Advanced memory techniques

Whilst there are a number of memory techniques that are relatively simple to learn, and can help you remember things like shopping lists, there are also some more advanced memory techniques. Most advanced memory techniques are actually just variations on one technique, best known as the Major system. When memory champions are memorising things like long lists of numbers (such as Pi) they are almost certainly using some variation of it.

Basically, the major system works by turning numbers into letters. In order to use this advanced system you need to first memorise the connections between the numbers 0 to 9 and the letters they link to. Exactly which letters you use is an arbitrary choice, and there are a number of different systems you can choose from (see table below). However, there are a couple of things to bare in mind. Firstly, as certain letters have similar sounds, e.g. C and K, or M and N, you can combine them together if you like. Secondly, it’s usually possible to recognise a word without its vowels, the consonants are enough. Therefore you only really need consonants in this system, your mind can fill in the rest.

You need to get the link between the letters and numbers really clear and strong in your mind. So pick the system that feels most natural to you, then test yourself on it repeatedly until you have it down perfect.

Next, each pair of numbers, from 1 (which would be 01) to 99 will form a pair of letters which can suggest a word. Write out on a piece of paper or a file on your computer a list of the numbers from 01 to 99.

Then you use the same technique that most other memory techniques use, which is to turn each word into a memorable visual image. To memorise a long string of numbers, you then only have to link the list of images – in order – into a story or journey.

For example, lets take the following random list of numbers: 01, 34, 87, 32, 12

These could then be turned into the following list of letter pairs:

Which could be turned into the following list of words:

01 = NP = Nap

34 = CD = Cod

87 = LG = Log

32= CB= Cab

12 = PB = Pub

Then you would make up a story in which each of those items appeared in order. The trick is to make sure the order is a vital part of the story, else when trying to recall the numbers you may get them in the wrong order.

The Dominic System

Dominic O’Brien, 8-times winner of the world memory championships, developed his own version of the major system that’s become known as the Dominic System. The Dominic System uses a specific set of number-letter pairings (see table) so, as with the Major system, you first need to invest some time in learning it.

Now, once you’ve memorised the number-letter connections, you turn each pair of numbers from 01 to 99 into the name of a famous person. Further, each person on your list needs to have an action which is distinctively theirs. Whereas the major system uses mainly consonants to form a single word, the Dominic system uses its letters to form the initials of a famous person’s name. For example, 15 = AE, which might be Albert Einstein; 91 = NA might be Neil Armstrong, and 53 = EC might be Eric Clapton. For those three examples, the corresponding actions might be: drawing equations on a blackboard with a piece of chalk (Albert Einstein), walking on the moon (Neil Armstrong) or playing an electric guitar (Eric Clapton).

Here’s where things get interesting, and where the Dominic system is arguably superior to the Major System. Firstly, rather than just ordinary words, you’ve turned them into the names of personalities. Our brains love faces and understanding people, so this gives you a head-start in being able to remember the mental images that you generate with the Dominic system. Secondly, for each letter/number pair you get two bits of information: the personality and their action.

You now get to mix thing up a little! The Dominic system allows you to memorise blocks of four numbers at once. You do this by taking the personality of the first two numbers/letters and have them perform the action of the second pair of number/letters. So for example, if you had 1553 (AE EC) you would visualise Albert Einstein playing Eric Clapton’s guitar. This enables you to create more unique, and therefore memorable, images.

PAO System

There is a further system known as PAO, or Person-Action-Object, which is really just an elaboration of the Dominic system. Whereas the Dominic system is based around grouping together four numbers at a time, the PAO system can handle six. It does this by separating out the action and the object. So, whereas the Dominic system has pair one = the person, and pair two = performing the action, the PAO system uses: pair one = the person, pair two = the action, pair three = the object. For example, if you had 159153 (AE NA EC) you would have Albert Einstein, standing on the moon, playing Eric Clapton’s guitar.


These advanced memory systems require a fair amount of time and practice in order to master, but it can be worth it if you need to memorise lots of numbers.