building strong memory 5
The magical number seven theory. Recent experiments have revealed the exciting possibilities of remembering vast quantities of materials when organized into categories or blocks. One researcher, G. A. Miller of Harvard, found that the immediate memory span of an adult appears fixed at approximately seven separate “bits” of information. This limitation — seven in number — holds true also for larger “chunks” of information. Miller observed that it was probably not by chance that we have seven days in the week, seven wonders of the world, seven seas, seven primary colors, seven notes of the musical scale, seven deadly sins, and so forth.
Miller says that we can get around the limitation of seven by leaving the number of chunks constant, but adding numerous bits of information to the chunks. There is no limit to the number of bits we can add to the limited number of chunks. In this way we dramatically increase the amount of information we can retain. In order to make these larger chunks cohesive, they must always be put in our own words and then rephrased in our own words so that the seven chunks together form a continuous story in our mind. You are sure to find words that will bring together the seven chunks. As Miller says, “Our language is tremendously useful for repackaging material into a few chunks rich in information.”
Magnetic centers. This is another way of remembering material, somewhat different from the category system. John Livingston Lowes observed that once he learned a brand new word, fact, or idea, he would soon encounter it again and again, in such places as a newspaper or magazine. He postulated that the “new” words or facts have appeared previously, too, but that the eye and mind had blithely glided over them. But now that these previously unfamiliar items are familiar, we tend to notice them when we see and hear them.
Once such unknown items are learned, they create a so-called magnetic center in the mind. Then additional bits of
information that we notice day-by-day seem to be attracted to the magnetic centers and cling there like metal filings on a
The practical implication of Lowes’ magnetic construct seems to be that when we learn something new, we should take great care to learn it accurately and well, since it will become the center around which will cluster a whole constellation of additional information. The power of association. William James told his secret for developing a good memory in these words: The secret of a good memory is thus the secret of forming diverse and multiple associations with every fact we care to retain. But this forming of associations with a fact, what is it but thinking about the fact as much as possible? Briefly, then, of two men with the same outward experiences and the same amount of mere native tenacity, the one who thinks over his experiences most, and weaves them into systematic relations with each other, will be the one with the best memory. He elaborates by saying that when we have committed a new idea to memory, “Each of its associations becomes a hook to which it hangs, a means to fish it up by when sunk beneath the surface.” To carry out the prescription by William James successfully, we need an already existing background. The richer the background, the easier and the better will be our diverse and multiple associations. Thus, a good background not only helps us understand new material, as we saw in a previous section, but it also helps us organize and remember it.
6. The Principle of Recitation
There is no principle that is more important than recitation for transferring material from the short-term memory to the
What is recitation? Recitation is simply saying aloud the ideas that you want to remember. For example, after you have gathered your information in note form and have categorized and clustered your items, you recite them. Here’s how: You cover your notes with a blank sheet of paper, expose only one category title, then recite aloud the material under that category. After reciting, expose the notes and check for accuracy. You should not attempt to recite the material word for word; rather your reciting should be in the words and manner that you would ordinarily use when if you were explaining the material to your roommate. When you can say it, then you know it!
Recitation may be used while reading a textbook. After reading through a headed or sub-headed section consisting of a page or two, it is wise to stop reading and test yourself on what you have just read by reciting aloud the key ideas. Having recited, thus showing that you understand the ideas thus far in the chapter, you will read and recite the subsequent portions with greater understanding and efficiency. Additional uses of recitation in your college work will be mentioned in succeeding chapters.