Pegword Method: How To Use It, And Does It Really Work?

person holding pencil and stick note beside table

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

Here’s how the technique works, and how to use it.

What is the pegword method?

The pegword method is a mnemonic technique that relies on you knowing a 10-item rhyme to associate 10 numbers with 10 “peg” objects.

Whenever you want to remember a list of items of your choice, you need to find a visual image to associate each item with the corresponding “peg” object.

Then whenever you want to remember the list, run through the rhyme, recall the “peg” objects and the visual images you’ve “hung” on your pegs.

This is best illustrated with an example:

How to use the pegword method

The first step is to learn the rhyme to remember the peg words list. These ten objects form the “pegs” you can later “hang” whatever you want to remember on:

Peg words list: One is a gun Two is a shoe Three is a tree Four is the door Five is a hive Six is sticks Seven goes to heaven Eight is a weight  Nine is red wine Ten is a pen
The Pegword Method: you first need to learn the peg words list

Then, whenever you need learn a list of items, “peg” each item to the rhyme you just learned, by creating a visual image that combines the peg object with whatever object you’re trying to remember.

For example, if you were trying to remember a shopping list (apples, milk, eggs), you might think up the following images:

  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:

Pegword Method example
Pegword Method in action

And so on, for all the items on your list, up to ten.


Does the method work?

There is evidence that the pegword mnemonic can effectively enhance recall for some materials, especially concrete nouns.

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 technique isn’t much good for 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, as Adam Putnam discussed on the podcast.

Have fun with the pegword method, and good luck!

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