Remembering Information Without Making Your Brain Explode

By Kendall Geuvens

As a freshman entering college, it is a scary thought to meeting new people, scoping a bigger school, and not to mention, the different and harder information that will be learned. A lot of freshman fears are the studying that goes into class. How much do you study, what do you study, and how do you know that you studied enough? Not every freshman is going to study and be able to remember every bit of information that is in front of them. An important way that you will be able to memorize the information is through understanding how to effectively use short term memory.

What is short-term memory?
Short-term memory is the temporary storage of information. With being a freshman, you will not be able to remember everything that you study, but if you understand short-term memory then it will be easier to find ways to study and remember the information for the tests and assignments in which you will have. For short-term memory, there is considered a “magic seven” (plus or minus two), this means that you are only able to remember up to seven (plus or minus two) items during a period of time. Three important components to investigate for short term memory are chunking, duration, and interference. These three items will be able to help you clearly understand how to effectively use your short-term memory and perform well on tests (1).

What does it mean to chunk? When you are chunking, you are breaking up information into units or chunks to effectively be able to remember the information. The purpose to chunk, is it makes it easier to collect the information and have it stick with your memory rather than something that is a lot longer and more to remember. It is scientifically proven that chunking helps to improve task behavior over time, which means it is easier to remember the information through your time studying. This is important because if you are wanting to get better at your studies this is a way to practice and to get better. In the picture below, it shows an example of why it is easier to chunk. The words on the left are unchunked, while the words on the right are chunked into categories, making it easier for you to remember.

Chunking is also effective when you can chunk it into categories that you are familiar of. So, if you had to remember a long number line you can chunk the numbers into chunks that you are familiar with (2). For example, if the number was 86753096153095, I would be able to chunk that into 8675309 because of the song by Tommy Tutone, then I would chunk 61530 because that is the zip code that I live in, and I would chunk 95 because that was the year, I was born in.

Duration is the process in which the information is continuing to stay in short term memory. If you were to learn something the duration of the unrehearsed information would stay for approximately eighteen seconds. To help the duration, you can rehearse the information which would keep it in short term memory longer. An example to help explain duration is if you were to ask someone for their phone number. They tell you their phone number and leave and since you were unable to rehearse it you then forget it because you only remember it for the approximate eighteen seconds that your short-term memory allows you to hold it. The photo below shows the duration of someone remembering a phone number. 

As stated before, rehearsal practices are what will help your duration become longer. Two ways of rehearsal practices are either to say the information out loud or to mentally repeat it. The picture below shows a person needing to remember their college’s phone number, so they are mentally repeating it so that their duration will be longer (3).

Interference is another item associated with short-term memory. It is an important contributor to recall items. There are two types of interference: retroactive and proactive.
Retroactive is the amount of information that is forgotten over a period of time due to new information. A simpler way to view this is the information that you know now makes it difficult to recall something that occurred previously. An example to retroactive, is when you are learning a new phone number, it is difficult to recall an old number (4).

The other interference is proactive. Proactive is when old memories make it difficult to learn new information. An example of this would be, if you took a Spanish class and then try to take a French class. The words that you learned in Spanish will intrude with the French words that you speak (5).

The pictures below show an example of proactive and retroactive interference to help further understand how the two work.

You can also help interference by rehearsal practices. The more you rehearse the more you will be able to remember.

So, to you freshman that are stressing out about college, here are some ways to help eliminate the anxiousness of college. Allowing yourself to know ways to help your short-memory will help you to succeed in your college courses. Chunking the information, understanding duration of short-term memory, and knowing interferences that learning information has will advance you in your studies, and be the best freshman you can be.


(1) McLeod, S. (2009, January 01). Saul McLeod. Retrieved from

(2) Jones, & Gary. (2012, May 10). Why Chunking Should be Considered as an Explanation for Developmental Change before Short-Term Memory Capacity and Processing Speed. Retrieved from

(3) Cherry, K. (n.d.). How Long Does Short-Term Memory Last? Retrieved from

(4) Ankala, V. (2011). Undergraduate Journal of Mathematical Modeling: One Two. Retroactive Interference and Forgetting, 3(2). Retrieved from

(5) Proactive Interference. (2017, November 17). Retrieved from

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