnemonics resources, please click here and try our Free PDF guide. For more training for mnemonics and non-mnemonic study skills, consider purchasing his book “Read This Before Medical School” via the link above.