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Rules For Using The Memory

Much careful and fruitful experimentation in the field of memory has
taken place in recent years. The scientists are now able to give us
certain simple rules which we can employ in using our memories, even if
we lack the time or opportunity to follow all their technical

WHOLES VERSUS PARTS.--Probably most people in setting to work to commit
to memory a poem, oration, or other such material, have a tendency to
learn it first by stanzas or sections and then put the parts together to
form the whole. Many tests, however, have shown this to be a less
effective method than to go over the whole poem or oration time after
time, finally giving special attention to any particularly difficult
places. The only exception to this rule would seem to be in the case of
very long productions, which may be broken up into sections of
reasonable length. The method of committing by wholes instead of parts
not only economizes time and effort in the learning, but also gives a
better sense of unity and meaning to the matter memorized.

RATE OF FORGETTING.--The rate of forgetting is found to be very much
more rapid immediately following the learning than after a longer time
has elapsed. This is to say that of what one is going to forget of
matter committed to memory approximately one-half will fall away within
the first twenty-four hours and three-fourths within the first three
days. Since it is always economy to fix afresh matter that is fading out
before it has been wholly forgotten, it will manifestly pay to review
important memory material within the first day or two after it has once
been memorized.

DIVIDED PRACTICE.--If to commit a certain piece of material we must go
over it, say, ten different times, the results are found to be much
better when the entire number of repetitions are not had in immediate
succession, but with reasonable intervals between. This is due, no
doubt, to the well-known fact that associations tend to take form and
grow more secure even after we have ceased to think specifically of the
matter in hand. The intervals allow time for the associations to form
their connections. It is in this sense that James says we learn to swim
during the winter and to skate during the summer.

FORCING THE MEMORY TO ACT.--In committing matter by reading it, the
memory should be forced into activity just as fast as it is able to
carry part of the material. If, after reading a poem over once, parts of
it can be repeated without reference to the text, the memory should be
compelled to reproduce these parts. So with all other material.
Re-reading should be applied only at such points as the memory has not
yet grasped.

NOT A MEMORY, BUT MEMORIES.--Professor James has emphasized the fact,
which has often been demonstrated by experimental tests, that we do not
possess a memory, but a collection of memories. Our memory may be very
good in one line and poor in another. Nor can we train our memory in
the sense of practicing it in one line and having the improvement extend
equally to other lines. Committing poetry may have little or no effect
in strengthening the memory for historical or scientific data. In
general, the memory must be trained in the specific lines in which it is
to excel. General training will not serve except as it may lead to
better modes of learning what is to be memorized.

Next: What Constitutes A Good Memory

Previous: Laws Underlying Memory

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