In the previous episodes of How to become a Memory Champion you have learned all about the basic techniques of a memory athlete. Step by step I showed you the method of loci, creating good associations and learning the systems for numbers, cards and binaries. If you have followed my lead you should now be prepared for your first introduction into memory championships. We will start with two of the easier disciplines: Speed Words (regularly called “5 Minutes Words”) and Random Words.


Memorizing Words is probably the first discipline in memory sports you ever had contact with. Maybe it has been the typical shopping list, keywords for a speech or an exam or to learn a long poem. Anyhow you will have realized that this discipline is extremely intuitive and easy to do. There is nothing easier for a student of mental improvement than memorizing a list of words. But it can become extremely difficult, too. It is a huge difference if you are learning a small shopping list without any pressure of time or if you are memorizing as many words as fast as possible in a memory championship. So let’s prepare you for your first discipline.

Speed Words and Random Words

In each memory championship following the national standard by the World Memory Sports Council there will be the discipline 5 Minutes Words (I call it Speed Words). The competitors have five minutes to memorize random words. After the memorization period their sheets will be collected by the arbiters and the 10 Minutes recall starts. This discipline was introduced to the sport in 2006 to help shorten a normal memory competition. The second discipline of this category is Random Words. It has been the standard for all championships until 2006. Nowadays it is only used for international competitions like the German Memory Open and of course the World Memory Championship. The only difference between those two disciplines is the time of memorization and recall: In Random Words the competitors have a 15 Minutes memorization period and a 30 Minutes recall period.

  • Speed Words: 5 minutes memorization / 10 minutes recall
  • Random Words: 15 minutes memorization / 30 minutes recall

The Rules

For both Speed Words and Random Words the rules are the same (except the time, the total amount of presented words and the championship points):

Memorizing Period

  • Each competitor gets memorizing sheets with 100 generally known words on each paper. The words are ordered in columns of 20 with five columns on each page.
  • Contestants must start at the first word of column 1 and remember as many of the words as possible in order.

Recall Period

  • Contestants may write down the list of words on the Recall Papers provided.
  • If a contestant wishes to use his/her own Recall Papers, these must be approved by the arbiters before the competition.
  • Each word must be clearly numbered and the start and finish of each column of words easily identifiable.


  • A point is awarded for every word in a complete column where all 20 words are correctly spelled.
  • The contestant may use upper or lower case letters.
  • For the final column only: If the final column is partially complete, a point is awarded for each word if every one is correctly spelled.
  • The points for each line will be added up. If a non integer result is obtained, it will be rounded up (72.5 points => 73 points).
  • In the case of tied winning scores, the winner will be decided by looking at the extra columns the contestant tried to recall but for which he/she got 0 points. For every correctly positioned word there will be given 1 decision point. The contestant with more of those decision points is the winner.
  • One mistake (including any gaps) in a column of 20 words gives a score of 10 for that column (20/2).
  • Two or more mistakes (including any gaps) in a column of 20 words scores 0 for that column.
  • One mistake (including any gaps) in the partial column means the points awarded will equal half the number of words recalled. Two or more mistakes (including any gaps) will score 0 for the column.
  • If there is both one memory mistake in a column and a spelling mistake, than first the maximal points given for the column will be halved and than a point for the wrong spelled word will be subtracted (e.g. max 20 points, divided by 2 gives 10 points, minus one is 9.) [The different order leads to 9.5 points]
  • *If a word has been clearly memorized, but has been spelled in an incorrect way, no points are given for this word. It will not, however, cancel other words in a column. For example, if somebody writes ‘rythm’ instead of ‘rhythm’, no points will be given for this word, and, if all other words in the column are correct, full marks minus one will be given for that column (e.g. 19 instead of 20).

*This rule has been introduced to limit the complications that may arise from spelling ambiguities, mistakes in translations, dyslexia, and handicaps for foreigners etc.

