Chunking

Whenever I deliver an exam technique or memory course I always come away feeling I have learned something, although I do of course hope it was not just me!

Last week was no exception; it was the memory technique course. Now I have written in the past about memory techniques, but last week one specific topic stood out, chunking.

One of the problems with learning any subject is that often you are faced with such large volumes of information it seems impossible to learn. This is not dissimilar to the position that memory champions find themselves, for example one of the tasks they have to undertake is to memorise a pack of cards.

How long would it take you, 30 minutes, 2 hours, maybe it’s not possible?

Well it is possible and you can do it in 24.97 seconds, don’t believe me, then watch this video.

So how is it done?

Well the first thing to say is it takes practice; secondly it uses some of the principles of memory, chunking, visualisation, and association. You break the task down into a series of smaller tasks, e.g. remember each separate card (chunking) then create a unique image of each card and finally put the events into a structure you are already familiar with, let’s say your journey to work (association).

Listen Professor Winston and Andi Bell world memory champion in 2002 explain more.

Chunking in a bit more detail

I have promoted the benefits of visulisation in previous blogs so let’s focus on chunking.

Look at these letters for 30 seconds

BAADHLWWFCBBACCA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

Now look at these letters

ACCA CBB WWF DHL BAA

Look away from the screen and write down as many as you can.

You should find that you did better at the second list, one because some of them are already familiar to you BAA – British Airways, but most importantly because they were broken down into smaller chunks.

It works for study as well

Chunking is not only a useful memory technique but a great way to study. When faced with a new subject, start by breaking it down into smaller chunks then priorities those chunks as to which is the most important. This would normally be the most examinable. You then focus on that chunk, don’t worry about all the other topics; just concentrate on that one, and when you have done that move onto the next etc.

And finally

The guy that broke the world record is Ben Pridmore from Derby in the UK

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4 thoughts on “Chunking

  1. Pingback: Kaplan Blog  » Thinking in boxes

  2. Pingback: Thinking in box’s – Cracking case study | Pedleysmiths's Blog

  3. Thanks Stuart that’s interesting. I was wondering if this technique only achieves surface learning – great for exams, maybe – or if there’s a way to use it to enhance deep learning?

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    • Thanks Nick good question. Memory is normally split into short and long term rather than deep and surface. To get information from short to long term memory, repetition is probably the most effective technique. But is that deep learning or simply a technique to embed a memory?
      The memory champion is using his long term memory to get his journey into his head and short term memory to place each individual card into a location on that journey.
      So he will be able to recall the journey latter, but is that deep learning! Yet unlikely to be able to recall the individual cards.

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