Fiona McPherson, PhD

Dr McPherson's 'foundation' book on memory, setting out the basic principles of memory and how they relate to effective strategies for memory and learning.

Note that this is only available in pdf

Dr McPherson's original memory book is out of print but is still available as a downloadable e-book, in PDF format. Note that an updated edition of The Memory Key, published by Random House UK as Perfect Memory Training, is available in both digital and print form from booksellers.


Most memory improvement courses do not result in long-lasting change. A major reason for this is that, although the courses usually teach effective strategies, they fail to adequately instruct the participants when and when not to use them. The memory situations that you experience in your daily life cannot be precisely defined. You cannot make a list of the situations in which a particular strategy is effective. The effectiveness of a memory strategy depends on a number of different factors — not simply the task itself, but also many factors relating to the context of the task, and your own individual circumstances (personality, mood, physical state, etc.). To know when and when not to apply a particular strategy, you need to understand why and how it works. You cannot do this without having a basic understanding of how memory works.

An effective rememberer

  • knows how memory works
  • has many memory skills and can apply them appropriately
  • accurately judges how well they have learned, and how likely they are to remember easily and accurately

The first part of this book sets out to describe the basic principles of memory. A great deal is now known about memory — I have tried to select only those bits that the reader needs to know, to understand why and how and when memory strategies work. I have tried to integrate the useful information so that the reader can see how it all fits together. I believe strongly that if it is not clearly evident how the various principles (general) and rules (specific) relate to each other, then the information will not be understood. And if it is not understood, it will not be remembered.

An important part of improving your memory involves understanding that there are different memory domains — different “memories”, if you like, that are concerned with different types of information. Thus there is a memory domain that deals with remembering people’s faces, and one that remembers how to drive a car, and one that remembers that you need to stop at the shop on the way home. To appropriately apply memory strategies, you need to know which memory domain is involved and understand the differences between these different domains. A chapter is devoted to discussing the different memory domains.

In the last section of the book I look at various effective memory strategies and explain how they work in terms of the basic principles. After reading this, the reader should not only understand when particular strategies are appropriate, but should also be in a much better position to judge the value of the various bits of advice given on how to improve your memory.

As always with the Mempowered books, this fully referenced book is based on the work of cognitive researchers. 


This book is available in pdf format only, and only from this store.




Publication date: September, 2007 (Wayz Press)

First published in New Zealand by Tandem Press in 1999
Published in the United States by Career Press in 2000
Published in hardback by Barnes & Noble in 2004

File size: 190 pages (print); 1.8 MB (pdf)




Chapter 1: How to permanently improve your memory

Most memory-improvement programs do not result in long-lasting change

Memory is plural!

Memory skills can cost too much

What you need to know to improve your memory skills

Knowing what can be done

Becoming confident in your memory skills

Chapter 2: What comes out is what went in

The building blocks of memory

How memory works

Information is infinite and we cannot store it all

Is your memory a junk-heap or a storage system?

Association is the foundation stone of thought

Memory is held in a pattern not in a place

The implications of memory being a network

The key to remembering is making codes that are easily found

What comes out must have gone in

Chapter 3: Finding is tricky when you don’t know where to look

To find a code you follow a trail

A good trail needs a good starting point

Retrieval cues trigger memory search

Your ability to generate recall cues may be critical to your successful remembering

Selecting the right trail

Knowing you're going in the right direction

Principles of Retrieving

Successful retrieval requires effective encoding


Making memory codes accessible

The principles of accessibility

Making links stronger

Connecting and clustering: giving meaning to information

Effective principles of clustering

Chapter 5: Selecting the right information

Selection governs connection

Similarity joins and distinctiveness separates

Principles of Encoding

Rote-learning of unrelated material

Memorizing versus learning

Principles of effective selection

Choosing good recall cues for meaningless information

Attention matters

Chapter 6: Working with memory codes

Working memory holds the information you're working on

How working memory and the database interact

How we use working memory

Differences between working memory and database codes

Holding information in working memory

Individual differences in working memory capacity

Chapter 7: Review

Memory situations

The principles

Chapter 8: Identifying different memory domains

Different types of information need to be dealt with in different ways

Specific memory domains

Knowledge memory vs personal memory

Personal memory contains several different memory domains

Chapter 9: General information skills

A classification of memory strategies

Manipulating information for understanding and recall

Taking notes

Active reading

Elaboration strategies

Applying the right study strategy

Your personal learning style

The deep versus the surface approach to learning

Transcending your personal style

Chapter 10: An analysis of memory ‘tricks’

Mnemonic strategies: what are they and do they work

Mnemonic strategies are a special type of memory strategy

Imagery mnemonics

Verbal mnemonics

Mnemonic strategies: What are they good for?

Chapter 11: General support strategies

Information manipulation strategies are task specific

General support strategies support attention

Paying attention

Planning skills

Monitoring skills

Strategies to improve the quality of attention

Manipulating your environment

Manipulating your self

Chapter 12: Becoming a successful strategy user

Your master strategy

Matching memory tasks with appropriate strategies

Being a strategic thinker

Appraising the memory situation

Thinking through a situation

Taking your personal style into account

Chapter 13: Putting it into practice

The cost of memory strategies

How to achieve permanent memory improvement

Glossary of terms