This is no Halloween Trick. It’s a Treat. I promise.
I was recently at an event where the speaker was talking about how we learn and retain information. He was showing us a video of a “Memory Champion,” someone who competes at the USA Memory Championship. I hadn’t heard about this before, so, of course, I was quick to google and learn more.
People who compete in the Memory Championship are not people with photographic memories. They are individuals with normal memories who study tricks and tips in order to boost their ability to learn strings of numbers or the order of a deck of cards, things of this nature.
When I talk to students who have been struggling with the bar exam, one thing I often hear is “I can’t memorize this information.” Sure, memorizing is harder for some than for others, but what struck me is that the Memory Champion needed to utilize tools and techniques to train for these competitions in the same way that bar studiers need to use techniques to study for the bar exam. What are some of these techniques?
Mnemonics: I remember the first time my mother taught me what a mnemonic was. It was when I was learning all of the state capitals in sixth grade. I can’t remember the mnemonic, actually, but I can remember her teaching it to me.
A mnemonic device helps you translate information that is difficult to learn—by putting it into a form that makes it easier to retain. Mnemonics can be acronyms, memorable phrases, or sometimes even little songs. The idea behind mnemonics is to take items (numbers, places, even in our case, elements of law) that mean nothing to you and arrange them in a way that is meaningful to the brain—the idea being that we can remember meaningful things better than we can remember something that is new or foreign to us.
Most bar exam providers will suggest common mnemonics for certain legal issues or areas of law. However, sometimes for me, these mnemonics didn’t work because the mnemonic didn’t mean anything to me. To make them stick, I needed to come up with my own. So don’t fall into the trap of mnemonics not working for you. Sometimes, it is just that the particular mnemonic doesn’t have any personal meaning for you. So try another one. It will make your memorizing life easier.
Visuals: Another memory tool that the memory champions use is visual association (some consider this a type of mnemonic, but I am going to discuss it separately here). The idea of using visual images is that we are much better at remembering images than things like numbers (I am terrible learning phone numbers) and names (aren’t most of us terrible at remembering names?). For example, memory champions may turn playing cards into familiar persons or objects. Or they may think of sets of numbers as words that form a sentence. Or to learn someone’s name, they may associate it with a facial feature or some sort of image they can file away. There are many different approaches to this type of memorization technique, but the bottom line is it helps to put foreign things into a familiar form that makes them easier to remember. Again, think of how this could apply to your bar study. If you are beating your head against the wall to memorize all of the hearsay exceptions, could you come up with a visual to help you organize them and learn them in a different way?
The bar exam may feel like your own “memory championship” but remember you don’t need a photographic memory. You just need to train yourself and utilize proven techniques to memorize the information necessary to be successful.
Want to learn more about memory champions and the tools and tricks they use? You can check out this article on training with memory champions.
Have you used memory techniques in your bar study? If so, please share your experiences in the comments.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.