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Last updated on 2/21/22

Boost your memory using mnemonics

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What's the point in studying if I forget it all after a few days, weeks or months?

Learning should not be just about memorising information. Having a good memory or enough confidence in your retention skills help you have a better learning experience.

Mnemonics are all the practical applications of psychology research into memory skills, in order to improve them.

In this chapter, you will use a few mnemonics to enhance your ability to learn.

Break down information using the chunking technique 

As the name suggests, chunking is about breaking down information into chunks. The method is very simple and proposes that smaller bits of information are easier to remember.

Imagine that the information is the food, and your learning session is a meal. To better digest the knowledge, try cutting up your food into small pieces and chewing it for a bit, rather than swallowing it whole.

Here's a little exercise for you to try:

Write down the telephone numbers of four of your friends, either on paper or using a set of flashcards.

Divide up the digits that make up the numbers into chunks of between three and five digits each.

AnkiApp flashcard app
AnkiApp flashcard app

Optional: associate an image, fact or unique meaning to each of the chunks.

Revise intelligently using spaced repetition

You must revise the information at different intervals to embed it in your long-term memory. American linguist Paul Pimsleur developed the method of spaced repetition to determine interval length.

This method provides a basic rule which you can use as a starting point for planning your revision schedule.

Set a reminder to revise your friends' telephone numbers:

  • tomorrow;

  • in 3 days;

  • in 6 days;

  • in 12 days. 

Revision schedule based on Pimsleur's spaced repetition method
Revision schedule based on Pimsleur's spaced repetition method

Plan your sessions according to the principles of distributed practice

This method is based on a simple yet fascinating observation. You are better at retaining information that you come across at the beginning and end of a session.

Plan your sessions following the principles of distributed practice
Plan your sessions following the principles of distributed practice

The practical application of this is that you should have more but shorter sessions to increase your retention. This way, there will be more session beginnings and endings.

Have short breaks in between your sessions
Have short breaks in between your sessions

Following this logic, I could end up with 5-minute sessions. Is there such a thing as a session that's too short? 

There isn't a consensus, so it depends. To examine this further, let's consider two types of memory:

  • You use your explicit or declarative memory when you consciously store and access information in order to express it using language. 

  • You use your procedural or implicit memory when you repeat movements so that they become automatic.  

These two types of memory are based on slightly different brain mechanisms, making it difficult to find a rule that applies to both. Therefore, it's better to use the following:

  • If your session calls on your declarative memory, plan to work for 20 to 30 minutes.

  • If your session develops your procedural memory, train for roughly as long as you would do the activity for "in real life". In other words, choose lengths that reflect real situations.

With this in mind, go back to your timetable and identify sessions that you could break down into shorter ones.

Go further

Note that the three mnemonics introduced in this chapter are far from being the only ones. Do your research and find others. In the last activity in the course, you'll learn the mind-mapping technique.

In the meantime, I will see you again in the next chapter, where you will see why it is important to share what you are learning with your community of learners.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement