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Methods of memory function

Tiffany Yip shows that the human mind has fewer obstacles for everyone.

Shayan Amin

Thursday 4 August 2016, 04:36PM

Most people know, in abstract at least, that the human brain is phenomenal in its ability to learn skills, retain information and creatively adapt to situations. With the exception of very few, humans tend to be hot messes. Effective organisation does not come easily to many, much less the ability to retain mass storage of minute details. Tiffany Yip is an exception to this, not because she has an eidetic memory, but because, at age 12, she has been taught by her father techniques that ensure accurate recall of details. For Tiffany, the details are Pi. During British International School Phuket’s Pi Week, Tiffany blew the minds of, well, everyone by being able to recall Pi to the 512th digit… a feat that took around 15 minutes, leaving the competition in the dust with a relatively unimpressive recall of up to about 200 digits.

She is not an anomaly. In fact, she goes out of her way to explain how simple it is to do what she does, possible for virtually anyone. While competitive, and clearly happy to have come out on top of the competition, Tiffany has a marked humbleness that comes from simple compassion – she takes no joy in crushing the competition, and worries about having hurt her fellow students’feelings and causing discouragement among them.

Her “trick”, is simple: organised visualisation, fuelled by a powerful imagination. It starts, of course, with numbers.

“What a number looks like, what the letters sounds like, that’s what the code is based on,” she explained. The code creates corresponding letters to each digit, which is where the fun part begins. 

“Each number has a location. You assign each number a location, and each room has five locations. What stands out most to you?” she said. Tiffany takes the most striking aspect of a location, and from there she creates a visual image of pictures and colours and more.

In her case, Tiffany takes the rooms of her home, and goes through them mentally, throwing things she really likes or dislikes in graphic detail all over the place. This creates a mental image that allows her to think of a letter, which corresponds to a number, and those numbers are what together came together as 400 digits of Pi. Of course, nothing but Versailles could contain
Pi, so Tiffany also includes Universal Studios (one of her favourite places) in her visualisation.

“At the entrance of the roller coaster, what do I see? Each object gets two digits,” she said, explaining this concept further by using nachos.

The letter N is visually similar to the digit 2, and the digit 6, ending with X, sounds like “ch”. In her mind, she will visualise nachos thrown around an object, which corresponds to the digits 2 and 6.

“Imagine you’re in the room, I scan from left to right. It’s like a movie in your mind,” she said. This skill, Tiffany pointed out, can be used for more than just Pi Day. In today’s competitive academic context, even the best study habits can succeed only so far. “Most people would just give up,” Tiffany said, especially noting the added pressure of extracurricular activities.

“Before exams, everyone crams, then blanks out,” she said. Her method of visualisation creates a better way to answer questions. It can be adapted for history classes and vocabulary amongst
the many courses that require the mastering of finer details within a limited amount of time.

The method also serves well as a form of amusement, as Tiffany also enjoys shocking her teachers with her Pi recitation. “It’s funny watching their reactions,” she laughed.

Since 1991, the World Memory Championships has been taking place annually. The competition comprises 10 different disciplines, where competitors have to memorise as much information as they can in a period of time. Tiffany’s father, Alan Yip, guided the Singapore Memory Team to win the “Olympics of the mind” in 2004.

Prior to that, he had been a managing director for a US company, and found that, despite being relatively young, he was having an increasingly difficult time remembering names and details, a key part of his job.

“What keeps the brain young and active?” was the question that drove him to research the various methods of memory retention and ways to improve his memory.

“Use your brain in a creative way,” Alan said, and he finds that this is key to maintaining a well-functioning grasp of details. He compares the human brain to an F1 car, and most people just  do not yet know how to drive these immensely powerful, yet technically convoluted vehicles. 

Alan’s own experience with BISP’s Pi Week was one of an educator. “In the middle of recalling, they blank out...They had the spirit, they didn’t have the know-how,” he described. To this, Alan will be beginning Score, a programme where he will teach students the same skills he taught a national team and his daughter, skills that can improve almost anyone’s ability to operate through their day-to-day lives.

For more about maths at BISP, visit



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