Learning to become a memory master
Wuhan University club offers students the opportunity to train their brains
Liu Dawei never expected that one day he would become a master rememberer.
When he was in primary school, he was good at math but poor at Chinese and English — subjects that require students to recite long lists of words in order to achieve good scores in their exams.
He blamed his academic shortcomings on his hatred of memorizing things.
“I hated reciting English words and ancient Chinese poems. I couldn’t even get the whole 26-letter English alphabet in the right order when I was in the eighth grade,” he said.
His teachers told him that he was hardworking and selfmotivated, but lacked a talent for study.
When Liu chose a major at college, all he wanted to do was pick something that did not require him to memorize things.
He struggled to find a suitable course at first, but was eventually enrolled in the institute of water conservancy and hydroelectric power at Wuhan University, one of the top universities in China.
In his sophomore and junior years, two students at the university were awarded the title “memory master” — one, Wang Feng, went on to win the World Memory Championships in 2010.
Wang had received training at Wuhan University’s memory club in 2009. Liu decided to join the club, too.
It was then that he, for the first time, realized that you can improve your memory through diligence and practice.
“I was told that only 5 percent of a person’s ability to memorize things is inherited,
while the rest is acquired through training,” Liu said. “There are skills that help people improve their ability to memorize — one secret is to fully tap the potential of the right brain.”
In general, the right hemisphere of a human’s brain is in charge of spatial abilities, face recognition and processing music, as well as being widely associated with creativity.
The left hemisphere, by contrast, is the side most often associated with logic, mathematical computation and memory retrieval.
Within a week of joining the memory club, Liu had learned how to remember the first 100 figures of pi and after one month’s training, he could memorize 200 numbers within 5 minutes and the order of a deck of playing cards within 2 minutes.
“The training is hard — only three out of a team of seven decided to stay for the full monthlong training,” he said.
“But if we can translate unfamiliar abstract things into elements that we are familiar with and also are easy for us to describe, the locked door of memory opens up to us.”
When he used the skills he had acquired to prepare for his English tests, he found he could memorize 1,000 words a day. Without much difficulty, he was enrolled into the graduate school of Wuhan University. He later recorded his methods in a book to help others.
In graduate school, Liu served as deputy president of the university’s memory club, during which time he improved the training methods and five more students won awards in the World Memory Championships.
He has also established an education institute to teach more people about the secrets of improving memory, with a view toward offering online training courses in the future.
However, Zhang Zhangran, a professor of psychology at the university, warned that such training courses can only help people to improve their ability to memorize things for a short amount of time.
“One’s studying ability cannot depend on that. It needs to be acquired through the process of solving problems,” Zhang said.
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Master rememberer Liu Dawei at Wuhan University in Hubei province.
Liu Dawei shares his skills with members of the university’s memory club.