Memory experts cite one special technique for their skill. In this episode, I'll reveal... What you can learn about memory from a carpet company phone number song Crush your college prep exams with this memory expert pyramid trick The one...
Memory experts cite one special technique for their skill. In this episode, I'll reveal...
We're powering up our memory in Episode 18, entitled... Why Phone Numbers Have Dashes And the Secret to a Steel Trap Memory
In the book Moonwalking with Einstein, various memory experts were interviewed. The memory experts included chess champions All the memory experts interviewed had various techniques to build and improve their memories. What fascinated me was how all of them shared one memory trick. And I'll tell you this in a moment, but first, do you know why phone numbers have dashes?
Memory: According to Miller's Law, we can pay attention and hold in our short term memory a maximum of 7 +- 2 things at a time. So between 5-9 units of info at a time.
Phone numbers can be read as a song, Remember the Empire Carpet jingle...
You can Youtube this song by the way. Watch it 1-2 times, and tell me if this doesn’t stick into your head.
Anyway, Our short term memory holds limited information so we can focus on survival and what's important. Think of our ancestors thousands of years ago, who had to look for predators and threats, and find safety at a moment's notice. The short term memory was built with this in mind, and tries to block out extraneous information. Regarding the short term memory, think of it as the brain's post-it-note, or scratch pad. It’s a place to dump info as you see it.
I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first, let’s get to the answer of, Why do phone numbers have a dash? And the answer, is for memory using chunking. Instead of eight number of 5882300 in the Empire Carpet example, it’s 588-2300. We have 2 sets of 3 numbers and 4 numbers. 2 is far easier to remember than 8.
In order to solve solve Miller’s Law (7 +- 2) items in the short term memory problem... is to optimize short term memory, with chunking. Chunking happens two ways, using a "chunk up" strategy of bigger picture, or a "chunk down" strategy of more details. In fact, I use a special question to determine a student's chunking preference. Based on their answer, I know how to proceed. And the question I ask is called the Chunk Size question. And it goes like this:
This gives us 4 types of answers:
So let’s review some high-level concepts of chunking...
Sets and Subsets
Think about sets and subsets. Sets are at a higher chunk than subsets. Sets contain subsets that may contain subsets of themselves.
For the big picture thinker, we chunk up, and talk about sets contain variables, or numbers, or both. For the detailed thinker, we chunk down to the nitty-gritty details
For Math, we use Acronyms: PEDMAS Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally represents Parentheses, Exponents, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction
For math, let's chunk from high level to detail.
Memory champions who memorize pi digits in math chunk the numbers into groups
Vocabulary, form groups of info
If you are working with a list of vocabulary words, for example, you might create small groups of words that are similar or related to one another.
For Vocabulary. take the whole word, then break it out into chunks. Then piece the chunks back together.
A shopping list might be broken down into smaller grouping based on whether the items on the list are vegetables, fruits, dairy or grains.
When we chunk, we look for relations. There is a book I swear by, which I mentioned earlier about inductive thinking, called "The Pyramid Principle" by Barbara Minto which covers this brilliantly. Here's a direct quote from her site:
The Minto Pyramid Principle refers to a process for organizing your thinking so that it jumps easily off the page to lodge in a reader's mind. It notes that people ideally work out their thinking by creating pyramids of ideas:
Extended thinking eventually ends in a single pyramid of ideas, at many levels, obeying logical rules, and held together by a single thought. Communicating the thinking requires only that you guide the reader down the pyramid.
What you do when chunking is start with a conclusion, or summary first. And then you chunk down into sub-topics. Each sub-topic within the pyramid must related in some way. Time, category, etc.
The key is to understand connections and relations. Consider the following list or 6 items:
Using chunking, we have 2 categories of relations:
family members and fruit.
So now I can say, in the list, we have fruits and family members. the fruits are apple, orange, grape.
The family members are mom, dad, brother.
So what we did is chunk up, and then chunk down. When we chunk up, we move to higher level, more abstract items, a.k.a., Big Picture. And when we chunk down, we get to the nitty gritty, details.
Math Problem Example
Let's take the common two-step equation in Algebra. Instead of thinking about numbers, you "chunk up" for each operation...
2x - 9 = 31
The first chunk is either Add or Subtract the constants to eliminate them from the left side.
The second chunk is to divide by the variable coefficient to isolate the variable.
And if we "chunk up", we go more abstract into "two-step equations".
Call To Action
I've known about chunking for years. And my respect for it deepened in a chance meeting a few years ago. I responded to a learning webinar, and through this webinar, I met a few Ivy league testing experts. And I asked them how they crush the ACT and SAT exams. And one of their answers blew me away.
They said, "we use chunking for learning"
They start with the abstract, and then move to details. As they get good with the big picture and details, they take practice tests on this chunk of information. Once they improve on the practice tests, they move up to the next concept, which they chunk, learn, master, and move on.
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Thanks for listening, I'll see you next week.