Memory techniques, or Mnemonic techniques, are simple systems to help us associate information we want to remember with an image, sentence or word. These are simple shortcuts to help your brain better encode and recall information. These methods can be used by anyone, of all ages and for just about anything.
The Method of Loci is a mnemonic method that dates back to ancient Greek times and is still a trade secret for current memory contest champions. It uses visualization to retrieve information. Each recall links to the last recall to make the story and details memorable.
Let's say you need to remember the grocery list. Make up a story, walking through your home that relates to each item. For example, when I got home, the dog was happy to see me (dog food). As I walked passed the powder room, I saw myself in the mirror (window cleaner) and so on. The location for your story can be your home, your route to work or a regular walk that you take. The idea is to make a story using a familiar location and to use landmarks, objects or rooms for the associations and links. Each link then connects to the next link.
An acronym is a word formed from the first letters or groups of letters in a name or phrase. For instance in music, students have historically used an acronym in order to remember notes for reading music. The notes of the treble staff are EGBDF — Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. The notes on the bass staff are ACEG — All Cows Eat Grass.
Rhymes are easy to remember because they can be stored by acoustic encoding in our brains. Nursery rhymes, business slogans and songs are easily remembered by their melodic quality. For example: "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is," “In fourteen ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” or “I before E, except after C.”
Chunking is simply a way of breaking down larger pieces of information into smaller, organized “chunks” of more easily managed information. Telephone numbers in the United States are a perfect example of this — 10 digits broken into three chunks, allowing almost everyone to remember an entire phone number with ease. Since short-term human memory is limited to approximately seven items of information, placing larger quantities of information into smaller containers helps our brains remember more.
Visual imagery is a great way to help memorize items for some people. The Method of Loci, mentioned above, is a form of using imagery; however, this type of imagery works best with smaller pieces of information. For instance, when you want to remember someone’s name for whom you have just been introduced, you can imagine a pirate with a wooden leg for “Peggy” or a big grizzly bear for “Harry.”
Whether you want a memory boost for school, work or social, the Method of Loci, acronyms, rhyming, chunking and visual imagery are classic and profound tools to help us recall, remember and retain more.
Any subject, any grade: What is your question for a tutor? Email email@example.com. Ask a Tutor runs biweekly.
— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.