What Is The Chunking Memory Strategy?
Chunking is a way to help us remember large pieces of information easily by grouping them into “chunks.” You can recall these chunks of data by retaining a single word or phrase. People widely use this technique to enhance their short-term memory.
Usually, the human brain can only keep around 7 pieces of information in short-term memory. This is known as Miller’s Magic Number.
But using chunking, we can significantly increase this number.
In this article, we’ll tell you more about chunking, why it works, and examples of where chunking is used. Lastly, we’ll teach you how you can practice chunking on your own to boost your memory!
What is chunking?
As per the APA Dictionary of Psychology, chunking is the ability of our brain to divide considerable information into small, easily-recallable chunks. Each chunk can hold multiple pieces of related information that we want to remember.
The information contained in each chunk could be anything such as words, numbers, pictures, etc. However, the contents of one chunk vary significantly from another chunk.
The best way to understand chunking is through an example.
Consider the following string of words and give yourself 5 seconds to remember them:
C F K N E H Z Y X M B I C B A T A C
Unless you have a photographic memory (you probably wouldn’t be here if you did), you likely find it very hard to recall all of the letters.
Now, let’s use chunking!
Rearrange the letters into meaningful information.
KFC HEN XYZ IBM ABC CAT
Instead of 18 letters, you only need to remember 6 different chunks.
You can try further grouping these chunks together to memorize them better.
- Animals: HEN & CAT
- Organizations: KFC & IBM
- Alphabets: ABC & XYZ
As you can see, chunking helped you bring down an 18-letter string of random alphabets to just 3 different groups.
Isn’t that amazing?
This grouping of related information allows us to recall them using a single word or phrase.
If you have some expertise with technology, you can consider chunking as a compression algorithm.
Computers can zip multiple files into a single file. Similarly, chunking allows us to compress many pieces of information into one single piece.
How does chunking improve memory?
Chunking improves your memory by replacing pieces of information with related memorable groups. This allows you to hold many different GROUPS OF THINGS in your short-term memory.
Remember Miller’s Magic Number? It was 7 plus or minus 2; a research-driven concept put forward by Miller in 1956.
He discovered most humans could only store between 5 – 9 pieces of information in their short-term memories.
Using chunking, you don’t just remember 5-9 individual bits of information. Instead, you can remember 5-9 groups of data, each group containing many related pieces of information.
Examples of chunking
Research has shown that chunking helps boost learning speed and retention in many areas:
- Learning about new locations.
- Understanding, reading, and learning music theory.
- Learning new words and alphabets.
- Memorizing long strings made up of numbers – e.g., phone numbers
Scientists believe that our brain does some unconscious chunking for us.
It merges sights and sounds into chunks to perceive the world all around us. This is believed to help process the information faster.
Experienced chess players often use chunking. They group the positions of pieces into chunks. This helps them identify what’s happening quickly instead of analyzing each piece individually.
Remembering phone numbers
The most common example of using chunking is remembering a phone number by grouping digits in two 3- and a 4-digit group.
You have likely been practicing chunking for a long time without even realizing it. Imagine that you have the following phone number: 345-878-5118. Take 10 seconds to memorize it.
You grouped the numbers in 3, 3, and 4 and memorized them. But what if I gave you this number to remember: 3-4587851-18?
It probably took you a good second before you realized they are the same number. Do you see how powerful chunking is?
Just by grouping, something as complicated as a 10-digit string becomes easily etched into your brain. However, change the grouping, and you will have difficulty identifying the information you already know.
As a bit of an experiment, recall your phone number the way you usually remember it. Now, rearrange the groups, and you will realize something very strange.
Instinctively, that very same number starts feeling very unfamiliar, doesn’t it?
Using first letters (acronyms)
When we have to remember a lot of words in a list, we often make a new word/phrase using the first letter of each word.
You have probably already used it before without even knowing that it is an example of using the chunking technique.
For instance, let’s imagine you have to learn the names of each of the Great Lakes of North America. There are five lakes:
When we put the first letter of each word together, it forms an acronym: HOMES.
This is just a single word, and it is much easier to recall compared to each of the five names individually.
What’s even better is that every single letter of the word “HOMES” gives you a slight hint of each of the 5 items of information associated with it.
Even if one name slips out of your mind, you’ll have a hint about how it starts.
Making up phrases using first letters
In this case, you don’t just use the first letter but also make a new word from said letter. It is the more advanced form of the example given above.
An example will help explain it better.
Instead of just using HOMES, you can assign new words for each of the first letters to make an easily recallable phrase.
HOMES could become, for instance, Hand Over Mythical Elastic Shoe.
Now you may not see its usability against an elementary word like HOMES. But it helps some people remember things better.
