Friday, 23 August 2019

Why the WAIS test works less well at the high end

Scaled scores - miss two items, drop a SD
Scaled scores - everything above a certain raw score obtains 19

One of the stumbling blocks faced by a researcher hoping to investigate high cognitive ability in adults is finding a test battery with sufficient discriminatory power at the higher end of the ability distribution. This article briefly mentions how the structure of the tests, especially the Wechsler tests, may artificially compress scores at the extremes.

David Wechsler believed primarily that the value of his tests was in their clinical interpretation. He insisted on the retention of certain items because he believed the possible answers by patients might give practitioners insight into their mental state, as much as for their utility in measuring reasoning ability. Furthermore, he took a hostile view towards those wanting to use his tests measure high IQ, insisting that they had never been designed with that purpose in mind (Kaufman & Lichtenberger, 2009).  David Wechsler was also quite keen that scores on his tests, despite the lack of a theoretical psychometric grounding in their early iterations, would follow a normal distribution.

One day, someone in a Facebook group linked to a magazine article that I found extremely curious. I will not post the link, as the page was on a hardline political website, however, the article itself contained no political content. It discussed the possibility of intelligence following a Paretian, rather than normal distribution, and how the construction of the WAIS test artificially forced a normal distribution (Pennington, 2016). Using factual knowledge as an example (represented by the "Information" subtest on the WAIS), the author pointed out that most people know only a tiny amount of the world's accumulated knowledge, while a few know anywhere from 10 times to 1,000 times what the average citizen does. The WAIS test, she argued, was heavily loaded up with simple items while limiting the range of item difficulty, compared to what would be theoretically available from the entire world of knowledge. In fact, the item of median difficulty on the test, missed by 50% of testees, is not an especially difficult one for those at the highest levels of cognitive ability, and indeed there may be few or no items that challenge the very brightest individuals at their "level". Lumping everyone beyond a certain IQ level into the "highly superior" category tells us nothing about the range of possible individual variation within that category, which runs the whole gamut from the brighter end of educated professionals to the true rare individuals who occur once or twice in a generation.

The other two issues I am going to mention have to do with how the test is scored - using a system where raw scores are mapped onto age-normed "scaled scores" ranging from 1-19, with the average being 10.

Linked to the first issue above is the fact that no matter how bright you are, and even if you obtain a maximum raw score on a subtest, the maximum scaled score is 19. So even if a subtest contained a greater than usual number of difficult items, and you happened to correctly answer all of them, you would get a scaled score of 19 just the same as the guy who only just answered enough items correctly to get a 19. In other words, everyone beyond a certain ability range is just lumped into one point category.

Does this mean a preponderance of maximum scores? Not necessarily. There is always measurement error, and the extremes of the scale are more likely to be affected by such because of the test construction. Let's take a hypothetical subtest with 30 items (it doesn't matter what the task is for the purpose of this illustration). An average score on this subtest for a person of our hypothetical test-taker's age is anywhere between 12 and 18, all of which raw scores map onto a scaled score of 10. On the other hand, the person might have to get all 30 items correct to get a 19. Further, there might be no raw score corresponding to an 18 as a 29 on the subtest renders a scaled score of 17, and if they obtain a raw score of 28, they get a 16. Thus, Joe Average makes two unlucky mistakes, and could well be still within that average category (since the scaled score of 10 covers several raw scores on the subtest). Joe Triple Nine makes two unlucky mistakes, and his score on the subtest is busted from 19 to 16 - an entire standard deviation.

I do not believe that the solution is to go looking for difficult so-called tests made by hobbyists, and the reasons for this are many, not least their small sample sizes, lack of theoretical grounding, and lack of statistical validation, and this may be the topic of a separate article. There may well be other standardised tests that with better discriminatory power than the WAIS at the high end of the ability distribution. One possibility is the SB5, with its greater emphasis on power-test administration (difficulty prioritised over speed) and experimental extended scale for measuring hypothetical IQs over 160 s.d. 15. Others may also be available for neurocognitive research.

As to the question of whether intelligence follows a normal distribution, I would want to see more convincing evidence that it does, and that if this is what the research evidence shows, that such evidence is not simply an artifact of how the most commonly used tests are constructed.


