National Memory Championship

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Important note: This page hasn’t been edited since our last championship in September 2018. Many changes will probably be made before our 2019 championship, so don’t please don’t assume that what you’re reading here is up to date.


The National Memory Championship will start on Sunday September 16 at 10:30am in Vancouver and at 1pm in Toronto and Montreal. It will last for 5 hours, possibly more. For beginners who might want to skip the numbers and cards challenges, 3 hours should be enough. Click here for information about the cost and the venues.

Learning to use the art of memory efficiently can be just a fun challenge, but for some people it can also literally be life-changing. This is part of the reason why the National Memory Championship is currently the CMSA most important event. We want people of all skill levels to participate and have fun and be amazed by what they and others manage to accomplish. And we want to crown a national champion who will inspire others to start practicing the art of memory. The championship will be held on September 16 simultaneously in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. All competitors except for some beginners will face the following 5 challenges in that order: 5 minutes IAM images, 5 minutes names and faces, 15 minutes random words, 5 minutes random numbers (two attempts) and finally 5 minutes speed cards (two attempts). After the end of the championship, competitors and spectators who are available will be invited to a friendly get together at a nearby establishment.

Click here for sample disciplines and training tools.

Click here to learn more about the art of memory.

Click here for a quick guide on how to compete in National Memory Championship as a beginner.

There are 6 different sections that you can take part depending on your age, skill level and citizenship status. The winners of each of those sections will walk away with prizes and bragging rights.

  • The Regular section is for competitors who will be between the age of 18 to 59 years old at the time of the championship.
  • The Beginners section is for competitors of all ages who have little or no experience with memory sports.
  • The Open section is for people of all ages who aren’t Canadian citizens.
  • The Juniors section is for competitors between the age of 14 to 17 years old.
  • The Kids section is for competitors 13 years old or younger. (This year our Toronto venue will only allow competitors aged 13 years old or older)
  • The Seniors section is for competitors 60 years old or older.

For competitors in the Beginners section, numbers and cards will be optional and more lenient scoring systems will be used. Anyone can choose to register as a beginner. But if someone already has some competition experience or if he or she can sometimes memorize 50 digits in 5 minutes, that person should probably sign up for the Regular section instead. More lenient scoring systems will also be used in the Kids section, but all 5 challenges will be counted. Competitors in the Open and Junior and Senior sections will be judged exactly the same way as competitors in the regular section. The ways that final scores calculations can differ depending on the section you signed for is explained at the end of this document.


Below is an overview of all the most important rules and information for the CMSA National Memory Championship. Events will happen in the order they are written down below. Whether or not you’ve competed in memory competitions before, we suggest that you take the time to read the rules because in some cases we’ve changed them in subtle but important ways. We will later post an article explaining why we chose to make those changes.

5 minutes IAM Images

You will be shown rows of 5 pictures and you’ll have 5 minutes to memorize as many rows as you can. You will then be shown those same pictures in a different order (always the same 5 pictures per row, but in a different order) and you will have 15 minutes to correctly recall as many rows as you can. You get 5 points for each correctly recalled row and you lose 1 point for each incorrectly recalled row. There no penalty for not answering any given row. You will indicate the correct order by writing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 next to each image. There are no penalty for not answering any given row. The same 5 images will always appear on the same row they were in originally, just not in the same order. The images will be the same as those used at the International Association of Memory (IAM) competitions. Images will be printed in color. You train this event for free as much as you want by opening an account on, just follow the instructions here. If you’ve never practiced this challenge before, we suggest you follow some of the methods suggested here.

Rules for Beginners and Kids: Same rules as the regular section.

Warning: Competitors who fail to sign up at least 72 hours in advance might have to use the black and white question and recall sheets.

5 minutes Names and Faces

You will be showed pictures of faces along with their names. You have 5 minutes to memorize as many first and last names as you can. All the faces will then be shown to you again in a different order and you will have 15 minutes to recall what you can. There will be many international names and it will be almost impossible to remember them all. It’s a better strategy to focus only on those names you think you will be able to recall. 1 point for each correct first name and 1 point for each correct last name. You can’t earn a point for a name if you wrote the same name more than once. Important note: On average the names will be more realistic and not quite as difficult as the names presented in most memory competitions. A few photos of non-human faces with goofy names will also be shown. Those should be particularly memorable, but don’t let the absurdity make you lose focus! Click here for an example of what the challenge might look like. Photos will be printed in color.

Rules for Beginners and Kids: Same rules as the regular section.

Warning: Competitors who fail to sign up at least 72 hours in advance might have to use the black and white question and recall sheets.

15 minutes Random Words

You have 15 minutes to remember in order as many random words as you can and a maximum of 30 minutes to correctly recall them in order. You can choose to memorize words in English or in French. Correction is made by rows of 10 words and in the regular section, mistakes are harshly penalized. It’s usually a better strategy to perfectly recall 60 words than to attempt to memorize 100 while making many mistakes everywhere. You get 10 points for a perfectly recalled row of 10 words, but only 5 points if there’s one error, and 0 point if there are 2 or more errors. For minor mistakes, you only lose 1 point.  What differentiates an error from a minor mistake is explained below.

Types of errors (minus 5 points for the row):

  • Any missing word.
  • You wrote a different word than the correct one, even if they mean the same thing. Writing “bicycle” instead of “bike” is an error.
  • You wrote the right word, but not at the right place. However, in cases where two correct words were inverted next to each others, we will count this as just one error instead of two. So if you wrote “chair” and then “angry” instead of “angry” and then “chair”, you will lose 5 points instead of 10.

