How Chunking Pieces of Information Can Improve Memory

woman holding a shopping list at the grovery store
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Chunking refers to the process of taking individual pieces of information and grouping them into larger units. By grouping each data point into a larger whole, you can improve the amount of information you can remember. Probably the most common example of chunking occurs in phone numbers. For example, a phone number sequence of 4-7-1-1-3-2-4 would be chunked into 471-1324.

Why Chunking Works

By separating disparate individual elements into larger blocks, information becomes easier to retain and recall. This is due mainly to how limited our short-term memory can be. While some research suggests people are capable of storing between five and nine units of information, more recent research posits that short-term memory has a capacity for about four chunks of information.

According to neuroscientist Daniel Bor, author of The Ravenous Brain, chunking represents our ability to "hack" the limits of our memory. Bor argues that our natural tendency to see patterns and make connections is not just important for memory, but that it is also the source of creativity. As Steve Jobs once famously suggested, "Creativity is just connecting things."

Chunking allows people to take smaller bits of information and combine them into more meaningful, and therefore more memorable, wholes.

How to Use Chunking

The next time you are trying to remember items from a list, start by forming them into groups. If you are working with a list of vocabulary words, for example, you might create small groups of words that are similar or related to one another. A shopping list might be broken down into smaller grouping based on whether the items on the list are vegetables, fruits, dairy, or grains.

Chunking can be used as an everyday memory enhancer, but researchers have also found that you can improve your ability to effectively chunk information.

Bor relates the story of one participant in a memory experiment who challenged himself to improve the number of items he could remember. While he was initially able to remember seven items, he increased this to 80 units of information over the course of 20 months. He devoted an hour a day, approximately four days a week to this task.

While you might not be able to devote such intense concentration to improving your memory, there are things that you can do to make the most of your brain's natural tendency to seek patterns and group information.


Challenge yourself to remember a series of items, whether it’s your grocery list, vocabulary words, or important dates. As you become better at remembering larger chunks of information, challenge yourself to remember even more.

Look for Connections

As you are creating groupings, look for ways to relate units to each other in meaningful ways. What do the items share in common? You might group items together because they are each spelled with four letters, because they start with the same letter, or because they share a similar purpose.

Make Associations

Linking groups of items to things from your memory can also help make them more memorable. You might be more likely to remember that you need eggs, baking soda, and chocolate chips if you associate the items with the delicious cookies that your mother used to make.

Incorporate Other Memory Strategies

For example, you might use mnemonics as a way to chunk different units of information. If you are going to the grocery store and need bananas, eggs, nectarines, and tea, you can create a word out of the first letters of each item you need: BENT. Once you remember the keyword, you will then be better able to recall the items represented by each letter of the acronym.

A Word From Verywell

Chunking is not a cure-all for memory problems, but it can be an effective tool in your memory improvement arsenal. By practicing chunking methods regularly and incorporating this technique in your study habits, you might find that you are able to remember more.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.