How to Memorize Words

Actually you already learned what it takes to memorize words. Use your elephant path and associate your locations with the words. There are several ways to do that:

One word per location

The upside of this technique is a quick association with an absolutely clear order. You will have no problems to put the words back into their original positions as long as you remember your images. The downside is a massive amount of locations. Trying to break the world record in Random Words with that method would cost you 300 journey points.

Two (or more) words per location

This is a commonly used technique. Create an image out of two words and your location. You will need 50% less journey points. Also it is a matter of fact that the images will strengthen each other. In most cases it makes a perfect story. The downside however is the omnipresent chance of mixing up the order of these two words. To avoid it you have to follow certain rules. Very popular is to concentrate where you place the words in the mental picture: The first image is on top and/or on the left side. The second one is on the bottom and/or on the ride side. Rules like these will help you to establish a save recall. Make up your own if those don’t fit you. Using more than two images is possible but increases the chance of mixing them up. Be careful if you want to go this path young padawan.


I think that nearly everybody is repeating the words at least once – even in Speed Words. In Random words you should repeat them twice to stabilize your pictures. Since each word will be unique and probably a first time appearance since you train this discipline, you will struggle with less security than with numbers and cards. Try to make a quick recall of your pictures instead of just reading them again. Improve your images if necessary. The key is to find the right balance between maximum words and repetitions.

Common Mistakes

Regarding the strict rules of this discipline it is very important to make no mistakes at all. You should be aware of that fact all the time. Here are the most common ones which may cost you many points:

  • Plural/singular: Make sure that you don’t mess this up in your images. The difference between “tree” and “trees” will cost you half a row. Try to focus on the appropriate amount in your pictures and you will be fine.
  • Spelling: There are several ways to spell a word with slightly changes i.e. “jump” and “jumping”. Although this will also change its meaning in most cases it is still difficult to remember because the general sense stays the same. This also depends on your language. I am not completely certain but I think it happens far more often in German than in English. You should use mental helps to differentiate between them. For my example above you could imagine that you are “jumping” yourself instead of telling your journey point to “jump”. Come up with a good idea and you will avoid this common mistake.
  • Synonyms: This is a tricky one! Since we are using images to improve our memory ability, our brain can trick us in the recall. We will just remember the picture of an item but it might have several names i.e. “ship” and “boat”. You should always be aware of this fact and concentrate in the first place to avoid confusion in your recall. You could break down the word into its elements. For example a “manufactory” might be easily confused with “factory”. But if you think about players from Manchester United (Manu) working in a factory it might help to remember the difference.
  • Abstract words: Very often you will be confronted with abstract words. In order to memorize them using your journey points you will have to transform them into some kind of stereotype image. The verb “invent” could be memorized as a glowing bulb. But you also could end up in recall with a similar association like “idea”. Sometimes it is enough to make clear that the bulb doesn’t mean “idea”.  But quite often you don’t have the time to look for similar associations in the first place and just use what pops into your mind. Therefore you have to be very carefully and precise with your images. A glowing bulb maybe wouldn’t be the best idea in this case, would it?
  • Bad association: Here we have a common problem for all memory disciplines but it might be overseen as one. If you are creating a story with a location and your first word, it should be following the rules for a perfect association. If your “soya” bean is only on top of your location without any other mental hook, you will not only likely forget that, you will also forget the “handstand” you are making on top of the bean. Although the handstand on the bean is a funny and moving image, the bean only resting on the location is a bad and boring image. You might only remember that there was something on top of your locus.

Instruction video

Third level arbiter Jennifer Goddard created a tutorial video for Speed Words. It will help you further to understand this discipline better.

In memory of Mareen Blaß

This article is dedicated to Mareen Blaß. Since 2005 she has been a memory athlete. She ranked 144th in the world when she passed away. Her fondly character will be remembered in our hearts.

Mareen Blaß arbiting at the North German Memory Championship 2009