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Summary: Memory Improvement

Humans have been interested in improving their memories for a long time, and there are many methods. Mnemonic systems are techniques to enhance retrieval from memory. One type is natural language mediation: the process of using language (sentences, words, rhymes, little sayings) to aid memory. An example is the first-letter mnemonic, in which a series of items is remembered in order by noting their first letters and using those first letters to form an easily remembered sentence.

The method of loci was a mnemonic technique used by Roman orators. It involves visualizing items in familiar locations of a room, house, or street with which one is very familiar. Later, by mentally reviewing these same locations, one retrieves a memory of the item associated with each location. The method of loci relies upon interactive imagery: the intertwining of two or more images into a single whole.

Experiments show interactive imagery is more important than bizarreness of images, in improving memory. In TV ads as well, unitization (making things into a unit) helps insure that the desired information is remembered. A good ad combines the name of the product or manufacturer with a catchy image or jingle, forming an integrated whole.

The spacing effect implies that repeated study sessions are more effective when spaced farther apart. The most helpful repetitions are those that occur when material is almost forgotten.

The most logical way to study any material is to match the studying to the requirements of the test. This is called task-appropriate processing. It implies, for example, that the best way to prepare for an essay test is to practice writing essays.

Effort put toward memory does not always help. Students who did not know they would be tested were asked to imagine which items they could use on a deserted island. They remembered more than a group that knew it would be tested and tried to memorize the list of items. An organizing framework was more powerful than the effort to memorize. Students can help create their own organizing frameworks by generating cue sheets that condense many crucial facts into a tightly knit summary.

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