On your marks, get set, memorise

Grace Ng, 18, and Dhruv Manoj, 10, are part of the 13-member team representing Singapore in the World Memory Championships.
Grace Ng, 18 (above) is part of the 13-member team representing Singapore in the World Memory Championships.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Ms Grace Ng has a severe visual handicap. She has to hold her phone about 5cm from her face to see the time on the screen and reads more slowly than her peers.

Yet the 18-year-old is representing Singapore in the World Memory Championships, where participants have to complete memory tasks within a limited timeframe.

The Singapore Accountancy Academy student is nervous, but hopes to win an award.

"I wanted to improve my memory power... to remember the same amount of stuff (as others) in a shorter time, or with less reading," said Ms Ng, who was diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy when she was two.

The World Memory Championships, which kicked off yesterday and will end tomorrow, is being held in Singapore for the first time.

Dr Richard Tang, chairman of the competition's organising committee, said the organisers wanted to expand in Asia.

  • Examples of memorisation tasks

  • BINARY NUMBERS: Competitors have 30 minutes to memorise at least 150 rows with 30 binary numbers each.
    Afterwards, they will be presented with a document with blank spaces. They have one hour to fill in as many numbers as possible in the original order.

    ABSTRACT IMAGES: Ninety-nine rows with five abstract images each are shown to contestants.
    After studying them for 15 minutes, they will be given a document with the abstract images jumbled up. They have 30 minutes to "unjumble" the images by numbering them in the correct order.

    "NAMES & FACES": Competitors have 15 minutes to memorise more than 200 faces and their corresponding names.
    They will then be given a document with all the faces jumbled up across several pages.
    The competitors have 30 minutes to match as many names as they can remember to the correct faces.

The previous two editions of the competition, which is in its 25th year, were held in China.

Mind map guru and competition co-founder Tony Buzan said Singapore was a natural choice to host the event due to factors such as its high educational achievements.

Singapore is sending a team to the tournament for the first time this year.

The 13 members - most of whom started preparing only earlier this year - are up against 217 participants from around 30 countries and territories.

To take part, they had to first go through training that cost thousands of dollars, but Dr Tang said the organisers managed to subsidise part of the cost through fund-raising efforts.

Competitors battle it out in 10 different challenges, which include remembering a long sequence of binary numbers and a series of abstract images, and memorising an entire deck of cards in the shortest time possible.

Prizes vary by category and include custom-made pens from Italian firm Montegrappa, each worth about $10,000.

Grace Ng, 18, and Dhruv Manoj, 10, are part of the 13-member team representing Singapore in the World Memory Championships.
Dhruv Manoj, 10 (above), is part of the 13-member team representing Singapore in the World Memory Championships. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Gunning to make his mark is Dhruv Manoj, a Primary 4 pupil at Sembawang Primary School.

Since the December school holidays began, he has gone for intensive eight-hour classes. On days without lessons, he sets aside about three hours to practise memory techniques.

One method that he uses is to associate facts with distinct images. For instance, he remembers the ace of spades as "The Amazing Spider-Man".

"I get headaches every day," said Dhruv, 10.

But preparing for the tournament also has its benefits.

"It has helped me a lot in my studies," he said. "Honestly, I have improved a lot."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2016, with the headline 'On your marks, get set, memorise'. Print Edition | Subscribe