Reliable Memory Technique for Mastering the Periodic Table

Any chemistry student would be happy to have a reliable memory technique for mastering the periodic table. It doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Wouldn’t you be thrilled to learn the periodic table in one afternoon? It can and has been done. Ed Cooke, a Grandmaster of Memory, used the method of loci (also known as the memory palace or journey method) to teach the table to a British TV presenter and actor.

Reliable Memory Technique for Mastering the Periodic Table

reliable memory technique for mastering the periodic table

How do you find a reliable memory technique for mastering the periodic table?

Here’s how he did it.

First we went, plus BBC film crew to Battersea Zoo. We needed to be in an interesting space, because we were going to use the space as a mental receptacle to contain all of the elements. People intuitively know the sequence of the various components of a familiar space: and we were going to use the ancient “method of Loci” to borrow that spatial structure and lend it to the elements themselves.

At the zoo, we divided up the elements into 12 groups of ten, and learned the order of those twelve spaces. The monkey-enclosure was going to be where we stored the memories for numbers 20-29. The children’s playground was where we would store number 100-109, and betwixt and between the other ten groups of ten elements among turtles and otters and butterflies and picnic areas and so on.

By fixing groups of ten to particular locations, Dallas was able to get an overview of the whole. The sixties, he knew, automatically were to be found among Llamas; the forties among snakes. And so on.

So if I were later to ask him what the 45th element of the periodic table was, he’d know to go directly to the snake house in his imagination.

But how did we then store the elements in that location? Well, for each element, we found an image. The brain loves images, and they can of course easily be imagined in location.

Some of the images were just the expression of an association that Dallas already had with the element. Mercury, he knew, was in thermometers; Radium, he knew, was extremely bad for your health.

For all the others, though, we had to imbue what was often an element neither of us had ever heard of or pronounced, and find an image that would not only help remember the internal structure of the word, but also make it possible to recall it effortlessly in context.

Here is the entire article.

When I was studying chemistry, I would have been delighted to have such a reliable memory technique for mastering the periodic table. By the way, you don’t have to go to the zoo to do it. Just use your house or any other place that you are familiar with.

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