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Enhancing Memory

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Organizing Material

Organizing material in a coherent way helps people to remember it:

  • Organizing material hierarchically or in categories and subcategories can be particularly helpful. The way an outline is organized, for example, usually helps people to remember the material in it.
  • Chunking material into segments is also helpful. People often remember long strings of numbers, such as social security numbers, by chunking them into two-, three-, or four-digit segments.

Mnemonics

Mnemonics are strategies for improving memory. Different kinds of mnemonics include acronyms, acrostics, the narrative method, and rhymes.

Acronyms

Acronyms are words made out of the first letters of several words. For example, to remember the colors of the spectrum, people often use the name ROY G. BIV, which gives the first letters of the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet in the right order.

Acrostics

Acrostics are sentences or phrases in which each word begins with a letter that acts as a memory cue. For example, the rather strange phrase Roses on yachts grow better in vinegar also helps to remember the colors of the spectrum.

Narrative methods

Narrative methods involve making up a story to remember a list of words. For example, people could remember the colors of the rainbow in the right order by making up a short story such as this: Red Smith stood next to an orange construction cone and flagged down a yellow cab. He told the cabbie he was feeling very green and asked to be taken to a hospital. The cabbie took him to a hospital, where a nurse in a blue coat guided him to a room with indigo walls. He smelled a violet in a vase and passed out.

Rhymes

Rhymes are also good mnemonics. For example, the familiar rhyme that begins, “Thirty days has September . . .” is a mnemonic for remembering the number of days in each month.