Kaufman, A.S. & Lichtenberger, E.O. (2009). Essentials of WAIS-IV Assessment. New York: Wiley.
Pennington, R.W. (2016). The Paretian Distribution of Intelligence. [Online article].

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The Positive Benefits of Electrical Stimulation

This article explores a short history of the use of electricity for health and cognitive enhancement purposes and briefly describes the technology of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and cranial electrostimulation (CES). This article appeared in WIN ONE Magazine,Edition 8, June 2012.

The Positive Benefits of Electrical Stimulation

In the 1980s, journalist and author Michael Hutchison published the results of his enquiries into the burgeoning field of neurotechnology – so-called “Mind Machines”.  In “Megabrain” (1986), he devotes two whole chapters of the book to the discussion of the use of electricity to stimulate brain function: “We Sing the Mind Electric – Parts 1 and 2”.

The first of the two chapters describes his encounter with a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine.  Although commonly used in the control of pain, particularly during childbirth, Hutchison describes an unorthodox use of the TENS machine introduced to him by Joseph Light.  Sitting in a café with electrodes stuffed down his socks, he finds himself talking excitedly to Mr. Light as the endorphins and other neurochemicals start flowing, stimulated by the current coursing through his body.

The second chapter discusses Hutchison’s further excursions into the effects of electricity on the brain, and his experimentations with cranial electrostimulation, or CES.

Few people in the 1980s had ever heard of “mind machines”, and “Megabrain” and its successor “Mega Brain Power” (1994), which continues the discussion of various brain stimulation methods, raised the public profile of such technologies and practically spawned a whole industry in light and sound machines, binaural beat tapes, and so on.

The use of electricity for the home user seemed less quick to catch on, although its study by clinicians has attracted considerable interest in recent years.  There was a time when anyone researching such a topic would have found their grant money cut off, and perhaps it still has connotations of snake-oil salesmen attempting to persuade sceptical buyers that their latest “electrical healing device” would be a panacea cure.  Or perhaps it still carries the stigma of the dangerously strong currents used by psychiatry in decades gone by.  This is unfortunate, as safe and ethical uses of electricity can have a number of health and cognitive enhancing benefits.

The use of electrical stimulation actually has a long history.  The ancient Egyptians used to zap themselves with small specimens of the Nile electric catfish to treat certain nervous diseases.  In 43 A.D. the Greek physician Scribonius Largus used to prescribe his “seashore treatment”, whereby patients were advised to step on an electrical torpedo ray with one foot, while standing on wet sand with the other.  Patients suffering from headaches and particularly gout would find their afflictions alleviated.  In 1755 Charles Le Roy, a French physician, attempted to restore the sight of a blind patient by wrapping electrical wires around his head.

By the nineteenth century, with the continued improvement of the battery and the more widespread use of a variety of devices that generated pulsed or continuous current, people had become fascinated by electricity and what had come to be regarded as its almost mystical properties.

Electrical stimulation devices abounded, and literature can be found describing electrical cures for a variety of physical ailments.

While this sounds, on the surface of it, like pure quackery, there were also persistent reports of this use of electrical stimulation creating remarkable changes in the patient’s state of mind: trancelike states, euphoria, vivid mental imagery, and elevated mental states.  There are even reports of depressed and anxious patients showing no sign of what we might now regard as a clinical condition after several treatments using this technology.

Because of the relative ease of building such a device, it was equally easy for a whole lot of charlatans to enter the field.  Travelling medicine shows sprang up all over the place, promising to treat every possible condition.  Giovanni Aldini, Luigi Galvani’s nephew, embarked on a travelling road show demonstrating the use of electricity to revive the dead!

Inevitably the currents, electrical waveforms and frequencies these devices delivered varied widely and, perhaps unsurprisingly, some volunteers got shocked or fried.  These accidents, together with Aldini’s freak show, probably served to harm the reputation of electrical stimulation for an entire century to follow.

On the other hand, the medicos of the day became so concerned by the capability of electricity to boost a person’s mood or alleviate a patient’s pain without drugs or surgery, that they sought to have the entire practice “investigated”.  A report eventually published in 1910 and widely publicised at the time, lambasted electrical healing as having no scientific basis, and banned its teaching from medical education.

