building strong memory 11
To combat forgetting, some students take memory courses given by commercial enterprises. Many others invent (or inherit) mnemonic devices-words, sentences, rhymes, and other formulas that associate a complex principle or body of fact with a simple statement that is easy to remember. Both the memory courses and the mnemonic devices have serious drawbacks.
How Commercial Memory Courses Work
The first step of most memory systems involves the memorizing of a master list of words called “pegs.” Each word is numbered, and a strong association is made between the number and the word; for example, number one may be an alarm clock, number two a revolving door, and so forth. So when you need to remember a list of such items as butter, sugar, and so forth, you form a bizarre image associating the first peg word and the first item on the list to be memorized. For example, for butter you may visualize a pound of butter atop a fiercely ringing metal alarm clock. For sugar, you visualize dropping a pound of sugar in the revolving door of a busy post office, almost hearing and feeling the crunching of the sugar as people stomp on it and the revolving door grinds it on the cement floor. Later, on entering the supermarket, to recall the grocery items, it is only necessary to recall the well-memorized peg words in numerical sequence, and almost automatically, with each peg word will come to mind the item associated with it. The next day, however, you may have to associate a pound of sugar with the alarm clock, and yesterday’s butter might interfere with today’s sugar. In other words, interference caused by using the same symbols for many different things makes the system unworkable. Such systems are fun at parties, but hardly applicable for serious studying and learning.
A classic example of a mnemonic device is the old jingle by which most of us learned the irregularities of our calendar. Thirty days has September,April, June, and November All the rest have thirty-one Except February alone– Another is i before e except after c or when pronounced a as in neighbor and weigh.
One or two simple rules like these, or even half a dozen, won’t hurt anyone. They may even help you retain certain dull but necessary facts. But except for purely mechanical matters, like the number of days in the months or problems in spelling, mnemonic systems are of doubtful utility. Their chief fault is that they side step the intrinsic meaning of the material being learned. It then remains a compartmentalized parcel of data which is mechanically taken out of the mnemonic context only when needed. The student may learn a sequence of names and dates this way, but the chances are he does not learn much about them. If, on the other hand, he learns the same list directly and meaningfully, he can integrate it into his general knowledge for use in relation to other facts and ideas.
If, for example, you had to learn the names of all the cranial nerves, you could repeat a jingle such as medical students have devised for associating the names and the order of the nerves with the initial letters of the words:
On Old Olympus’ Towering Tops
A Fat Angelic Girl Viewed Spanish Hops.
(The nerves are Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducent, Facial, Auditory, G1ossopharyngeal, Vagus, Spinal Accessory, and Hypoglossal.) But a more effective procedure would be as follows:
1. Look up each word in the dictionary to learn more about it. Learn its Latin or Greek derivation. The more associations you can make, the better you will remember.
2. Study a diagram showing the nerves as they enter the base of the brain. With such a mental picture in mind, you will be able to identify them in order and name their functions.
Artificial mnemonic systems have two additional faults. The slightest error in the jingle or anagram can throw you off completely. And the time spent in memorizing it is rarely justified by the result. Students often use mnemonic devices in preparing for examinations, usually in desperation, hoping somehow to “get by.” But facts so learned — if they really are learned — are usually retained for a relatively short time. Students who resort to cramming in this fashion, realizing that they are gearing for an examination only, often promise themselves afterwards they will restudy the material and “really learn” it. Such restudying is rare, since the kind of student who has to cram for examinations is rarely the kind who has time for extra tasks.
THREE RULES OF MEMORY
To help you remember the important steps in building up your memory, here is a list of rules. You will see that it is a very brief summary of all the principles we have discussed in this chapter.
1. Create a positive mental set. Create, either naturally or artificially, an active interest in what is being said or read so that you will get the information accurately in the first place.
2. Think actively by listening, observing, talking, selecting, and organizing. All with the intention to remember.
3. Recite and review facts, names, and ideas, so that consolidation and transference to the long-term memory can take place.