Types of minor mistakes (minus 1 point for the row):

  • Spelling mistakes.
  • The word you wrote is a variation of the same word and it appears in the same entry in the dictionary. “Walk” versus “walking”, “sleep” versus “slept” or “memory” versus “memories” for example.
  • The word you wrote sound exactly the same as the correct one, even if its meaning is completely different. “Sea” versus “see” or “canon” versus “cannon” for example.

Rules for the last row: For the last row that you may not have had time to memorize completely, either we give a point for every correct answer until the first error (minor mistakes we just skip over), or we correct it normally by starting with the number of written down words and subtracting the penalties. We use whichever correction method give the competitor the most points. So if you wrote down 8 words but made an error with the third word, we’ll give you three points (8 minus a 5 points penalty for the error). If you wrote down 8 words but instead made a mistake with the seventh word, we’ll give you six points for the first six words and stop counting from there.

Rules for Beginners and Kids: You get a point for every single correctly spelled word you write down. There are no penalty for missing or wrong words. You get half a point for every correctly spelled word that appears in the right row, but not at the right place.

5 minutes Random Numbers

You have 5 minutes to memorize as many groups of 12 digits as you can. You get 12 points for every perfectly recalled group and 0 point for every group where there are one mistake or more. You will have 2 attempts for this discipline, the best of your 2 results is the only one that will count. Competitors can choose to have their digits groups by 2, 3, 4, 6, 9 or 12 digits for easier reading that fits your preferred strategy. Examples are provided here.

Rules for Beginners and Kids: You get a point for every single correct number written at the right place. If you wrote 12 digits on one row and only 5 of them are correct, you still get 5 points for that group. Competitors in the Beginners section (but not those in the Kids section) can also choose to skip this event entirely with no penalty to their overall score in the championship.

5 minutes Speed Cards

You have 5 minutes (or less if you are fast) to remember as many cards in order as you can from a shuffled deck of 52 cards. You will then have another 5 minutes with another unshuffled deck that you will have to reorder just like the deck you just memorized. The person who was the fastest to perfectly memorize the whole deck wins. If you attempted to memorize the whole deck in less than 5 minutes but you made one or more mistake, for information purposes your attempted time will be noted in the scoreboard, but you will get the same amount of championship points as if you had used all 5 minutes. For everyone who got less than a full deck of cards, we instead use an adaptation of the Memory League style correction system where every correct data counts. So if you memorized 40 cards but made a swapping mistake with the third and the fourth cards, your final score will be 38. We stop counting after 8 consecutive mistakes. For those cases where the cards end up mostly in the correct order, but not at the correct place, we call this a “displacement mistake” and the competitor can tell us that this accident happened and we will start counting again at any point of his or her choice. A 4 cards penalty to the final result would be applied every time this happened. You will have 2 attempts for this discipline, the best of your 2 results is the only one that will count.

Rules for Beginners and Kids: Same rules as the regular section, except that the recall period can last for up to 8 minutes instead of 5. That means that after 5 minutes competitors from the Regular, Open and Junior sections will have to set their cards aside, but competitors from the Beginners and Kids will be allowed to continue reordering the cards for up to 3 more minutes. Competitors in the Beginners section (but not those in the Kids section) can also choose to skip this event entirely with no penalty to their overall score in the championship.

Final scores calculations

For each challenge the raw scores will be converted into Championship Points (CP) using the IAM score calculator at For names and faces, because ours are somewhat easier than those of others competitions, the number of CP will be multiplied by 0.7 (so minus 30%) just for that sole discipline. When you score first, second or third in any given discipline, respectively 60, 40 or 20 bonus CP will be awarded. Final ranking at the end of the event is calculated by adding the CP for all 5 disciplines. In the unlikely event that someone outside the Regular section manages to perform better that the winner of the Regular section, his or her scores will be recalculated with the same rules and, if applicable, that person will be declared to be the national champion. Competitors who aren’t Canadian citizens can win the Open section, but they aren’t eligible to win the overall championships. However, the final scoreboard will clearly indicate whether or not the winner of the Open section managed to outperform the overall winner.

Rules for Beginners: Beginners overall score is calculated by using only the average of their 3 best events and by multiplying that average by 5. They can have no system for numbers or cards, only compete in images, names and words and do quite well overall. If they do choose to compete in numbers and cards, only one of those two events (the one where they got the best score) will count on their final score, and it will only count if their score in this event is superior to either images or names or words.

Rules for Seniors, Juniors, Kids and non-Canadian citizens who choose to compete in the Beginners section: You can’t sign up for the Beginners section if you want to have a chance at winning the Juniors, Kids or Open section. If you choose to do so, you can only win the Beginners section. Seniors, however, can still win the Senior section even if they choose to compete as beginners. In the unlikely event that a senior in the Beginners section manage to outperform the best regular senior competitor, the best regular senior competitor will have its final score recalculated using beginners scoring methods. If after that the beginner still scores higher than the regular, he or she will be declared “Senior memory champion”.

As you may have noticed our rules for images and names and faces are exactly the same as in most others memory competitions, but we’ve made quite a few small and big changes to the scoring rules for words, numbers and cards. We feel that those changes allow for more accurate representation of everyone’s skills and for less discouraging scores for non-experts. An article explaining the reasoning behind those rules will be posted here later.

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