About the author: Jack is a senior at York Community High School. He’s a reporter for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.
Before he won the U.S. Memory Championships in 2006, Joshua Foer went blank before tests, too.
“That actually happened to me more when I was in school than in the (memory) competition,” he said.
Six years ago, Foer set a U.S. record by memorizing the order of a shuffled deck of cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds.
The memory champion, however, is no savant. In fact, he’s skeptical of claims to superhuman memory in his book, “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.”
Here’s how he says you can ace the test like a memory champ:
Be the ball
Visualize what you’re studying. History becomes a lot more interesting if you imagine George Washington and crew actually crossing the Delaware River and massacring the British mercenary Hessians. It might also keep you awake.
Tell yourself a story
We can remember anything if we can make it funny, raunchy or just weird. In fact, Foer said he reveled in the challenge of making random digits memorable.
“A string of numbers is not just a string of numbers,” he said. “It’s ‘What’s the craziest thing I can think of to make it unforgettable?’“
Design a maze
Foer is like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb, in “Inception.” He asks you to design a maze called a “memory palace” that can be filled with facts, numbers or faces.
“They can be routes through a town or signs of the zodiac or even mythical creatures,” wrote Foer in The New York Times Magazine. “They can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, real or imaginary, so long as they are intimately familiar.”
He said memory palaces can be especially helpful for remembering ordered processes, such as the stages of photosynthesis.
Again with the repetition
Practice does make perfect. Foer said deliberate practice out of your comfort zone is how he improved as a mental athlete, and the same can be applied to students and athletes.
“Figure skaters who are successful,” he said, “practice the jumps they don’t usually land.”
The memory champion recommended quizzing yourself on what you don’t know and using a metronome’s intervals to keep you memorizing at a steady clip.
Memorization is not education
As William Butler Yeats presciently wrote years before AP U.S. history and an educational system so bound by memorization, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
The aforementioned memory techniques may help you study for an AP test, but Foer maintains that there’s more to intelligence than being able to ignore everything around you and memorize something.
“Part of being creative is not being super-duper focused,” he said.