What is chunking?
‘Chunking’ refers to organizing or grouping separate pieces of information together. When information is ‘chunked’ into groups, you can remember the information easier by remembering the groups as opposed to each piece of information separately. The types of groups can also act as a cue to help you remember what is in each group.
How to chunk information
There are several ways to chunk information. Chunking techniques include grouping, finding patterns, and organizing. The technique you use to chunk will depend on the information you are chunking. Sometimes more than one technique will be possible but with some practice and insight it will be possible to determine which technique will work best for you.
You can organize information into groups arbitrarily. For example if you have to remember a 10 digit number you can group it into pairs of numbers and remember 5 two digit numbers.
Another way to chunk information is by finding patterns in the information. When you find a pattern in information you just need to remember the pattern rather than a list of separate pieces of information. For example, if you have to remember the letter sequence ADGJMPSVY you may notice that these letters are just every third letter of the alphabet. So instead of remembering each individual letter, you can just remember the pattern used to find these letters.
Another chunking technique involves organizing the information based on its meaning. For example, let’s say you have to memorize the age of everyone in a group of people. You can chunk the information by organizing people by their age, then, for each age group, remember the people that belong to that group. You can find more information about this strategy in the Organization section.
Chunking and short term memory
Chunking information can also help overcome some of the limitations of short term memory. We can generally only have 7 plus or minus 2 things in our short term memory at a time. However, by chunking information we can remember more. For example, if you have to commit a list of 11 numbers to your short term memory you likely won’t be able to. However, by grouping the numbers into chunks, you will greatly increase your chances of doing it. Imagine you have to remember the following 11 digits: 18425558756. You can break these numbers into chunks, such as: 1-842-555-8756. You will notice that this is just a long distance phone number. When it is represented as such it becomes easier to remember.
For more information on chunking, memorizing numbers, or studying in general, please take a look at my review of The Study Method
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