Study Strategies: Chunking

Chunking is a cognitive process first discussed by psychologist George A. Miller in 1956. It involves organizing information into meaningful patterns or groups, chunking helps improve memory retention, comprehension, and problem-solving skills.

Understanding Chunking:

In Miller’s 1956 paper, ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two’, he discusses his research which suggests the average person can hold approximately seven pieces of information in their working memory (plus or minus two). So, for example, if we’re trying to remember a sequence of digits like a phone number, rather than trying to remember each digit separately: 0 – 7 – 5- 9- 8- 1 – 7 – 9 – 6 – 2 – 1 (11 pieces of information), it’s easier to remember it organised into chunks: 0759 – 817 – 9621 (3 ‘chunks’).

How to Use Chunking:

  1. Identify Key Concepts: Start by identifying the key concepts or ideas you want to learn or understand. These could be vocabulary words, formulas, historical events, or any other information relevant to your study goals.

  2. Break Down Information: Break down the information into smaller, more manageable chunks or categories. Group related concepts together based on similarities or connections.

  3. Or Build Up Information: Rather than trying to remember individual words, try remember the words in phrases which show the way in which they are used e.g.  rather than remember the word ‘depend’, link it with its preposition ‘depend on’ and remember it as a sentence, ‘The baby depends on us for food and security’.
  4. Organize Information: Organize the chunks of information in a way that makes sense to you. This could involve creating outlines, diagrams, or visual representations to illustrate the relationships between different chunks.

  5. Test Yourself: Practice retrieving the information from memory by recalling the chunks of information without looking at your notes or study materials. Focus on one chunk at a time and try to recall as much detail as possible.

  6. Reinforce Learning: Reinforce your learning by reviewing and rehearsing the chunks of information regularly. Space out your practice sessions over time to promote long-term retention.

Benefits of Chunking:

  • Improved Memory Retention: Chunking helps organize information in a way that is easier to remember, leading to improved memory retention and recall.

  • Enhanced Comprehension: Breaking down or building up information into chunks, enhances comprehension and understanding of the material.

  • Faster Learning: Chunking allows you to process information more efficiently by focusing on units of information at a time, leading to faster learning and mastery of the material.

  • Reduced Cognitive Load: Chunking reduces cognitive load by simplifying complex information into manageable chunks, making it easier for the brain to process and retain.

Incorporating Chunking into Your Learning Routine:

To incorporate chunking into your learning routine, consider the following tips:

  • Break down large amounts of information into smaller, more digestible chunks.
  • Use visual aids, such as diagrams, charts, or mind maps, to help organize and visualize the relationships between different chunks of information.
  • Practice active recall by testing yourself on the chunks of information and reviewing them regularly.
  • Be consistent and deliberate in your practice, and don’t overwhelm yourself with too much information at once.