Thus while the applications of chemistry and biology became mainstream in the field of medicine, a similar application of physics was dropped by wayside.

The notable exception, of course, was the use of ECT in psychiatry, a practice which only served to fuel the fears of a now already sceptical public.

While these misapplications may have cost science 100 years’ worth of potential research and progress in the use of electrical stimulation, fortunately this area is now gaining respectability for research again.

Over the last few years there has been a proliferation of published research papers into tDCS – transcranial direct current stimulation.  This involves the use of a weak (1-2 ma) current delivered through the scalp of the volunteer by means of damp sponge-covered electrodes.

Its exact effect depends upon the polarity of the current.  The anode, or “active” electrode, has an excitatory effect on the neurons underneath the electrode site, while the cathode, or “reference” electrode, has an inhibitory effect.  Electrode placement, therefore, is critical and depends on what brain area the experimenter wishes to enhance or inhibit.

A number of studies can be found, covering such topics as treating diseases (e.g. alcoholism, depression, stroke and Parkinson’s disease), the study of physical changes in the brain such as the effects on various neurotransmitters and receptors, and observing the effect on sensory perceptions.  Of particular interest were studies on the boosting general cognition, enhancing numerical ability (including in dyscalculics), and improving memory and reaction time.

The first question people tend to ask is, “Is it safe?”  Reading through a number of papers, the only safety concern I saw specifically mentioned is possible skin burns resulting from poorly-applied electrodes.  Perhaps of greater concern is the actual placement of the electrodes.  While a basic tDCS device can be constructed with a few inexpensive parts (and instructions from amateur electronics hobbyists do pop up on forums and blogs!), the exact electrode placement is still very much at the experimental stage.  You have to know what you are stimulating/inhibiting, and where to put the electrodes in order to target the correct brain area.  Current must also be controlled to adjust for skin resistance.

Brain function under the anode is enhanced by approximately 20-40% with a current density of >40 µa/cm2 (260 µa per square inch).  The cathode reduces brain function by 10-30%.  While in some instances, such as with depression, the inhibitory effect may be desirable by the clinician, for the purposes of selectively enhancing brain function, anodal stimulation is the most common form of tDCS.  Usually a relatively small anode (1” square) is placed over the region to be stimulated and a larger cathode (to allow the completion of the electrical circuit while dispersing its inhibitory effect) is used.

Mind Alive Inc. in Canada sell CES units with an add-on tDCS function, but because of the still-experimental nature of this technology and the fact that a certain knowledge of brain physiology and electrode placement is required to use them safely, the tDCS kits are usually only sold to clinical professionals.

The company’s owner and chief electronics developer held a training workshop last year at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK, and used the lecturer in charge of the brain lab as a guinea pig to demonstrate the use of tDCS.  He placed the cathode on the guy’s right shoulder, using his shirt to hold it in place, told him to close his eyes, and dabbed the anode on his forehead several times.  “Can you see that?  I’m stimulating the optic nerve.”  He then placed the electrode somewhere near the top of the man’s head and held it in place with a stretchy fabric band.  The session lasted for 20 minutes and then automatically shut off.  He didn’t say much about what was happening, perhaps because the training session continued while he was sitting at the back of the room getting zapped, but there were obviously no ill effects, and after this demonstration, most the professionals in the room wanted to buy one!

There are two main theories as to what this electrical stimulation actually does.  One theory suggests that the increased electrical flow assists the depolarization of neurons when they fire.  The other suggests that the electricity stimulates additional production of neurotransmitters.  Or it could be some combination of the two.  Research is still ongoing, and the exact mechanism is far from understood.

Perhaps if the home user wishes to experiment with electrical stimulation, an easier option for the layperson to get started with is the CES device.  No knowledge of electrode placement is necessary to use CES (sometimes referred to as transcranial alternating current stimulation).  The device simply comes with a pair of electrodes which the user dampens and clips onto the ears.  Some models of light and sound machine have an inbuilt CES function that synchronizes with the audiovisual stimulation.

CES is approved as a treatment for pain, depression and anxiety, and has also been shown to have positive effects in helping patients recovering from substance abuse and in the treatment of the addictive personality.  Patients report feeling less anxious, more relaxed, and a general feeling of wellbeing, as CES appears to increase production of endorphins.

