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Improving your memory skills

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Improving your memory skills

Your career will benefit from a better memory. These are some methods for you to consider. They will help you to improve your career opportunities.

Remembering short lists

Remembering simple ordered lists

Remembering middle lists

Remembering long lists

Remembering short lists

The “Link Method” is one of the easiest mnemonic techniques available. It works quite simply by making associations between items in a list, linking them either with a flowing image containing the items, or with a story featuring them. The flow of the story and the strength of the images give you the cues for retrieval. Taking your first image, generate a connection between it and the next item. Then move on through the list linking each item with the next. It is quite possible to remember lists of words using association only. However it is often best to fit the associations into a story: otherwise by forgetting just one association you can lose the whole of the rest of the list. Given the fluid structure of this mnemonic, it is very important that the images stored in your mind are as vivid as possible. Significant, coding images should be much stronger that ones that merely support the flow of the story.

The Story Method is similar, except that the images are linked together as part of a story. This makes it easier to remember the order of events and create a memorable mnemonic. Where a word you want to remember does not trigger strong images, use a similar word that will remind you of that word. Example: You may want to remember this list of counties in the South of England: Avon, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, and Surrey.

You could do this with two approaches, the link method and the story method:

Remembering with the Link Method. This would rely on a series of images coding information:

• An AVON (Avon) lady knocking on a heavy oak DOoR (Dorset)

• The DOoR opening to show a beautiful SuMmER landscape with a SETting sun (Somerset)

• The setting sun shines down onto a field of CORN (Cornwall)

• The CORN is so dry it is beginning to WILT (Wiltshire)

• The WILTing stalks slowly droop onto the tail of the sleeping DEVil (Devon).

• On the DEVil's horn a woman has impaled a GLOSsy (Gloucestershire) HAM (Hampshire) when she hit him over the head with it

• Now the Devil feels SoRRY (Surrey) he bothered her.

Note that there need not be any reason or underlying plot to the sequence of images: only images and the links between images are very important.

Remembering with the Story Method. Alternatively you could code this information by imaging the following story vividly:

An AVON lady is walking up a path towards a strange house. She is hot and sweating slightly in the heat of high SUMMER (Somerset). Beside the path someone has planted giant CORN in a WALL (Cornwall), but it's beginning to WILT (Wiltshire) in the heat. She knocks on the DOoR (Dorset), which is opened by the DEVil (Devon). In the background she can see a kitchen in which a servant is smearing honey on a HAM (Hampshire), making it GLOSsy (Gloucestershire) and gleam in bright sunlight streaming in through a window. Panicked by seeing the Devil, the Avon lady screams 'SoRRY' (Surrey), and dashes back down the path.


Remembering simple ordered lists

The Number/Rhyme technique is a very simple way of remembering lists in order. It is an example of a peg system (a system where information is 'pegged' to a known sequence (here the numbers one to ten). By doing this you ensure that you do not forget any facts, as gaps in information are immediately obvious. It also makes remembering images easier as you always know part of the mnemonic images. At a simple level you can use it to remember things such as a list of English Kings or American Presidents in their precise order. At a more advanced level it can be used, for example, to code lists of experiments to be recalled in a science exam.

The technique works by helping you to build up pictures in your mind, in which you represent numbers by things that rhyme with the number. You can then link these pictures to images of the things to be remembered.

The usual rhyming scheme is:

• Bun

• Shoe

• Tree

• Paw

• Hive

• Bricks

• Heaven

• Gate

• Line

• Hen

If you find that these images do not attract you or stick in your mind, then change them for something more meaningful. Link these images to ones representing the things to be remembered. Often, the sillier the compound image, the more effectively you will remember it.


