William Wadsworth

by William Wadsworth

The Cambridge-educated memory psychologist & study coach on a mission to help YOU ace your exams. Helping half a million students in 175+ countries every year to study smarter, not harder. Supercharge your studies today with our time-saving, grade-boosting “genius” study tips sheet.

The pegword method is a useful mnemonic device for learning a list of items in order, particularly when those items are concrete, visual objects rather than abstract concepts.

Without further ado, here’s how the technique works, and how to use it!

Prefer to listen? The pegword method was featured on Episode 11 of the Exam Study Expert Podcast, which you can listen to right here or in your favourite podcast app:

First up, what is a mnemonic device?

To put it simply, mnemonic devices are clever memory aids to help you remember stuff: from shopping lists to the order of operations for maths equations.

If you need to remember something, a mnemonic device can help you retain AND retrieve that info when you need it most (be it in the supermarket or exam hall!).

There are several kinds of mnemonics, and they all work best for remembering different kinds of information. You’re probably familiar with some of this list: acronyms and acrostics, method of loci (memory palace), the pegword method, chunking, songs and rhymes, and association.

Want to learn more about the mysteries of mnemonic devices and how they work? Get the low down right here with our mnemonics overview.

So, what is the pegword method?

The pegword method is a mnemonic technique based around a catchy rhyme. Using this memory technique is two-step process:

  • Firstly, it relies on you knowing that 10-part rhyme of numbers and “peg words”!
  • And secondly, associating those 10 parts of the rhyme with the 10 items you need to rememberessentially you “hang” your items onto the “peg” words to make them memorable!

This second step is all about creating fun visual imagery that will trigger your memory when you need it the most!

This is best illustrated with some examples, so let’s start by learning the “peg words” and rhyme for this memory system:

How to use the pegword method step 1: learning the rhyme

The first step in mastering the pegword memory system is to learn the rhyme of “pegs” thoroughly.

It’s made up of a catchy pattern of rhymes between numbers and objects as you count from one to ten (and as an added bonus, sounds like a cute children’s song!).

The ten objects associated with each number are important. They form the “pegs” you can later “hang” whatever you want to remember on:

Step one of the Pegword Method: learn the rhyme of "peg words" for up to 10 items

How to use the pegword method step 2: creating memorable imagery

Got that pegword rhyme firmly in your mind? Perfect!

So, whenever you want to learn a list of items in order, you need to find a visual image to associate each item with the correspondingly numbered “peg” object.

  • So the first item on your list goes with “One is a GUN”, the fourth item goes with “Four is a DOOR” … and so on

Here’s an example of the “peg words” in this memory system at work:

Imagine you are trying to remember a shoppping list of apples, milk and eggs (sounds like cake on the horizon!). Take both the “peg” object and your item and combine them into one silly mental picture:

  1. An apple being shot out of a gun and splattering on the wall
  2. A carton of milk held in a shoe
  3. A load of eggs growing like fruit on a tree

Here’s what each image might look like in your mind:

Step 2 of the Pegword Method: "peg" your list to the rhyme and create memorable imagery

And so on, for all the items on your list, up to ten in total. Handy!

Then whenever you want to remember your list, simply run through the pegword method rhyme and picture those crazy images of your items “hung” on the “peg” objects from the rhyme!

Does the pegword memory system work?

There is some evidence that the pegword mnemonic technique can effectively enhance recall for some materials. Especially if you’re trying to remember concrete nouns.

In fact, the pegword method has been used in scientific studies that test the usefulness of mnemonics in learning complex biochemistry systems like the Krebs cycle (learn more about Krebs cycle mnemonics here!).

There are a number of drawbacks, though:

  1. Trying to remember too many pegword lists at once may cause you to get confused between the lists. (Psychologists call this “interference”).
  2. This mnemonic technique isn’t much good for remembering abstract concepts, or nouns that are not very visually distinct.
    • It might be hard to learn a list of pharmaceutical drugs or mountains using this method, because your visual image for each item on the list will be quite similar.
  3. It’s only really good for up to ten items.
  4. The evidence of the benefits over the long-term (e.g. several months, or more) is mixed.
    • You’ll almost certainly want to combine this technique with retrieval practice, which is our all-time favourite memorization technique here at Exam Study Expert!

Have fun with the pegword method, and good luck!

Loved learning about mnemonic devices for improving your memory? If so, why not explore more of our mnemonics collection: full of advice, tricks and examples perfect finding a technique that works for you:

  • Mnemonics: the lowdown (find the best method for you!)
  • Acrostics and acronyms (full of popular examples for students of all disciplines)
  • Chunking (a memory technique we swear by at Exam Study Expert)

And finally, get more from the science of learning with my free cheat sheet for students and educators! Sign up right here:

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