Quaker fans have a new team to root for — the UPenn Memory Team.
On Saturday, three Penn students competed in the USA Memory Championship in New York, and Wharton sophomore Michael Mirski took home third place, defeating contestants from a Hershey, Pa. high school team and around thirty adults.
Two other Penn students, College freshman Noah Ehrich and College and Wharton sophomore Jay Yang also competed.
The competition consisted of several rounds of memorization tests, that required contestants to memorize the order, number and suit of shuffled decks of cards and details about people.
Mirski said he was happy with his performance in the competition. Only expecting to possibly make it to the top ten, he was pleased with his third place finish. Last year was the first year he participated, when he placed 14th in the qualifying rounds.
Ehrich said he was also satisfied with his overall performance. He was eliminated when he gave the answer of “inject,” instead of “injection” in one of the championship rounds, where contestants had to memorize 200 words in 15 minutes and recite them in order.
In a round in which he had to memorize a shuffled deck of cards, however, Ehrich came in fourth place for his accuracy and time of 2:14.
Ehrich, who placed eighth in the competition, said, “I’m really happy at how I did overall. I really didn’t expect to make it to the finals especially considering it was my first year.”
Yang placed twentieth in the qualifying rounds. He could not be reached for an interview as of press time.
All three students are members of the UPenn Memory Team. “The purpose of the UPenn Memory Team is to teach and develop the mental ability of the mental athletes,” said its president, College junior Chris Cruz.
Although the mental athletes primarily practice individually, the team teaches memorization techniques.
“Pretty much the way the system works is that we manipulate information in order for it to stimulate parts of your brain that are responsible for memory,” Cruz said. “The brain doesn’t come with a user’s manual … we teach students that they have the ability to do it.”
Ehrich has been practicing since last summer for this year’s Championship.
Preparing for a national competition of this nature takes a lot of time and dedication, but according to Ehrich, anyone can do it. “It really comes down to how well you can convert chunks of data into specific images and how well you can encode information into images,” he said. “You really don’t need a good memory at all. It just takes practice and dedication.”
Mirski has developed a 1,000 word memorization system, which he is still mastering.
Both Mirski and Ehrich plan on going back to the Championship next year. Ehrich said, “I would like to place in the top five. I would also like a few more people from the Penn community to come out, and try it out because it’s really fun.”
However, Mirski is concerned about the amount of preparation time he will have to spend for next year’s competition.
“To improve much beyond this point I’d have to develop a new system to memorizing,” he said. Mirski added that after mastering one system of memorization, you begin to “plateau” and have to move on to the next.
Of the competition, Ehrich said, “I had a great time. It was really nice seeing other people who share the same interest.”
Cruz said the techniques the Memory Team teaches are applicable to anything that requires memorization, from college lecture notes to medical school vocabulary.
Mirski plans on using his memory techniques to help out others. “I might teach a SAT vocab course in my hometown,” he said.