2.4 • Avoiding Confusion
One thing to be careful about when using peg words is this: Because you’re using the same words when memorizing different things, there is the potential for confusion. For example, if you memorize a list of countries and capitals on peg words as in the last example, then you memorize the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution on the same pegs, you might, given a peg, want to recall a country and get an Amendment instead. Oops! How can you avoid this?
It actually depends… some people may be able to have several things on the same peg with no difficulty, while others may get confused very quickly. This is where practice comes in… by practicing memorizing things, you learn what works and what doesn’t. But to save you some trouble and to help you benefit from my own experiences, here are some suggestions:
If you are memorizing lists for short-term memory, such as shopping lists, then you don’t have to do anything special. By the time you memorize your next list, you don’t care if you’ve forgotten the first one.
If you are memorizing lists for medium-term memory, such as a list of things to do for the week, or an upcoming football schedule, try using different sets of pegs. No, you don’t have to memorize several hundred new peg words… most of the time, you only need about 10 anyway. So you can use the normal 1-10 on the first thing you’re memorizing, then you can use 11-20 on the next thing. You will, of course, have no problem realizing that 11 really means 1, 12 really means 2, etc. (This is why it is handy to have 100 peg words instead of 10!)
Memorizing lists permanently requires the most planning. As an example, I’ve memorized both countries/capitals and area codes using the same peg words. But this was done several months apart, so it turns out that my brain can actually keep the two things separate. Also, since there are over 200 countries but only 110 peg words, I had to re-use peg words again. But instead of linking a new country to a peg words, I linked it to another country. This makes recall slower, because I have to think of the intermediate country to get to the desired country, but it is encoded more efficiently and reduces confusion. In the next section, I’ll give a little bit more detail on this. But one last comment: If I am recalling countries constantly, eventually I’ll think of the country and capital without having to remember the peg word or mental pictures. When this happens (and it already is beginning to)… great! Not only does this increase the speed of recall, but it allows you to “recycle” the peg words and other pictures into something new that you need to memorize.
Long-term, super-fast lists
This is somewhat off the subject, but I mention this because someone sent me Email asking for advice with memorizing the multiplication table. This is actually a little different than the case above because not only is a list (of multiplication equations) memorized permanently, it is essential that the items are recalled very fast. Normally we only care if we remember the items at all… we don’t care if it takes a few seconds. But it would take forever to do math if we couldn’t recall equations like “6 x 9 = 54” very quickly. So in this special case we forget peg words and just memorize by brute force… by saying “6 x 9 = 54” over and over again to yourself. This is not easy! It will take a lot longer than the other methods given in these web pages. But in this case we have no choice. Fortunately, only a few things have to be memorized this way… and, fortunately for you, you now have some memory techniques that will help you avoid memorizing everything the slow, difficult way!
One last suggestion
Do not use the peg word system when not necessary. For example, if I want to memorize a phone number, always will want to recall the number given a person’s name, but never the other way around. In this case, there is no need to use specific peg words. The number 372-6624 can be converted to “ma coin Josh Nero” or “Macon ash China row” or a number of other things… you are free to choose words/pictures you haven’t used before. If you have a short list, you could use the link system rather than pegs. The peg words would be saved for more complicated things, like long lists or lists in which the number is an important piece of information. Basically, you use whatever memory technique works the best for what you are trying to memorize (this is why it is helpful to learn a bunch of different techniques).