The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Here's a simple memory test: Read the ten-digit number below, then close your eyes and try to recite it from memory.


How did you do? Most people find this task very hard. In fact, most people can only recite back about seven numbers, which is one reason that local phone numbers have seven digits.

Now try the same thing with this number:


Easy, right? This number also contains ten digits-but those digits are broken into recognizable, meaningful "chunks": three numbers in series (123); a type of airplane (747); and the date of the American Declaration of Independence (1776). Thus, there are only three things to remember, instead of ten.

Chunking works well for other purposes, too. Let's say you have to buy ten things at the grocery store: milk, cereal, oranges, eggs, butter, bread, rice, grapes, rolls, apples.

That's a lot to remember off the top of your head. But the same information can be "chunked":

  • 3 dairy (milk, eggs, butter)
  • 4 grains (cereal, bread, rice, rolls)
  • 3 fruits (oranges, grapes, apples)

This may be easier to remember. Next time you have to remember a list of information, see if there is a way the information can be "chunked" so you have fewer items to store-and a better chance of remembering them.