This is a little more difficult to do than acronyms, but you can try this free online tool if you need help making your own phrases.
Creating chunks in lists using similar items
A classic example of where we might need to remember many different items: lists.
We often scan through a list and identify patterns to make relevant groups of items.
Let’s imagine you have to go and get groceries.
Your list is as follows:
- Chicken breast
It seems a little complicated to remember, right? How about we create relevant chunks.
Let’s say you need these groceries for making burritos and some pancakes. You might not remember the exact ingredients for each, but you can still sort out the list to a great degree.
Your mind would instantly sort the list out a little bit like the following:
While the list is now easier to remember, you can try narrowing it down even further using the chunking examples described above.
Can you think of any cool acronyms or phrases for remembering the ingredients?
This example can extend to all kinds of lists.
Often when there are numbers involved, people use further groupings like ascending/descending order, even or odd numbers, prime numbers, etc.
How to use the chunking memory strategy
Chunking is a handy technique to help boost your memory, and you can do it in just 4 easy steps:
Whenever you have to remember multiple pieces of information, try chunking.
If you want to be even more proactive, try challenging your brain. Give yourself different lists, numbers, names, places, etc. Try to make chunks out of them and then recall them using chunking.
The more you practice, the better you will get at chunking and remembering more information.
2. Look for any connection between different items
Try to find out whether you can connect two or more things in any way.
What could the items possibly have in common?
It could be something very obvious (e.g., their shape) or something not that apparent to everyone (e.g., subtle scientific/technical differences).
Common ways to find similarities could be:
- Words that start with the same alphabet.
- Dates/numbers that begin with the same first (two) digits
- Objects that have the same color/shape
Another instrumental technique here could be using mathematics, especially when dealing with numbers.
For instance, you could have a long list of historically important dates to remember.
Let’s assume some of the dates are as follows:
1567, 1558, 1552, 1553, 1559
On your first look, you can tell that the first thing you should do is arrange them in ascending order: 1552, 1553, 1558, 1559, 1567.
However, if you recall these dates as is, you would have to memorize at least 10 digits (only the last two digits are relevant; the year is constant at 1500).
But, if you calculate the difference between the dates, it boils that down to 1 single digit.
1553-1552 = +1
1558-1553 = +5
1559-1558 = +1
1567-1559 = +8
Now, all you need to remember is 1552 and 1, 5, 1, 8.
When you add 1 to 1552, it becomes 1553. After that, you add 5 to 1553, and it becomes 1558, and so on.
1552 + 1 = 1553
1553 + 5 = 1558
1558 + 1 = 1559
1559 + 8 = 1567
Use whatever works for you.
3. Make informative groups
Once you have found connected pieces, group them.
This group will have a particular theme to it that will help you remember it.
For instance, you want to buy groceries, and you remember that one of the chunks is identified by the color red and the other by the color green.
This will instantly help you remember all the red-colored things you could want: apples, peppers, meat, Coca-Cola, etc.
And all the green-colored groceries you should get: cucumbers, lettuce, spring onions, etc.
4. Use different grouping techniques
Always try to use as many grouping techniques as possible. This helps compound the amount of information you can retrieve from each chunk.
Do you remember the example at the start of this article?
We showed that you could memorize that string using chunking by converting it into 6 different words:
KFC HEN XYZ IBM ABC CAT
However, we further grouped each of these words into three categories:
- Animals: HEN & CAT
- Organizations: KFC & IBM
- Alphabets: ABC & XYZ
By compressing our chunks into bigger “super chunks” we can easily access more information in a shorter time.
Let’s end this article with a brief recap of chunking and how you can use it.
Chunking is a strategy that can enhance short-term memory by grouping related bits of information together.
While our brains can usually only hold between 5 – 9 pieces of information at a time, chunking can significantly increase that number.
To use chunking (and improve it), you should Practice it as much as you can. Challenge yourself using different lists, numbers, dates, names, etc.
When you have a set of information, try to find Patterns of Associations. Then Group Similar items.
Now, you just need to recall the group to remember all the items.
You can also use acronyms or phrases to remember things. As a cheeky little trick, we have created a phrase to help you remember how to use chunking in this very section.
PC PA GS becomes PC PAGeS– you can always add your own letters to make it make more sense.
Now PC pages is a relatively more straightforward term to remember and tells you all you need to do to chunk information.
Boosting your memory even further
If you feel chunking helps enhance your memory, you will love this fantastic course.
In just 90 minutes, it helps you figure out ways to boost your memory as much as you would like.
Memory training is very real and potent. Through this course, you can maximize your memory and make the most of your newly-learned chunking techniques!