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Unlocking The Mind Palace: A Memorization Technique

John Srouji and Veronika Valia

“It helps me remember some of the harder terms [from the unit] like how Dr. Douglas associated Devshirme with dabbing sherbet,” sophomore Phoebe Ellis said. 

Everyone who’s been through school knows that history, in any form, is a tough subject to learn. It's a constant pain and struggle to try and remember every single date, name, and war. Teachers have different strategies they use in order to engage their students and keep them interested in class, and there’s a range of effectiveness depending on the class.

Dr. Douglas has introduced the concept of the Mind Palace to help his students develop their memories. It is a technique where students learn to associate historical events and people with places on Lovett.

Basically, Dr. Douglas selects areas around Lovett’s campus and he asks us to picture an element of history in that area. For example, I (John) still remember from last year that the Peace of Augsburg is in the Café and to help us remember it he asked us to picture a laughing iceberg (Augsburg...iceberg) in the Café. 

In the very first class period of the year, Dr. Douglas gave numbers corresponding letters in order to help us remember dates. For example, the number 1 corresponded with the letter T. In the case of the laughing iceberg, the Peace of Augsburg was in 1555. The number 5 corresponds with the letter L. Because no vowels correspond with numbers, Dr. Douglas asked us to remember LoLoL (get it - a laughing iceberg) because it meant 555 and that’s how we would remember that the Peace of Augsburg was in 1555. 

Dr. Douglas found out about this idea in a book called Moonwalking with Einstein. He said that the technique is “something that is used by what’s known as mental athletes. These are the people who go to competitions and compete to see who can memorize the order in a deck of cards the fastest, or who can memorize the most digits of pi, or any random information like that.” 

He told me that the reason he decided to use it was because “our mind is very much built in a way where we can remember spaces very easily. So you can very easily visualize where everything is in your house. You couldn’t list out what was in your house unless you visualize it.”

We spoke with two students from last year who took Dr. Douglas’ AP European History class. When we asked Juniors Francie Tucker and Mia Pioli if they thought the Mind Palace worked for them, Francie immediately said “absolutely!” 

“It was really helpful when you were taking a test, because you could just think about the main parts of the Mind Palace,” Francie told us. 

His current students in AP World agree that the mind palace is very helpful in remembering key ideas from each unit. “It helps me remember some of the harder terms [from the unit] like how Dr. Douglas associated Devshirme with dabbing sherbet,” sophomore Phoebe Ellis said. 

She explained that the mind palace helps her the most with the writing portion of the AP World tests. More specifically, the SAQ (short answer question) and LAQ (long answer question) portions. She explained that to support your answer/thesis, you need to cite evidence. This is done by supporting your answers with proper nouns (usually harder terms from the unit that the mind palace helps her memorize). She said that the mind palace doesn’t really help her on multiple choice because “the questions don’t always relate to concepts we learned” and moreover involve reading texts and answering questions based on that.

She explained how Dr. Douglas makes Google slides presentations, each slide featuring a different area of the palace (Lovett), such as Mrs. Cole’s office or the plaza. On each slide there are images that relate to important terms of the unit. She said it’s great because she doesn’t need to take notes on what image corresponds to what term because the pictures are so out there it’s easy to remember.

She explained that for her, the most important purpose of the mind palace is to remember all the proper nouns she can for the AP exam, as you need to know all the information regarding six eras. 

Riya Sharma, another Lovett sophomore, thinks the “end goal for the mind palace is to remember history going forward in our school careers. Most of the time in history classes, I feel we forget a lot of what we learned, so I think the mind palace is a great way to remember history moving forward.”

Riya added that the mind palace is also helpful in memorizing events in history in chronological order. She explained that the way the palace is set up mirrors the way one would walk through Lovett. She said, “she can think back to the scenes in specific locations in order to remember important details in history.”

Lastly, not one study technique works for everyone. Phoebe said that she can imagine it not working for people who don’t know the palace very well. “Since I’ve been at Lovett since Kindergarten, I know the school very well,” she said. “It definitely helps because I can imagine the hallways and walk through the school in my head. I can see how people, who don’t know the school, would be at a disadvantage.” 

In contrast, even though I am new this year and don’t know the school that well, the mind palace works for me. I am also in Dr. Douglas’s AP World History class and I think that the interesting images (such as a dabbing sorbet) definitely aren’t something that I can easily forget. 

All in all, although one technique is not foolproof, the mind palace is a great option for remembering complicated terms by visually representing them. Try it out if you haven’t already! You might never buy a chocolate chip cookie in the Cafe again without thinking about the Peace of Augsburg.
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