By using mental pictures instead of words to remember things, you can leap more easily into expert status. In other words, learning to process ideas visually in math and science is a powerful way to become a master of the material. And using other memory tricks can greatly enhance your ability to learn and retain the material.

Purists might sniff that using oddball memorization gimmicks isn’t really learning. But research has shown that students who use these types of tricks outperform those who don’t. In addition, imaging research on how people become experts shows that such memory tools speed up the acquisition of both chunks and big picture templates, helping transform novices to semiexperts much more quickly even in a matter of weeks. Memory tricks allow people to expand their working memory with easy access to long term memory.

What’s more, the memorization process itself becomes an exercise in creativity. The more you memorize using these innovative techniques, the more creative you become. This is because you are building wild, unexpected possibilities for future connections early on, even as you are first internalizing the ideas. The more you practice using this type of “memory muscle,” the more easily you will be able to remember. Where at first it may take fifteen minutes to build an evocative image for an equation and embed it in, say, the kitchen sink of your memory palace, it can later take only minutes or seconds to perform a similar task.

You will also realize that as you begin to internalize key aspects of the material, taking a little time to commit the most important points to memory, you come to understand it much more deeply. The formulas will mean far more to you than they would if you simply looked them up in a book. And you’ll be able to sling those formulas around more proficiently on tests and in real-world applications.

One study of how actors memorize their scripts showed that they avoid verbatim memorization. Instead, they depend on an understanding of the characters’ needs and motivations in order to remember their lines. Similarly, the most important part of your memorization practices is to understand what the formulas and solution steps really mean. Understanding also helps a lot with the memorization process.

You may object and say that you’re not creative—that an equation or theory could hardly have its own grandiose motivations or persnickety emotional needs to help you understand and remember it. But remember that inner two-year-old. Your childlike creativity is still there—you just need to reach out to it.