To me maybe it sounds like you need to be using the mnemonics more instead of just trying to force the meaning and readings into your brain. Not sure what the difference might be, maybe I’m reading your question wrong, but my (successful) review sessions go like this:
- See a kanji with the narwhal and stool radicals
- Asked for reading
- See narwhal ‘sitting’ on stool -> Takes me to the story of the narwhal being my ‘friend’ (that is what the kanji means) through neuron magic*
- This story takes me to the second part of it, where other ‘YUUths’ will try try to steal my narwhal friend
- I’ve now got the reading ゆう
This should be what happens in all review sessions from what I know, at least until the items become second-nature. (Mnemonics don’t cover writing, but writing isn’t as important as speaking, reading and typing anymore anyway.)
*The only thing you really should need to memorise is the mnemonic, which I’ve found is easy if the mental conditions are right (I don’t know of a better way to describe it, I’ve noticed for me that I either remember a mnemonic or I don’t). I’m a beginner too so maybe my method is just inconsistent.
This might help. Or what might be better is finding a way to make the mnemonic stick better. They’re supposed to be designed to be memorable, but everyone is different so it might be better if you improve the existing ones or make your own for some items. The kanji for ‘old’ looks like an old-style boat with a mast to me, but the ‘official’ mnemonic is completely different and hard for me to remember, so I made my own and it works.
The things I have trouble with are the things I don’t have a good mnemonic for – notably many vocabulary items, as the visual triggers are too complicated or meaningless for me to remember. That’s also where I think some persistence in memorising, or creation, in terms of mnemonics/patterns is required, as that could very well just be me being lazy.
Anyway, hopefully this helps I’m just a newbie too so not sure if I’m correct.