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You can remember anything – with a Story!

Chin Tan, Franchise Business Owner at Tutor Doctor, explores the link between memory and story telling.

I read all the Sherlock Holmes books back in school. They were marvellous adventures. One of the really cool traits of Sherlock was his ability, in an instant, to access his “Mind Palace”. With this ability, he can recall any piece of information or detail he had stored away in his mind previously. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could have that same superpower?

After all, doing well in school and in life generally, depends a large part on having access to the right information at the right time. Exam halls do not yet currently allow smartphones to be brought along as a tool. Another example: if you are a medical surgeon, imagine having to pull out the smartphone to find the next step in an operation procedure!

What if everyone could have a slice of Sherlock Holmes’ ability to remember things? Well, you could acquire that ability with memory techniques. There are many versions out there (using mnemonics, spaced repetition, acronyms etc). One of the most effective techniques I have found for myself, is to invent a story to tie pieces of information together.

About seven years ago, I had the good fortune to move to the south of France on a work secondment in the aviation industry. My work as an engineer meant it was important that I knew my numbers well in French. It turns out, I found the numbers eleven to fifteen in French, particularly difficult to recall. It got a bit embarrassing when I entered the wrong numbers into the simulator cockpit!

So, eventually, I gave up on the rote memorization method and invested the time to come up with a silly story instead. Here it goes:

11 – onze Once upon a time, there was a cat was wandering in the woods

12 – douze The woods belonged to a farmer, who wrote down on a notice board the “dos” and “don’t” when crossing his land

13 – Treize One of the rules was not to trespass into the river bank. However, the naughty cat ignored this and went to the river to drink some water

14 – quatorze The farmer saw this act of defiance and got his gun out, which caused the cat to jump into a boat nearby to escape, rowing the oars furiuosly

15 – quinze The cat then rowed the boat to the city of Cannes to accept an award for its impressive escape feat!

Seven years later, this nonsensical story continues to help me remember the teen numbers in French. The key is to make it as vivid as possible, which does require some imaginative thinking to come up with the right story and associated triggers to help you remember what’s important to you.

If you are looking to use memory techniques to help you in your studies for the first time, it will most likely not come naturally when you first start.

The good news is that us human beings have been wired for storytelling for thousands of years - it comes naturally to all of us. Investing a little effort in coming up with a memorable story every time you need to remember something will help you exercise that muscle. Try it - it’ll be a great return on your investment.

What other memory techniques have you found useful? We are happy to hear from you, email us at