Answer the following "true" or "false."

1. Memory strategies were recently invented by psychologists.

2. Imagery can be used to remember concrete words only.

3. Overlearning information leads to poor retention.

4. Outlining reading is not likely to affect retention.

5 . Massing practice in one long study session is more efficient than distributing practice across several shorter sessions.

Mnemonic devices are strategies for enhancing memory. They have a long and honorable history, so the first statement is false. In fact, one of the mnemonic devices that we cover in this application—the method of loci—was described in Greece as early as 86-82 B.C.. Actually, mnemonic devices were even more crucial in ancient times than today. In ancient Greece and Rome, for instance, paper and pencils were not readily available so people could write down things that they needed to remember. People had to depend heavily on mnemonic devices.

In this application, I consider how the principles of memory can be employed to enhance your ability to remember things. I discuss everyday memory in general, but emphasize how principles relate to effective studying in school. In the process, you'll learn that all of the true-false statements above are false. So, without further ado, let's begin our coverage by discussing the value of rehearsal.

Engage in Adequate Rehearsal

Practice makes perfect, or so you've heard. In reality, practice is not likely to guarantee perfection, but it usually leads to improved retention. Studies show that retention improves with increased rehearsal. Presumably this improvement occurs because rehearsal helps transfer the information to be remembered into long-term memory. Continued rehearsal may also pay off by improving your understanding of assigned material. As you go over information again and again, your increased familiarity with the material may permit you to focus selectively on the most important points. Repetition may have its greatest impact on the retention of the most important information.
There is evidence that it even pays to overlearn material. Overlearning refers to continued rehearsal of material after you first appear to master it. The practical implication of this point is simple: you should not quit rehearsing material as soon as you appear to have mastered it.

Schedule Your Rehearsal as Distributed Practice

Let's assume that you are going to study 9 hours for an exam. Is it better to "cram" all of your study into one 9-hour period (massed practice) or to distribute it among, say, three 3-hour periods on successive days (distributed practice)? The evidence indicates that retention tends to be greater after distributed practice than after massed practice, especially if the intervals be
tween practice periods are fairly long, such as 24 hours. Why is distributed practice better? This may seem strange, but it's because distributed practice allows forgetting to occur. If you wait a day before going over material again, you'll probably forget some of it. This allows you to identify the material that you haven't learned very well, so you can devote extra practice to it or form new memory codes that are more effective.

Minimize Interference

Research suggests that interference is a major cause of forgetting, so you’ll probably want to think about how you an minimize interference. This is especially important for students, because memorizing information for one course can interfere with the retention of information in another course. It may help to allocate study for specific courses to specific days. Thus, the day before an exam in a course, it's probably best to study for that course only—if possible. If demands in other courses make that impossible, study the test material last.
Of course, studying for other classes is not the only source of interference in a student's life. Other normal waking activities also produce interference. Therefore, it's a good idea to conduct one last, thorough review of material as close to exam time as possible. This helps you to avoid memory loss due to interference from intervening activities.

Engage in Deep Processing

Although it's important to engage in adequate rehearsal, how often you go over material is less critical than the depth of processing that you engage in when you go over it. Thus, if you expect to remember what you read, you have to wrestle fully with its meaning. Many students could probably benefit if they spent less time on rote repetition and devoted more effort to analyzing the meaning of their reading assignments.
Enrich Encoding with Verbal Mnemonics

When working with verbal material, deeper processing usually entails working harder to make information meaningful. But evidence shows that the effort is worthwhile: retention improves as material becomes more meaningful. A very useful strategy is to make material personally meaningful. When you read your textbooks, try to relate information to your own life and experience. For example, when you read about classical conditioning, try to think of responses that you make that are due to classical conditioning.

Of course, it's not always easy to make something personally meaningful. For instance, when you study chemistry you may have a hard time relating to polymers at a personal level. Thus, many mnemonic devices—such as acrostics, acronyms, and narrative methods—are designed to make abstract material more meaningful.

Acrostics and Acronyms

Acrostics are phrases (or poems) in which the first letter of each word (or line) functions as a cue to help you recall more abstract words that begin with the same letter. For instance, you may remember the order of musical notes with the saying "Every good boy does fine" (or "deserves favor"). A slight variation on acrostics is the acronym—a word formed out of the first letters of a series of words. Students memorizing the order of colors in the light spectrum often store the name "Roy G. Biv" to remember red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Notice that this acronym takes advantage of chunking.

Narrative Methods

Another useful way to remember a list of words is to create a story that includes the words in the correct order. The narrative increases the meaningfulness of the words and links them in a specific order. Examples of this technique can be seen below.

