Sunday, December 5, 2010

Memory Training and the Miller Analogies Test Part 1

Hey Everyone,

The NaNoWriMo project was a blast (well, not an actual blast. "Fun," I mean).  A huge relief to actually write the novel by that deadline.  Granted, editing the novel will take a while, but the steepest hill has been climbed!

And with precious little time to appreciate that accomplishment, I'm already working on my next topic, mnemonics.  I guess it's strange that I have yet to write a post specifically about memory training, as I'm more of a mnemonist than any other type of mentathlete.  I can't think of a better time to remedy that than now.

You can find a nice free online resource entitled "How to Remember Anything" here. It's a great introduction to mnemonics.  I'm presently putting some of these techniques into action in the real-world.  You see, I've signed up to take a graduate school admissions exam called the Miller Analogies Test. I take it on the 14th of this month.

The MAT is a rather difficult test to do very well on. By "very well," I mean getting at least 90% of the questions right.  The maximum score you can attain on the MAT is 600/600, but of the 60,000 students who take it annually, perhaps the highest scores in any given year are in the 520's, and I understand it's only two or so who accomplish even that.  I don't believe anyone has ever scored perfect on the new version of the test.   If I do well enough, then in addition to my GPA and other accomplishments, I will hopefully earn enough financial aid to pay for my enrollment into this Texas A & M statistics online program.   I like statistics and I'm good at it, so why not make a career of it?  I confess to being a bit of a scanner, so I'll likely always be doing a number of things, but you (2nd person) do sorta need some stable way to support yourself and your other "hobbies."  I think a career as an applied mathematician or data analyst is the "security job" for me. 

So how exactly is mnemonics going to help me with preparing for the MAT?  Well, even though the test is primarily an exercise of your reasoning abilities, the more general knowledge you have, the more likely you can do your personal best on the MAT.  Sadly, there is a lot of information for me to re-learn or learn in the first place. How much? According to the test's own description, analogies on the MAT cover terminology, references, and concepts from life experience, pop culture, work, comparative religion, ethics, history, literature, modern & classical languages...algebra, arithmetic, finance...geography, anthropology, civics...public health, and sociology." They mentioned 41 different subjects in all.  That's quite a bit of information to touch upon in such a short amount of time, and they can cover some rather obscure items within these topics. If you don't believe me, here are a few examples of the harder questions:

1. MEATUS : (a. body  b. river  c. impetuous  d. contumelious) :: STRAIT : WATER
2. FABACEOUS : (a. plant  b.seed  c. shrub  d. bean) :: AQUILINE : EAGLE
3. TIFFANY : GLASS :: CHRISTO JAVACHEF : (a. islands  b. sculpture  c. found objects  d. paining)
4. TIZANO VECELLIO : TITIAN :: DOMENIKOS THEOTOKOPOULAS : (a. Domenik  b. El Greco  c. Theo  d. Poulous)
5. ASSOCIATIONS : (a. celestial sphere  b. cosmic rays  c. binary stars  d. cardinal points) :: SCATTERED : BOUND
6. OEDIPUS : (Clymaenestra  b. Jocasta  c. Antigone  d. Cassandra) : CLAUDIUS : GERTRUDE
7. NORSE : JUDEO-CHRISTIAN :: (a. Bragi  b. Balder  c. Buri  d. Ask) : ADAM
8. TONI MORRISON : BELOVED :: (a. Jane Smiley  b. John Updike  c. Norman Mailer  d. Alice Walker)  : RABBIT AT REST
9. STEVENSON : EISENHOWER :: (a. Wilke  b. Dewey  c. Landon  d. Davis)  : COOLIDGE

Yeah... I don't know about your childhood, but my family definitely did not discuss the consequences of a fabaceous diet, and John Updike's *Rabbit at Rest* around the dinner table.

I know completely what they're talking about in those particular analogies in perhaps 4 of the 9.  I know the words, but not what they're getting at in 1. There are 2 that I honestly never heard of half the words, but can figure out what they probably mean. But that's still 22% of the analogies that are totally gibberish to me.  A lack of a broad enough knowledge-set is evidently a challenge--to varying degrees-- for everyone who takes this test.  People may have prior knowledge of on the average 1/3 of the questions (not necessarily the same third), but are totally in the dark about the rest.   Suffice to say I have a lot of subjects to learn at least the basics about.
It's tempting to complain about the test's obvious cultural bias, but that's hardly proactive. A good mental athlete can adopt a winning attitude when he or she has to, so that's what I'll do here.  Besides, there's evidence that cultural bias or no, the MAT is actually a better predictor of graduate school success than is the GRE and that analogies are excellent ways to assess a person's powers of abstract reasoning.  Furthermore, analogies are all about finding patterns and relationships, which is also what statistics is supposed to be about--though in a different way.  So if I'd like to think I'd make for a stellar statistician, then this test should be a cakewalk!  Hey, the attitude adjustment is already working!

So here's the plan:  There are about 36 of the 41 subjects the MAT covers that I really am totally ignorant about that I need to memorize at least the basics.  I have eight days (I'm not including the 14th, as I've learned it's a mistake to study the day of a test. Instead I meditate and stay in a relaxed state the morning of the exam) to cover these subjects.  That's about 4-5 subjects per day.

I think what I'm going to do is post which 4 or five subjects I memorize each day, and then post which websites I found the most useful.  Perhaps I can help someone in the future who has to take the MAT.  This ought to be interesting.  Wish me luck!

Alrighty then,

-Nathan (Nth)

P.S.  Here is a pretty cool mnemonic device for remembering the countries of the world



  1. Dude. You're awesome. I too know the feeling of being told you're learning disabled only to have that revised in light of reality. I got kicked out of gifted programs three times for low GPA, and now have a Ph.D. The industry and science of testing has come a long way. A lot of times back in the day they didn't know what they were talking about...

    - Dr. Krog.

  2. So Nathaniel, how did you do on the MAT, and do you have any updated advice for those of us planning to take the MAT?

    ~ Michael J.