Peg System for Remembering Lists

Peg memory system

Need help remembering lists of information for school, work, hobby, or other purposes? Then one or more of the Peg Methods is the memory system you need.

The Peg memory systems are ideal for remembering information that must be recalled in a particular order. Like all memory systems, the Peg systems improve your memory by creating a filing cabinet in your mind.

They work by associating information you already know well (the numbers 1 through 20, and the letters A through Z) with the new facts you want to remember.

A "peg" is just a mental hook on which you hang the information. This hook acts as a reminder to help you mentally retrieve information.

Let's look at the number from 1 to 10 first. If you could associate a piece of information with the number "5", then simply thinking of "5" would give you back that fact.

In other words, because you will never forget how to count from 1 to 10, associating information with those numbers creates a mental filing system for the information.

In fact, you can even use peg system to memorize lists that don't need to be in a particular order. For a fun example, check out how I memorized Darth Vader quotes for Halloween.

Before I explain how to use the pegs, let me point out a few important things about them:

  • Peg systems remind you of what you are supposed to remember. Like the Loci system, the Peg systems provide a big advantage over free recall (rote memorization). The pegs continually remind you of all the things you are supposed to remember.

  • Peg systems allow direct retrieval of items. The other systems like Link and Loci tie information together effectively, but cannot be used to recall a particular item directly. With these systems, you must mentally run through the entire link to get to the item you want. With numerical pegs, though, you can immediately say, "Number 5 is the Trigeminal Nerve" or "The Trigeminal Nerve is number 5."
  • The Pegs can be used over and over. An incredible truth about your brain is that it can distinguish between the same numerical list (i.e., the same pegs) being used multiple times for different information. For example, one research study on memory systems showed that normal people were able to memorize six different lists of items at the same time using the same pegs.

    Spacing out the use of the lists and commbining the use of pegs with the other memory systems (see below) lets you use pegs to memorize a very large body of information.

  • You can use several types of pegs together to create flexibility. There are Peg systems that use among other things number rhymes, number shapes, and the alphabet. You can vary your use of the different Peg systems to help decrease interference between the information you want to remember.
  • Pegs can be combined with the Loci or Link systems. Combining Peg systems with other memory systems allows you to memorize huge amounts of information. As one example, you could combine the Alphabet Peg system with the Link system to accurately memorize up to 260 items of information (by attaching a 10-sequence memory link to the key image of each letter of the alphabet).

How Peg Systems Work

You will never forget how to count from 1 to 20 or how to say your ABC's. But the problem with mentally attaching the information you want to remember to numbers or letters is that numbers and letters are abstract (hard to visualize).

The Peg systems solve this problem by making abstract numbers and letters concrete.

For example, with the rhyming Peg words, you first remember a concrete object whose name rhymes with the number (you will see this is very easy to do). For instance: one-sun, two-shoe, three-tree.

Then, to memorize a list, you visually associate each item of information with the number image (e.g., sun, shoe, tree). To recall the list, you simply run through the numbers in your mind.

Each of the main Peg systems are explained below. Click a link in the following list to jump down to the explanation for that Peg system.

Number-Rhyme Pegs

The Number-Rhyme Peg system is perhaps the easiest peg memory system to learn. For each of the numbers from 1 to 10 (and even up to 20, really), you associate with each number a word that rhymes with that number. Most people find this very easy to do.

Here is a widely used version of the number-rhyme list. Go ahead and memorize these right now. Repeat the number rhymes until you remember them, then practice without looking.

  • 1 = one sun
    One - Sun

  • 2 = two shoe
    Two - Shoe

  • 3 = three tree
    Three - Tree

  • 4 = four door
    Four - Door

  • 5 = five hive
    Five - Hive

  • 6 = six sticks
    Six - Sticks

  • 7 = seven heaven
    Seven - Heaven

  • 8 = eight gate
    Eight - Gate

  • 9 = nine vine
    Nine - Vine

  • 10 = ten hen
    Ten - Hen

Now really tap into your visual memory, and make each of these listed items very clear in your mind. For example, what kind of sun? Picture it vividly. What type of shoe? A man's dress shoe, for instance?

Go through each of the ten items in this way until each is very clearly pictured in your mind. Making the mental images clear and detailed will greatly improve your recall of information later.

Using the Number-Rhyme Pegs. The simplest use of the Number-Rhyme Pegs is to memorize a straight list of ten objects. However, this system can be used to memorize much more, including lists of sayings, concepts, technical terms, definitions, vocabulary, steps in a procedure, and so on.

Here's a simple example to show you how this works.

Suppose one day you are visiting your grandmother and she decides to tell you her secret recipe for baking a delicious blueberry pie. The problem is, you don't have a pen or paper with you, so if you want to remember the ingredients you will have to rely on your memory.

She tells you that the ingredients for the pie are blueberries, lemon juice, flour, sugar, cinnamon, butter, eggs, milk (a total of eight items). You decide to use the Number-Rhyme Peg Method to remember these until you have time to write them down later.

Keep in mind that creating the following associations happens very quickly once you have practiced this memory system a few times.

one sun
blue bear
Shopping Item #1 (One-Sun) =
Blueberries (blue + bear)

1. Begin by associating the first ingredient (blueberries) with the first rhyming peg word (sun). For example, picture clearly in your mind a giant, hot sun shining down on a bright blue bear.

Now move on to each of the rest of the ingredients and do the same thing.

... 2. Associate the second ingredient (lemon juice) with the second rhyming peg word (shoe). For example, imagine a yellow dress shoe full of lemons, and you squishing your foot into the lemons to get the shoe on, turning the lemons into lemon juice.

... 3. Associate the third ingredient (flour) with the third rhyming word (tree). For example, imagine a brightly colored tree whose trunk and leaves are becoming completely covered and overgrown with your favorite type of flower.

