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The Art of Ham Cram Memorization
Memorization receives a very bad rap in our contemporary society. Most people have received admonishment from an educator along the lines of, "Don't memorize this material, learn it." The downside of these rants is that memorization has been tagged with a pejorative connotation. The negative aspect of all of this is people shun memory techniques that would enhance their ability to learn quickly and effectively. What the pundits ignore is that all learning is based upon memory. Without memorization there is no learning. Think about this, what metric do we use to determine if we have prepared well for a test? When naming a topic can we regurgitate the the material on demand. We get the same answer whether asking if we learned or memorized the material. Going back to per-algebra if two things are equal to the same thing they are equal to each other.
Memorization's Bad Rap
In many ways the skill of memory recall has largely been a methodology for people in the entertainment business and others engaged in pallor tricks. We are all impressed when we see an entertainer on TV have two hundred, or more, people in the audience stand and tell the host their name and sit down. He then ask all to stand again and one by one tells them their name. It's not a trick but a memory recall technique that all of us can master.
The Memorization Handbook for Ham Cram Study
Harry Lorayne and Gerry Lucas,in their wonderful book "The Memory Book" state that, “all memory, whether trained or untrained is based on association.” Memory training is nothing more than learning to make an association between something we don't know and something else we do know. Almost all of us learned the little ditty, “In fourteen hundred and ninety two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” We therefore have no problem remember the epic year of Columbus' first voyage. If you discover your Social Security number is the same as my phone number, you will never forget my phone number. The challenge is learning to make associations between things we know and things we're trying to learn. We don't see pictures in our mind's eye of textual and abstract facts, so we have to develop the skill to visualize abstract things in our mind.
Using Visualation for Your Ham Cram Studies
A great example of visualization took place in a junior high school math class on graphing being taught by my wife Pat W2PKV. Students always have a difficult time sorting out the difference between the X and Y axis on a two-dimensional graph. When a group of adults, who had graphing at some point in their previous schooling, were asked which is the X axis and which is the Y axis about 50% get it right which suggest that they all guessed since there is a 50% chance of guessing correctly. As they used to say at one time on TV program "Mission Impossible", "Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to learn 'associations' to help you visualize abstract and textual concepts. A great example of association might help to illustrate the concept.
One day a young lady, who was not an especially good math student, proclaimed, :It's easy Dr. Vogel." She went on to say she thinks of a yo-yo and an xylophone. The yo-yo goes up and down therefor the vertical movement corresponds to the Y axis. An xylophone is played going back an forth, horizontal movement corresponds to the X axis. This is one of the best visualization of an abstraction I have ever encountered. Having heard this you will never again fail to delineate the difference between a graph's X and Y axis, even years from now.
Using Association Using the Ham Cram Method
What does all of this mean when studying for a ham radio license using the ham cram method? The thing that sets the W1UL Ham Cram method apart from all other ham radio licensing methods is that we learn associations by studying only the question and the correct answer. The three incorrect answers to every question in the question pool are called distracters, and they only serve to confuse us. Lorayne and Lucas also tell us that the most effective associations are ridiculous. The associations don't have to be possible, actually the good ones are not feasible or possible and the really good associations are absurd.
Let look at an example from our ham cram domain. One of the questions on the Technician test asks, "How many persons are required to be members of a club for a club station license to be issued by the FCC?" First, look for the key word or phrase in the question. In this case they are, how many club member and club station license. The correct answer is "at least 4." Form an association around the key phrases and the answer as a picture in your mind's eye. Think of the you and three of your best friend who are members of the same club that was organized to get a ham radio station license. Concentrate on the faces of your friends so you recognize there are 4 members. Your group of 4 is sitting around a small table arguing about, "if the membership limit should be increased above 4 now that the club has indeed received a station license." All the question's key elements are part of the associative picture, 4 members mentioned twice and the club was established to obtain a station license.
An Example of Word Substitution
Another question asks, “What is the length of the term of an amateur radio license?" The key phrase is "length of the term." The answer is 10 years. Try this picture in your mind's eye. You are sitting in a spa. In front of your are 10 empty beer bottles and on the wall is a sign stating, "Renew Now!" The caption states, "time to renew, I've emptied 10 beer bottle." Beer and year sound very much the same and there are 10 empty beer bottles. To the memory gurus this technique is called “word substitution.
Even if you cannot develop a good association the extra time spent trying helps to reinforce the association between the question and the answer. It's much like highlighting a text book. You may never come back to the highlighting but the extra time spend picking out the important text to highlight help developing memory links.
Additional Resources for Your Ham Cram Studies
We have obviously just scratched the surface the art of memorization with this ham cram tutorial. If there is sufficient interest I'll do another memory tutorial. Use the Feedback Form to let me know. If you come up with a good memory association also let me know and if I use it I'll give you full attribution.
I would suggest you obtain a copy of the Lorayne and Lucas Book. Although the book was originally published in 1974 it is as relevant today as it was back them. The actual title is “The Memory Book” by Harry Lorayne and Gerry Lucas. Amazon had new softcover books for $8.70 and used copies starting at $3.29. If you have every proclaimed, "I'm not good with names" or "I can't remember "dates" you are not memory deficient in any way, your memory is simply not trained. A diligent read of L & L book will overcome that deficiency. The utility value of a well developed memory greatly transcends test preparation using the Ham Cram method.
73 Urb LeJeune, W1UL