Our brains will only retain information if we "feed it in" in a certain way. Most people cannot remember things if they try to soak in too much at one time. In 1956, a psychologist named George A. Miller came up with the concept that our brains can’t handle memorizing things in chunks bigger than seven to nine items.
This didn’t mean we humans couldn’t remember lists longer than seven items long; it simply meant that in order to remember lists, we should break them down into chunks. Once we’ve memorized items in short lists, our brains are able to put the chunks of lists together for one big long list. In fact, the method of memorizing is called chunking.
For this reason, it is necessary to break down the list of presidents and memorize the names in chunks of up to nine.
Begin memorizing by remembering this list of the first eight presidents. To remember any group of presidents, you might want to employ a mnemonic device, such as a little silly statement that helps you remember the first letters of each name. For this exercise, we’re going to use a silly story made of silly sentences.
- George Washington
- John Adams
- Thomas Jefferson
- James Madison
- James Monroe
- John Quincy Adams
- Andrew Jackson
- Martin Van Buren
One silly sentence to help you remember this sequence is:
Wilma and John made merry and just vanished.
Keep repeating the list in your head and write it down a few times. Repeat this until you can write the entire list easily by memory.