Remembering middle length lists

The Alphabet system is a peg memory technique similar to, but more sophisticated than, the Number/Rhyme system. It is a good method for remembering longer lists of items in a specific order, in such a way that you can tell if items are missing. It works by associating images representing letters of the alphabet with images you generate for the things to be remembered. When you are creating images for the letters of the alphabet, create images phonetically, so that the sound of the first syllable of the word is the name of the letter. For example, you might represent the letter 'k' with the word 'cake'. This approach has the advantage of producing an image that you can reconstruct if you forget it. You might, however, judge that this is an unnecessary complication of a relatively simple system. In any case it is best to select the strongest image that comes to mind and stick with it. One image scheme is shown below:

A - Ace of spades

B - Bee

C - Sea

D - Diesel engine

E - Eel

F - Effluent

G - Jeans

H - H-Bomb, itch

I - Eye

J - Jade

K - Cake

L - Elephant

M - Empty

N - Entrance

O - Oboe

P - Pea

Q - Queue

R - Ark

S - Eskimo

T - Teapot

U - Unicycle

V - Vehicle

W - WC

X - X-Ray

Y - Wire

Z - Zulu

If you find that these images do not attract you or stick in your mind, then change them for something more meaningful to you. Once you have firmly visualised these images and have linked them to their root letters, you can associate them with information to be remembered. We will use the example to remember a list of modern thinkers:

A - Ace - Freud - a crisp ACE being pulled out of a FRying pan (FRiED)

B - Bee - Chomsky - a BEE stinging a CHiMp and flying off into the SKY

C - Sea - Genette - a GENerator being lifted in a NET out of the SEA

D - Diesel - Derrida - a DaRing RIDer surfing on top of a DIESEL train

E - Eagle - Foucault - Bruce Lee fighting off an attacking EAGLE with kung FU

F - Effluent- Joyce - environmentalists JOYfully finding a plant by an EFFLUENT pipe

G - Jeans - Nietzche - a holey pair of JEANS with a kNEe showing through

H - H-Bomb - Kafka - a grey civil service CAFe being blown up by an H- Bomb


The Alphabet Technique links the items to be remembered with images of the letters A - Z. This allows you to remember a medium length list in the correct order. By pegging the items to be remembered to letters of the alphabet you know if you have forgotten items, and know the cues to use to trigger their recall. The alphabet system takes a certain amount of learning.


Remembering long lists

The “journey method” is a powerful, flexible and effective mnemonic based around the idea of remembering landmarks on a well-known journey. You use the Journey Method by associating information with landmarks on a journey that you know well. This could, for example, be your journey to work in the morning; the route you use to get to the front door when you get up; the route to visit your parents; or a tour around a holiday destination. Once you are familiar with the technique you may be able to generate imaginary journeys that fix in your mind, and apply these.

To use this technique most effectively, it is often best to prepare the journey beforehand. In this way the landmarks are clear in your mind before you try to commit information to them. One of the ways of doing this is to write down all the landmarks that you can recall in order on a piece of paper. This allows you to fix these landmarks as the significant ones to be used in your mnemonic, separating them from others that you may notice as you get to know the route even better.

To remember a list of items, whether these are people, experiments, events or objects, all you need do is associate these things with the landmarks or stops on your journey. This is an extremely effective method of remembering long lists of information. With a sufficiently long journey you could, for example, remember elements on the periodic table, lists of Kings and Presidents, geographical information, or the order of cards in a shuffled pack.

The system is extremely flexible: all you need do to remember many items is to remember a longer journey with more landmarks. To remember a shorter list, only use part of the route!

One advantage of this technique is that you can use it to work both backwards and forwards, and start anywhere within the route to retrieve information. You can use the technique well with other mnemonics. This can be done either by building complex coding images at the stops on a journey, or by linking to other mnemonics at each stop. You could start other journeys at each landmark. Alternatively, you may use a peg system to organize lists of journeys, etc.

Example: You may, as a simple example, want to remember something mundane like this shopping list:

Coffee, salad, vegetables, bread, kitchen paper, fish, chicken breasts, pork chops, soup, fruit, bath tub cleaner.

You could associate this list with a journey to a supermarket. Mnemonic images could be:

• Front door: spilt coffee grains on the doormat

• Rose bush in front garden: growing lettuce leaves and tomatoes around the roses

• Car: with potatoes, onions and cauliflower on the driver's seat

• End of the road: an arch of French bread over the road

• Past garage: with its sign wrapped in kitchen roll

• Under railway bridge: from which haddock and cod are dangling by their tails

• Traffic lights: chickens squawking and flapping on top of lights

• Past church: in front of which a pig is doing karate, breaking boards

• Under office block: with a soup slick underneath: my car tires send up jets of tomato soup as I drive through it

• Past car park: with apples and oranges tumbling from the top level

• Supermarket car park: a filthy bath tub is parked in the space next to my car!


Related resources:

Memory skills in foreign language learning


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