... 4. Associate the fourth ingredient (sugar) with the fourth rhyming word (door). For example, imagine a solid brown wooden door slamming shut on a white porcelain sugar bowl, splashing the granulated sugar all over your nice clean carpet.

... 5. Associate the fifth ingredient (cinnamon) with the fifth rhyming word (hive). For example, imagine a swarm of bees stinging your male friend who is sinning - sin a man. (If you think gambling is a sin, for instance, imagine him rolling dice or playing cards.)

Now you try. Think of associations for the rest of the ingredients, sticks-butter, heaven-eggs, and gate-milk.

Once you have your list of associations, then review them quickly after 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 20 minutes. This will really help lock the images and the list of items in your mind.

For long-term mental storage, review the list again after 2 hours, then once a day for the next 3 days. Then once a month after that, depending on how well it seems your mind is retaining the information (which varies a little from person to person).

If you really worked through this example, you be a bit amazed at how well you can recall this list of eight items. Try this now: ask yourself, what is item #7? What is item #2? What is item #5?

You should be able to instantly remember and say the ingredient. Try doing that quickly with rote memorization alone!

Again, memory management is a skill, and the more your practice the memory systems the easier they will seem and the better results you will get with your memory.

Rhymes from 11 to 20. The following are two rhyming words for each of the numbers 11 through 20. These are used the same way as the rhyming pegs from 1 through 10:

11. Leaven, Football 11   16. Sistine, Licking
12. Shelf, Elf   17. Leavening, Deafening
13. Thirsting, Hurting   18. Aiding, Waiting
14. Fording, Courting   19. Knighting, Pining
15. Fitting, Lifting   20. Plenty, Penny

Alternately, you can mix Number-Rhyme with Number-Shape (see below) fo r11 to 20. For instance, you could use the rhyming pegwords for 1 through 10 and use the single-digit shape pegwords for 11 to 20. In othe words, 11-Pencil, 12-Swan, 13-Pitchfork, and so on (ignoring the "1" in the tens place).

Number-Shape Pegs

The Number-Shape peg system is similar to the Number-Rhyme system, but instead of using words that rhyme with the numbers, you use the shape of the number as the peg.

The following shows shape equivalents for the numbers 1 through 10. You can make up your own, but try these first to get used to the concept.

  • 1 = Pencil peg

  • 2 = Swan peg
    Swan's Neck

  • 3 = Heart peg
    Top of Love Heart

  • 4 = Sailboat peg
    Boat Sail

  • 5 = Hook peg

  • 6 = golf club peg
    Golf Club

  • 7 = hourglass peg
    Cliff's Edge

  • 8 = hourglass peg

  • 9 = balloon stick peg
    Balloon on Stick

  • 10 = balloon stick peg
    Fork and Plate

So to associate an item of information with a number-shape, associate the shape with the information. For example, to associate a word such as "tomato" to position number two in the list, associate swan with tomato.

Imagine perhaps a swan bouncing a bright red tomato up and down on its beak. Then, when you think of "two", it reminds you of "swan" which reminds you of tomato.

Like with the other systems, the complexity of the information that can be associated with a number can be much greater than simply a tomato of other physical objecet. Using substitute words, for instance, even abstract concepts can be associated with the items in a list.

Alphabet Pegs - Concrete & Sound-Alike

concrete peg
A-Alligator concrete peg

The Alphabet peg system is a bit different from the Number-Rhyme and Number-Shape pegs but equally as easy to learn. As explained above, you already know the alphabet, so with a little modification you can use it as yet another type of mental filing system.

There are two ways to use Alphabet pegs: 1) based on concrete meaning, and 2) based on sound alikes.

As with the rhyming pegs, you can use these same lists over and over. With sufficient review, your peg image associations will fade but the information will remain in memory.

Concrete Alphas. Concrete words can also be used for alphabet pegs. The following is a list of pegs you could use.

  • A - Alligator
  • B - Boy
  • C - Cat
  • D - Dog
  • E - Egg
  • F - Fig
  • G - Goat
  • H - Hat
  • I - Ice
  • J - Jack
  • K - Kite
  • L - Log
  • M - Man
  • N - Nut
  • O - Owl
  • P - Pig
  • Q - Quill
  • R - Rock
  • S - Sock
  • T - Toy
  • U - Umbrella
  • V - Vane
  • W - Wig
  • X - X-Ray
  • Y - Yak
  • Z - Zoo

Sound Alike Alphas. The sound-alike Alphabet peg words rhyme with the letter they are associated with.

  • A - Hay
  • B - Bee
  • C - See
  • D - Deed
  • E - Eve
  • F - Effort
  • G - Jeep
  • H - Age
  • I - Eye
  • J - Jay
  • K - Key
  • L - El
  • M - Hem
  • N - Hen
  • O - Hoe
  • P - Pea
  • Q - Cue
  • R - Oar
  • S - Sass
  • T - Tea
  • U - Ewe
  • V - Veal
  • W - Double You
  • X - Ax
  • Y - Wire
  • Z - Zebra

In other words, to memorize a list of up to 26 items using sound-alikes, you would create a mental image of "hay" interacting with the first item, a "bee" stinging the second item, and so on. The concrete alphas work similarly.

Again, as with all memory systems, the Alphabet peg system is a skill, just like riding a bicycle. The first time you rode a bike you probably fell off, and that is normal. Now riding a bike is second nature and you don't even have to think about it.

The same is true here - practice using the pegs, and they too will become second nature, another feature of your exceptional memory!

[+] References for Peg Memory Technique

Published: 04/01/2008
Last Updated: 06/11/2020

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Reproduction without permission is prohibited