Chaining & Chunking: Ways to improve your memory

By Karen Abernathy – bio | email

Are you happy with your memory skills? Most people would probably say they could stand some improvements. The good news is, memory is not a fixed thing.

Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D., from the University of Washington in Seattle, says you can sharpen your memory with a little practice.

"It can be improved over time," Dr. Chudler said.

Here are some tips to help you improve your memory:


Chudler recommends trying the "chaining" method when trying to remember certain objects. The idea is to make a mental picture of the items for better recall.

"The more bizarre the image that you can come up with, the easier it will be for you to remember," Chudler explained.

For example, if you are trying to remember the words "book," "pencil," "apple," and "car," you might want to visualize a book with a pencil going through it. You can also picture that pencil sticking through the apple. Then, you can picture the pencil sticking through the book and the apple sitting in a car as it's driving down the street.


Another trick to remember a list of numbers is to "chunk" them together. This means combining them.

For example, if you are trying to remember the three numbers 1, 5 and 6, try to visualize them as "156." Dr. Chudler says it's easier to remember one chunk than three separate numbers.


Dr. Chudler says sleep is also very important for a good memory.

"Sleep is very, very important to consolidate information that we learned the day before," he explained.

Catchy phrases

Dr. Chudler says you can help yourself remember lists of items by coming up with catchy phrases. One popular trick for remembering the planets in order is to use a phrase that has each planet's first letter in it.

"My Very Excellent Mom Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" is the phrase that helps some. Each first letter represents the first letter of a planet. So, the "m" in "my" stands for Mercury. "V" stands for Venus, and so on.

To test your memory for place and space, Dr. Chudler says try the tennis ball game. Place the ball a few feet away. Then, close your eyes and try to go there.

To remember names and faces, picture the first letter of the person's name on one of their features. For instance, Dr. Chudler says put that first initial over a person's eye.

"Whenever I see that face, I can see the letter "K" on Kevin's glasses."

Also, use your senses. Think about the smells that were around when you saw something. And tie the information to something important to you.

Most of all keep challenging yourself. It's the best way to improve your memory skills

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