Alex Mullen, Engr '14, is an expert rememberer.
The many world records he has set in recent years have included digits memorized in an hour (3,238) and speed-memorizing cards (one deck memorized in 15.61 seconds, eight decks in 10 minutes). Mullen contends he's not naturally memory-gifted; he lays the ground for such feats by creatively constructing and diligently reviewing mnemonic systems. To memorize those freshly shuffled decks of cards, he maintains a retrievable image for every two-card combination—that's 1,352 images—to be placed along the path through a "memory palace," a familiar setting conjured for this purpose.
"All learners need to understand that testing yourself (not just rereading) and spacing your learning over time (versus cramming) are the most evidence-based ways to improve long-term retention of information," the three-time World Memory champion advises.
Mullen Memory, the nonprofit website he runs with Cathy Chen, his spouse and fellow University of Alabama at Birmingham radiology resident, offers learning strategies and memory training guidance for a range of applications, including languages, interview preparation, and differential diagnosis.