Memory Assignment

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Memory Assignment

Study More Efficiently: A How to Guide

Elaborative Rehearsal



Have you ever wondered why there are seemingly meaningless bits of information burned into your mind, such as the tune to the Stanly Steamers commercial that you saw four months ago, yet you cannot remember what level of the parking garage you parked on only fifteen minutes ago? Well, the process of encoding information into your long-term memory largely depends on the extent to which you have linked items or related items to things that you already know, in what ways the items are organized for remembrance, and whether or not the information is encoded in the same manner that it will need to be retrieved (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012). The following will further explain how the three principles of Elaborative Rehearsal, Mnemonic Devices, and Encoding Specificity can be used to improve your memory retention and retrieval.

Most people are already very familiar with the process of maintenance rehearsal, or repeating something over and over again until it is accessible in memory, but only for a short period of time (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.235). The most common example of maintenance rehearsal is cramming for an exam the night before. While you’ll probably remember enough of the information to pass your exam, you will certainly forget most of the material within a few days. What if I told you that there exists a more efficient way to rehearse information, which will allow you to retain more information for a longer duration. Get your pens out, because this might come in handy for those cumulative finals. Elaborative rehearsal is the process of making connections between the items being learned and things that one already knows or has experienced, thus making them more memorable (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.235). Elaborative rehearsal can also be achieved by making connections between the different items being learned, again making them more easily stored in long-term memory (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.235). This principle can be demonstrated when trying to remember a phone number. For instance, say someone gives you the number 365-4891. Using elaborative rehearsal you would link a pair or group of these numbers to something that you already know, such as there being 365 days in a year. Maybe your dad is 48 years old and you were born in ’91. Voila! You have used elaborative rehearsal to establish a meaningful and memorable connection to this phone number. Carik and Tulving (1972) conducted a study to investigate how different levels of processing affect memory recall (p.268). In this study, participants were shown sixty individual words, in which they had to answer a structural/visual, phonemic/auditory, or semantic processing question for each (Carik & Tulving, 1972, p.272). Following this, participants were given a long list of 180 words, and asked to pick out the original sixty words (Carik & Tulving, 1972, p.287). The results indicated that participants were better able to recall words that had been semantically processed, versus visually or phonemically processed (Carik & Tulving, 1972, p.290). Because most long-term memory is semantically encoded and semantic processing requires elaborative rehearsal, elaborative rehearsal is a superior studying principle that yields more accurate recall (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.231).

The encoding specificity principle states that the method in which information is encoded effects how, and to what degree, it is then retrieved (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.265). Simply stated, information is retrieved more easily when it is encoded in the same method, and on the same level of processing, that it will be retrieved later. For instance, let’s say you have a vocabulary test coming up in a few days and the teacher is going to read aloud the definitions to the class and you will be required to write the word that matches the definition on a blank paper. Since your test is both auditory and semantic, you will have better retrieval if you both write and read aloud the definitions to yourself when studying. Because your test will require you to process the definitions you are hearing without ever seeing them, you should practice by allowing yourself to hear the definitions beforehand. You can quiz yourself by recording yourself reading aloud the definitions or having a family member or friend read them to you. Watkins and Tulving performed an experiment in 1975 evaluate the correlation between encoding and retrieval methods (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.265). In doing so they paired twenty-four response words with stimulus words, and asked participants to associate each stimulus and response word with one another. After being given an irrelevant task, they were then given a recognition test with several distractors in it and told to circle the words from the initial list (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.265). The participants were able to recall sixty percent of the words correctly; however, after being prompted with the twenty-four stimulus words and asked to recall the response words, the participants were then able to recall seventy-three percent of the words correctly (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.265). This study concluded that the participants’ ability to recall the words based upon recall (using the stimulus word as a cue) was much better than their recognition of the words on their own (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.265). Being that the words were learned in association to one another, the stimulus word was more effective at retrieving the word than seeing the word itself (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.265). This experiment goes to show that the way information is encoded into our long-term memory has a definite effect on our ability to retrieve that information later.


Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices are conscious techniques that aid in remembering long a list of words, such as grocery lists, by making a deeper meaning or connection to the words (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.239). The most frequently used mnemonic devices are music/songs, categorical clustering, interactive images, acronyms, acrostics, and keyword systems (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.238). There are also more complicated mnemonic devices, such as method of loci and the pegword system (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.239). Using music as a mnemonic device is done by applying a list to a familiar tune, such as the use of the ABC song to remember alphabetical order. Categorical clustering is the process of breaking down the components of a list into categories so that you have fewer things to remember, the categories will then act as a stimulus or cue to remind you of the items within it. An example of categorical clustering would be dividing the fifty states by geographic region: the West, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast. The technique of interactive imagery involves combining images of all of the items in a given list. For example, say your husband calls you on your way home from work and asks you to pick up some milk, Band-Aids, and some diapers for the baby. Using interactive imagery, you would combine mental images of these three objects, such as a gallon of milk wearing a diaper with a Band-Aid on its handle. The concept of acronyms is more well-known, or the act of taking the first letter of each word in a list to create a new word or expression. In this instance each letter acts as a stimulus for a word on the list. A common example of an acronym is “PEMDAS,” where each letter stands for step in the order of operations: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. Acrostics are similar to acronyms; however, each word on the list is represented by another word that shares the same onset and all of these words make up a logical sentence. The acrostic, “King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti” is used to aid in remembrance of the levels of classification in biology: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species.The keyword system is used when encountering an unfamiliar word that shares part of its structure with a word that you already know. You may be unfamiliar with the word radius during your first week in geometry and confuse it with the diameter; however, picturing a small radish that extends only from the edge to the center of a circle can help you remember that a radius is only half of the length of a circle. The Method of Loci technique involves imagining a location or route with landmarks that you are very familiar with, and assigning each item on a list to a specific landmark. Lastly, the pegword system is the act of combining images from previously memorized lists with lists you are currently trying to memorize in order to recall the information. The effectiveness of mnemonic devices in elevating memory retention and retrieval is best supported by cases in which people with average memory capabilities have utilized and mastered one or more mnemonic device and drastically increased their memory abilities (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.214). Of these mnemonists, the most profound have been S.F. and V.P. V.P. mnemonic strategy was transferring numbers into dates, and then remembering what he had done on that particular day (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.215). S.F. on the other hand was able to remember large lists of numbers by segmenting them into pieces and using his many years’ experience as a runner to convert these segments into running times for different races (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.215). After two years and 200 sessions, he had increased his memory from seven items to an impressive average of 80 digits (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p.215).


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