Memorization Techniques (Part 1 of 2)

There are probably hundreds of different study and memorization techniques; the trick is finding the ones that work for you. Here is a categorization of memorization techniques developed by Brown and Miller (1996):

  • Memorizing through association
  • Memorizing through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic systems
  • Memorizing through grouping
  • Memorizing through repetition
  • Memorizing through mnemonic techniques

Memorizing Through Association

It easier to remember something if we link it to something we already know. Try to relate new information to personal examples as much as possible. Analogies can also be very powerful: some students remember the cell structure and function of the organelles by relating them to a factory (the cell body would be the boss who gives the orders, the ribosomes are the messengers, etc).

Memorizing Through Grouping

Students literally have to remember hundreds of pieces of information. One of the key aspects of memory performance is to learn the material from the general to the specific. In order to achieve this, graphic organizers are often a must.

Think of all the information you need to learn as books in a book shelf. If you simply shove in one book after the next without any kind of organizational structure, it will be very difficult to find one particular book (especially if you have hundreds of them). However, if you organize the books according to topic and subtopics within each course, then it would be easier to find one specific book for which you are looking.

The brain functions much the same way. It needs some kind of mental organization in order for you to retrieve the stored information.

Chunking is a technique generally used when remembering numbers, although the idea can be used for remembering other things as well. It is based on the idea that short-term memory is limited in the number of things that can be contained. A common rule is that a person can remember 7 (plus or minus 2) "items" in short-term memory. In other words, people can remember between 5 and 9 things at one time. You may notice that local telephone numbers have 7 digits. This is convenient because it is the average amount of numbers that a person can keep in his or her mind at one time.

When you use "chunking" to remember, you decrease the number of items you are holding in memory by increasing the size of each item. In remembering the number string 64831996, you could try to remember each number individually, or you could try thinking about the string as 64 83 19 96 (creating "chunks" of numbers). This breaks the group into a smaller number of "chunks." Instead of remembering 8 individual numbers, you are remembering four larger numbers. This is particularly helpful when you form "chunks" that are meaningful or familiar to you (in this case, the last four numbers in the series are "1996," which can easily be remembered as one chunk of information).

Memorizing Through Repetition

This is probably the one aspect of studying that most people know -- and dread. However, even though most of us know that we should have lots of repetition, we don't know how important it actually is.

Also, repetition, in the context of memorization, means different interactions with the new material. In other words, it is more than a simple rereading of notes. It could include making flashcards, talking as you draw your mind maps, and writing lecture summaries.

Memorizing Through Mnemonic Techniques

Mnemonics are very powerful memorization devices that work especially well for memorizing lists and sequences of items.

The words technique is usually used for lists, e.g. the mnemonic word HOMES is a memory trigger for the great lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).

The sentence technique works well for items that need to be remembered in sequence, e.g. "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" stands for the nine planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).

The key to mnemonics is to build a strong association between the mnemonic and for what they stand. Mnemonics take a little bit of practice, but become easier the more you use them.

Part 2 of this post is located here.