Studies have also been done showing CES as having beneficial effects for sleep.  In fact, CES was originally known as electrosleep as it was thought to induce sleep.  (I have found that when using CES before bed, although I feel little happening during use, subsequently sleep seems to be considerably less fitful.)

Aside from the health benefits mentioned above, CES is also used as a cognitive enhancer.  Users have reported increased alertness, concentration and performance, and Michael Hutchison writes of a study that demonstrated improved learning of a psychomotor task.  I put this last use to the test while learning to play the piano, wondering if it would take fewer repetitions of any given exercise before the muscle memory etc. would “take it”, and on these few crude self-experimentations, it did seem to make a slight difference.  The effect of CES on the teaching of musical instruments is something I would like to specifically research in the future when circumstances allow.

Sessions are usually 20-40 minutes in length, and can be used daily or every other day.
On the technical side, CES uses a modified square wave (a pure square wave can sting slightly) to deliver the current.  There are two frequencies that have been approved by the FDA: 100 Hz and 0.5 Hz.  Therefore, manufacturers tend to build devices for commercial sale with these two settings only.  The effects of other frequencies is, of course, an area ripe for future research.

As I hope has become clear, research into the various types of electrostimulation are ongoing, and most of the available literature shows that much of this technology is still at the experimental stage.
I should probably take care to say that no responsibility attaches to the writer or to WIN for any home-built devices or home experimentation using them.  Nevertheless, I hope you are by now feeling as electrified as I am by these promising technologies!

© Gwyneth Wesley Rolph 2012.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Teaching the Visual-Spatial Learner

A review of Linda K. Silverman's book "Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner", with additional reflection and comments based on my own teaching experience. This article appeared in WIN ONE Magazine (World Intelligence Network Online Edition), Edition 6, April 2011.

Teaching the Visual-Spatial Learner

My own training background in study technology taught that there were three primary causes of difficulty in comprehension during study: having insufficient real-life experience or observation of the subject matter (the “mass” of the subject), a learning curve that was too steep for the student's level of ability, and insufficient comprehension of vocabulary and nomenclature. Of the three, the need to understand the vocabulary was stressed as by far the most important.

Being strict with students about clearing up their understanding of words while they study works well. Nevertheless, there were certain things I had observed during my own study, and in some students when I became a course supervisor and study debug specialist, which seemed to fly in the teeth of what I had learnt in my training.

For instance, I had been taught that whenever a person encounters a word, punctuation symbol or some other sign for which they did not have a full definition, comprehension and ability to use the data will be seriously impeded. Yet at a time before I learnt this study methodology, I had read and successfully applied the data from a long and technical instruction manual on a specific type of one-on-one therapy. I knew there was a very great probability that I had skipped over unfamiliar words in that book, yet my understanding of the procedure involved had been clearly demonstrated. Somehow, I was able to fill in the gaps. I clearly had strengths in some sort of ability that simply having a decent vocabulary alone could not explain.

My own supervisor training included understanding the difference between ordinary literacy and “superliteracy”. A literate person would read the word “house” and think, “Ah, yes, a building in which people live”. A superliterate person, on the other hand, would simply think of the concept of a house, perhaps seeing a picture of one in his mind's eye.

I observed that many students would get in a horrible tangle with the words, spending ages with dictionaries trying to find definitions with which they were satisfied, and they needed a great deal of help to find what words they hadn't understood in the text, and help clearing them up in the dictionary. It seemed that these students needed to understand the word in terms of a dictionary definition or dictionary-like definition. I would catch them sometimes spot-checking another student, and flunking them for explaining the term entirely acceptably, but using their own words. When the term was explained a different way to them, it was as if a sign went up saying, “NO MATCH”, and they couldn't think with it.

Other students I supervised did not seem to get into difficulty with the language side of things, but would tend to go hunting through references and encyclopaedias for photographs, illustrations, diagrams and charts, and needed a lot of examples relating the material to real life before they would get it. They were the students who would need to sketch out ideas or physically demonstrate procedures until a light went on, and then they got it.