Word list
Bird  Costume  Mailbox  Head  River  Nurse  Theater  Wax  Eyelid  Furnace

A man dressed in a Bird Costume and wearing a Mailbox on his Head was seen leaping into the River A Nurse ran out of a nearby Theater and applied Wax to his Eyelids, but her efforts were in vain. He died and was tossed into the Furnace.

Word list
Rustler  Penthouse  Mountain  Sloth  Tavern  Fuzz  Gland  Antler  Pencil Vitamin
A Rustler lived in a Penthouse on top of a Mountain. His specialty was the three toed Sloth. He would take his captive animals to a Tavern where he would remove Fuzz from their Glands. Unfortunately, all this exposure to sloth fuzz caused him to grow Antlers. So he gave up his profession and went to work in a Pencil factory. As a precaution he also took a lot of Vitamin E.

Why—and how—would you use the narrative method? Let's assume that you always manage to forget to put one item in your gym bag on your way to the pool. Short of pasting a list on the inside of the bag, how can you remember everything you need? You could make up a story that includes the items you need:

The wind and rain in COMBINATION LOCKed out the rescue efforts—nearly. CAP, the flying ace, TOWELed the SOAP from his eyes, pulled his GOGGLES from his SUIT pocket and COMBed the BRUSH for survivors.


Another verbal mnemonic that we often rely on is rhyming. You've probably repeated, "I before E except after C”

Enrich Encoding with Visual Imagery

Memory can be greatly enhanced by the use of visual imagery. Visual images may create a second memory code and that two codes are better than one. Many popular mnemonic devices depend on visual imagery, including the following examples.

Link Method

The link method involves forming a mental image of items to be remem. bered in a way that links them together. For instance, suppose that you're going to stop at the drugstore on the way home and you need to remember to pick up a news magazine, shaving cream, film, and pens. To remember these items, you might visualize a public figure likely to be in the magazine shaving with a pen while being photographed. There is evidence that the more bizarre you make your image, the more helpful it will be.

Method of Loci

The method of loci involves taking an imaginary walk along a familiar path where you have associated images of items you want to remember with certain locations. The first step is to commit to memory a series of loci, or places along a path. Usually these loci are specific locations in your home or neighborhood. Then envision each thing you want to remember in one of these locations. Try to form distinc tive, vivid images. When you need to remember the items, imagine yourself walking along the path. The various loci on your path should serve as cues for the retrieval of the images that you formed.

The method of loci assures that items are remembered in their correct order because the order is determined by the sequence of locations along the pathway. The potential effectiveness of this method was demonstrated by a study which asked subjects to remember a list of 32 words. The subjects instructed in the method of loci recalled an average of about 26 words, compared to only about 7 words for subjects in the control group, who recieved no special instructions.
Keyword Method

Visual images are also useful when we need to form an association between a pair of items such as a person's name and face, or a foreign word and its English translation. However, there is a potential problem that you may recall from the earlier discussion of visual imagery: it's difficult to generate images to represent abstract words. A way to avoid this problem is to employ the keyword method, in which you associate a concrete word with an abstract word and generate an image to represent the concrete word. A very practical use of this method is to help you remember the names of people you meet. Just convert the name into a visual image and then link the image to a prominent feature of the person's face. The utility of this technique obviously depends on how easy it is to form an image from a name. Some names should be fairly easy, such as Smith (form an image of a blacksmith, perhaps hammering out a crooked nose). Other names, such as Gordon or Detterman, may require associating a concrete word to the name and then forming an image of the associated word. The associated word, which is the keyword, should sound like the name that's being learned.
Garden is an example of a keyword for Gordon. And debtor man might be a good keyword for Detterman, if you formed an image of Mr. Detterman dressed in ragged clothes.

Organize Information

.As you've learned, organizational frameworks play a critical role in longterm memory. Retention tends to be greater when information is well organized. It has shown that hierarchical organization is particularly helpful. It may therefore be a good idea to outline reading assignments, since outlining forces you to organize material hierarchically. Along similar lines, a technique called networking may be helpful in mastering information gleaned from textbooks. Networking involves organizing information into networks consisting of nodes and links. As you read a text, try to identify important concepts or ideas (nodes) and represent their interrelationships (links) to form the network. You should diagram your networks to create visual and spatial representations of how the material is organized.

Take Advantage of Retrieval Cues

When your memory lapses, try to take advantage of any retrieval cues that happen to surface. For instance, if you think you know the first letter of a word that you're groping for, use that letter to guide your memory search. "Hunches" like this often are related to the forgotten information. Many people fail to appreciate the potential value of these retrieval cues and don't devote much thought to them. Also, remember the value of context cues. You may be able to jog your memory by reinstating the context in which you learned the forgotten information.