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The Alphabet Technique Remembering Middle Length Lists

How to Use the Tool:

The Alphabet system is a peg memory technique similar to, but more sophisticated than, the Number/Rhyme system. It is a good method for remembering longer lists of items in a specific order, in such a way that you can tell if items are missing.

It works by associating images representing letters of the alphabet with images you create for the things to be remembered.

When you are creating images for the letters of the alphabet, create images phonetically, so that the sound of the first syllable of the word is the name of the letter. For example, you might represent the letter 'k' with the word 'cake'.

Tony Buzan in his book 'Use Your Perfect Memory' suggests using a system for creating vivid images that you can reconstruct if you forget them. He suggests taking the phonetic letter sound as the first consonant, and then, for the rest of the consonants in the word, using the first letters in alphabetical order that make a memorable word. For example for the letter 'S' (root 'Es') we would first see if any strong images presented themselves when we tried to create a word starting with 'EsA', 'EsB', 'EsC', 'EsD', 'EsE', etc.).

This approach has the advantage of producing an image that you can reconstruct if you forget it. You might, however, judge that this is an unnecessary complication of a relatively simple system. In any case it is best to select the strongest image that comes to mind and stick with it.

One image scheme is shown below:

A - Ace of spades
B - Bee
C - Sea
D - Diesel engine
E - Eel
F - Effluent
G - Jeans
H - H-Bomb, itch
I - Eye
J - Jade
K - Cake
L - Elephant
M - Empty
N - Entrance
O - Oboe
P - Pea
Q - Queue
R - Ark
S - Eskimo
T - Teapot
U - Unicycle
V - Vehicle
W - WC
X - X-Ray
Y - Wire
Z - Zulu

If you find that these images do not attract you or stick in your mind, then change them for something more meaningful to you.

Once you have firmly visualised these images and have linked them to their root letters, you can associate them with information to be remembered.

See the introduction to this chapter to see how you can improve these pictures to help them stay clearly in your mind. Once you have mastered this technique you can multiply the it using the images described in the article on Expanding Memory Systems (see 7.2).


Continuing our mnemonic example of the names of philosophers, we will use the example of remembering a list of modern thinkers:

A - Ace - Freud - a crisp ACE being pulled out of a FRying pan (FRiED)
B - Bee - Chomsky - a BEE stinging a CHiMp and flying off into the SKY
C - Sea - Genette - a GENerator being lifted in a NET out of the SEA
D - Diesel - Derrida - a DaRing RIDer surfing on top of a DIESEL train
E - Eagle - Foucault - Bruce Lee fighting off an attacking EAGLE with kung
F - Effluent- Joyce - environmentalists JOYfully finding a plant by an
G - Jeans - Nietzche - a holey pair of JEANS with a kNEe showing through
H - H-Bomb - Kafka - a grey civil service CAFe being blown up by an H-

Key points:

The Alphabet Technique links the items to be remembered with images of the letters A - Z. This allows you to remember a medium length list in the correct order. By pegging the items to be remembered to letters of the alphabet you know if you have forgotten items, and know the cues to use to trigger their recall.

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