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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, h
ve 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.