Linda Kreger Silverman (author, teacher, parent and psychologist), writes about these two learning preferences in her book “Upside Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner”. Silverman describes the two major learning styles as follows: the auditory-sequential learner (ASL), and the visual-spatial learner (VSL). Of course, it is highly unlikely that any given person is purely one or the other. Rather, it is a continuum, and everyone has a mixture of both to a greater or lesser degree. Many VSL's also have strong sequencing skills, and many ASL's also have strong spatial skills. Those people who are extremely strong in both obviously have the best of both worlds.

The traditional school curriculum caters well for the former. They tend to be the model students. Most of what is typically considered by schools to be “smarts” or “academic ability” tends to be the strengths of the auditory-sequential student. He, or she, learns well from hearing the teacher's explanation, is methodical, organized, good at verbal expression, and can follow and remember information presented as a series of steps.

The visual-spatial learner, on the other hand, tends not to fit the mould. He or she might have a high IQ, but the teacher may completely miss how smart such a student is, because traditional bookwork does not play to the student's strengths. Such a student thinks in 3D images, locations, context and the relationships between things. These students tend to be a big-picture thinker who get lost if they can't make a picture in their minds (as per the first barrier to comprehension I mentioned). They need an outline of that picture first to give them structure and context before they can start sketching in the details.

Silverman and the Gifted Development Center have collected vast amounts of test scores and other evidence over the years, and it is clear that about a third of all students are strongly visual-spatial dominant. The main characteristics she has identified are briefly discussed below.

(a) Thinking in images vs. thinking in words. When a person thinks in words, it enables swift processing of verbal information. They can carry on a rapid-paced verbal interchange, are good conversationalists, get their ideas heard in a debate or discussion, and can field questions easily from the floor when giving a speech or presentation. For the person who thinks in pictures, it may take longer to translate those pictures into words. In school, there is a great deal of emphasis on verbal fluency and speed. Even when a VSL has a large vocabulary, they may have to “talk around” the concept first. Spit-out answers do not always come easily.

As a course supervisor, I had to be careful to listen out for each student's natural speed of answering. Spot-checking of the words and materials is a key tool in a study tech classroom, and speed is emphasised: if the student doesn't answer up immediately, then it is assumed that the definition or information has not been learned well enough. This is pretty harsh on the VSL who in fact may have a superior understanding, but just needs a couple of seconds longer to articulate what is seen in the mind's eye. I still recall the frustration of being fairly new to the study tech methods, and getting flunked because I would suddenly have these glorious, full Technicolor™ 3D examples pop up when asked to define words (a labyrinthine network of computers, printers and cables, for example, when asked to define“concatenation”) that could leave me momentarily tongue-tied because I needed to think how to expeditiously and effectively get this concept across in words to the other person. By the strict standards of this type of examination, however, that split second hesitation was a flunk. The standard remedy of telling the student to go and find what he or she didn't understand and then restudy the article or chapter may not make any difference to such a student's understanding, but merely serve to impede progress. Judgement is required!

(b) Visual strengths vs. auditory strengths. Whereas ASL's are comfortable with lectures and can take in vast amounts of information from them, VSL's prefer diagrams, flowcharts, pictures and demonstrations. They tend to remember what they see better than what they hear. ASL's find it easier than VSL's to hear a voice in a crowd or noisy setting – it may be necessary to touch the VSL person on their arm to get their attention where there are a lot of other distracting sounds.

Obviously, this type of student will need to make more use of what study tech has to offer in terms of demonstration, sketching, watching demonstration films and video clips, practical exercises and going and observing the actual subject matter in a real-life setting. A properly set-up study area would have the theory and practical areas separate, so that students who are trying to read or listen to a taped lecture would not be distracted by other students doing practical drills.

It is worthy of note that musical ability is not a sign of being ASL – many musicians are VSL's. This makes sense when you consider that we do not process music one note at a time or one instrument at a time, but integrate all the sounds and textures of the music as a complete experience – definitely a VSL strength.

(c) Awareness of space vs. awareness of time. In school or in the workplace, time is of the essence – being punctual, taking timed tests, finishing work on time, etc. Awareness of time comes easily to the ASL, whereas the VSL's strength lies in their spatial thinking. Some VSL's appear to be completely unconscious about time – they turn up late for school or work or lag behind in their projects with no idea as to why. Timed tests can be an absolute nightmare – one father reported that his eight year old son freaked out more at the threat of being timed than the threat of being grounded! Such a child could spend 20 minutes tying a shoe, having no concept of the passage of time.

