How Chunking Pieces of Information Can Improve Memory

Work with your brain, not against it

woman holding a shopping list at the grovery store
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Chunking is a method of facilitating short-term memory by grouping individual pieces of information into larger, more familiar (and therefore, more easily remembered) groups.

If you're looking to improve your memory or remember several important things, try chunking. Grouping small bits of information into a whole leverages the brain's natural tendency to recall large chunks better than it does those bits. This article discusses how chunking works, along with examples, uses, and techniques.

How Chunking Works

Separating disparate individual elements into larger blocks makes them easier to recall. This is mainly because of 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."

Examples of Chunking

You're probably already using chunking in your daily life. For example, when you leave the house, you might think of the group of items you need to bring--phone, wallet, keys, jacket--and thinking of them together helps you remember each. Entities such as businesses and institutions use chunking to help organize vast amounts of data, too.

More examples include:

  • Bank account numbers. The numbers on your checks are chunked into groups--more than likely, the check, routing, and account numbers.
  • Credit card numbers. They're always shown in groups of four (e.g., 5555 5555 5555 5555).
  • Phone numbers. A phone number sequence of 8-8-8-5-5-5-1-2-3-4 is chunked into 888-555-1234.
  • Paired items. Knife and fork, earrings and necklace, phone and charger--if you remember one, you're likely to remember the other.
  • Acronyms, acrostics, and mnemonics. If you use a sentence or a set of letters to remember something, you're chunking. For example, you might use "homes" to remember the names of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan etc.) or "My very educated mother just sent us nine pizzas" for the names of the planets.
Micro close up of credit card numbers and credit card chip



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 a 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. He was initially able to remember seven items, but 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.

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

Practice Chunking

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.

butterscotch cookie ingredients

The Spruce Eats / Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey, Prop Stylist: Josh Hoggle

Combine Other Memory Strategies With Chunking

You might use mnemonics, acronyms, acrostics, and other strategies as ways to chunk different units of information-whatever works best for you. For example, if you're 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.

2 Sources
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.
  1. Thalmann M, Souza AS, Oberauer K. How does chunking help working memory? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 2019;45(1):37-55. doi:10.1037/xlm0000578

  2. Bor D. The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning. Basic Books; 2012. ISBN-10:046502047X

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."