Chunking: A Memorization Strategy

a young student browses their laptop

Chunking is a process by which individual pieces of an information set are broken down and then grouped together in a meaningful whole. This strategy can be very helpful for short-term memory recall. Let’s use the example of a phone number to demonstrate:

First, let’s assume that we can easily remember only 4 things at a time. In other words, your working memory has 4 slots.

Example 1: Remembering Phone Numbers

Assuming we understand and all agree that phones numbers are always 10 digits, disregard the dash or space. 10 is more than 4 slots, so using your working memory, it is impossible to remember all digits if you assign one digit to each slot.

The solution to remembering these details in by using chunking. With phones numbers, the concept of area code can help so the first memory slot can save 506 easily, as long as you recognize this area code. This leaves you 3 slots for the rest of the numbers (7 digits). This still leaves more digits than empty memory slots.

Now, let’s apply the concept of chunking. If you live in the local area, you may remember that 450 is a common exchange code for your local area so you may be able to store that in the second working memory slot. If this is the case, then you still have two slots for the last 4 digits.

With this number, you may want to assign the 7 to the third memory slot and the 999 to the last memory slot. The result would be something like this:

506 | 450 | 7 | 999

Chunking phone numbers does require a bit of fundamental learning for it to work properly. For example, if you did not know about the concept of area code and exchange code, you would be required to find alternative ways to chunk information together. These fundamental concepts are actually quite useful for working effectively with this type of information. Using this approach can help you learn all kinds of things, including digital literacy.

Example 2: Saving Documents

For another example, let’s say you want to learn how to save a word file to PDF.

Here are the basic steps for accomplishing this:

  1. Click File
  2. Click Save As
  3. Select Location
  4. Under the save drop-down menu, change to PDF
  5. Choose a name
  6. Press Save.

The first memory slot could save steps 1, 2 and 3. Saving files is something that is done quite often, and those first three steps are typically the same, so chunking the first three actions together is a great idea.

The second slot could include the change as file type. This is less common so maybe that is the only thing you can save in this memory slot. This will somewhat depend on the user’s comfort level with the application in question.

The third slot could group the last two steps together. These two steps are typically done together anyways, so they could easily be grouped as one.

The result would look something like this:

Slot 1:

Click File
Click Save As
Select Location

Slot 2:

Change Save as type to PDF

Slot 3:

Give it a recognizable name
Press Save

Slot 4:


This example leaves you a free working memory slot that is not required. The reality is that you will probably use all working memory slots, but this helps demonstrate the concept.

The great thing about this strategy is that whatever information is retained via chunking will have a better chance of being saved in your long-term memory, especially if the information is repeated.

This post originally appeared on the AT Help Desk website.

Tags: AT HelpDesk, Atlantic Regional Office, New Brunswick

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