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The Memory Palace

It’s well documented that people with ADHD are more prone to deficits in working memory than neurotypicals. As I've mentioned before, my working memory is one of the most frustrating parts of my ADHD, especially when it comes to memorising information.

As we approach the exam season, I’d like to share one of my favourite revision techniques and by far the most effective.

This is something known as a 'memory palace'. I discovered it after reading Joshua Foer’s book ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’. The beauty of this method is that the process is entirely visual.

In fact, one study has demonstrated that children with ADHD received higher test scores for ‘visual’ memory, when compared with results of ‘auditory’ memory. This explains the tendency for ADHDers to process information more naturally through a visual modality.

So what is a memory palace and how does it work?

The concept is quite complicated, but I’ll try to explain it at its most basic level:

The first step requires you to think of a building. Any building you like… Most of us are familiar with buildings we’ve grown up with; whether it’s an office building, a school, university or dentist’s surgery. These are all useful memory palaces. You can even use an outdoor space or playground if you like.

Once you have your memory palace, start to close your eyes... Take an imaginary walk around this building and place different items in each room. The items resemble things you’d like to memorise. For example, let’s say you’re trying to memorise a shopping list. You start by creating a memory palace by forming an image of your house in your head. (Stay with me here, I know this sounds weird, but it’ll make sense soon…)

Now, say the first item on your list is ‘apples’, you conjure up an image of an apple tree outside on the driveway. As you make your way through the front door, you step into a blue puddle of fabric softener on the porch floor. You then turn into the dining room and see a family of giant fish fingers sitting around the table; their heads drooping in ketchup. You walk into the kitchen, where you see Tony the Tiger brushing his teeth in the kitchen sink. He’s wearing a pair of nappies. As you walk up the stairs, you see a trail of teabags…

Can you see what I’ve done here? I’ve just created my own shopping list: apples, fabric softener, fish fingers, ketchup, Frosties, toothpaste, pampers and teabags.

It would’ve taken me far longer to memorise this list the traditional way. What’s interesting is that the crazier the image, the more likely it is to stick. In fact, I’m still trying to get the image of Tony the Tiger out of my head.

The memory palace can be applied to any topic, whether you’re trying to memorise names, places, numbers or formulas. For the memory palace to be sustainable, you need to have a number of buildings to use for different lists. Have a go and let me know what you think.

Wishing you a Happy Easter!


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