Typical schooldays, which are divided up into a series of hour long lessons, annoys the VSL. Self-development author Tony Buzan even recommends in his study skills and memory skills books dividing up home study sessions into short periods. VSL's require more time than that to delve deeply into a subject and explore, ponder, visualize and experience. In this regard, the study tech approach to scheduling with its intense courses and long study days suits the VSL well – I have studied, and supervised, 11+ hours a day with none of the “loss of comprehension” in the middle of a study period that Buzan worries about.

(d) Whole part vs. step-by-step thinking. Whereas ASL's learn best when a task is broken down into a series of small steps and then mastered through practice and reinforcement, the VSL learns things holistically. They need to see the whole picture in their minds. Trying to teach something to a VSL without first thoroughly clearing up the purpose or goal of the subject means that they do not have anywhere to peg the details. They seem to run out of memory for the individual steps and get lost. Explaining the desired end result enables the VSL to mentally map the subject.

My training in study tech mentions "purpose not delineated" as one of the basic obstacles to learning. When tackling something for the first time, there is little point telling the student "Now we're going to…" without first ensuring the student understands why "…" is necessary. It is as bad as giving little bits and pieces and never explaining the final goal.

I had a computer manual that on the surface of it looked ideal for the VSL – full of screen shots, illustrations and diagrams. On working through it, however, I realised that these instructions had clearly been put together by an ASL trying to accommodate the VSL learning style, but without really getting it. Under a general heading, e.g. "Styles", the manual would walk the reader through various steps, but the effect of taking these steps could not be easily observed or appreciated until the final step had been taken. I have noticed that nearly all the IT classes I have attended teach this way as well. Having seen the result, and mentally “come alive”, now I could see the use for what was being taught; I would then have to think backwards and try to retrace all the steps that got there. When I knew at the outset what I was trying to achieve, e.g. asking a colleague, "How do I format this heading?" I would never again have to be shown after the first time.

(e) All at once vs. trial and error. The trial and error approach is an ASL learning strategy. The VSL learns well by observation, and once he gets it, he gets it all at once. Understanding occurs in an all or nothing fashion. It may subsequently be impossible for the VSL to explain how he arrived at that understanding.

Interestingly, introverted VSL's seem to have the greatest capacity to mentally rehearse physical skills. It may explain why some musicians have the ability to pick up a new instrument and get a tune out of it on the first try.

(f) Easy is hard, and hard is easy. Nearly all school education is arranged to go from easy material progressively to harder material. However, VSL's are often able to go from the complex backwards to basics, but are turned off when made to go from basics first. Being made to learn the “basics” first can be frustrating for them, but their interest is engaged once the work becomes sufficiently challenging. Children with this learning style tend to make mistakes on easy test items but pass the harder ones.

Silverman suggests that this tendency is best understood by realising that what our education systems and society generally consider “easy” is usually sequential, and what they consider “hard” depends upon an ability to simultaneously co-ordinate and integrate many complex variables.

Particularly with gifted VSL's, the solution as an educator is to give them advanced work even if they haven't necessarily mastered the easier material. This may sound counterintuitive, but the Gifted Development Center has demonstrated time and again that it works. A gifted child who hasn't memorized their arithmetic facts might easily grasp more complex mathematical concepts which can be more easily visualized. Many have advanced abstract reasoning strengths which may not be engaged by rote, sequential tasks. Teachers should bear in mind that the VSL often grasps simple concepts only against the background context of more complex ones.

The private college where I used to teach introduced a series of training drills for teaching certain types of procedure that, in my opinion, had a completely back to front learning curve. The last exercise I felt was the easiest, and the first the hardest. This made little sense until I realised that the last exercise involved putting all the steps together, while the first exercise consisted of just learning one part of it, out of context with the rest of the procedure.

(g) Synthesis vs. Analysis. The person who is good at analysis is good at comparing and contrasting the individual components of a whole. The VSL tends to be a synthesizing thinker, good at fitting all of the parts together, as well as creating something original. Once they find out what connects several things, they are able to simplify it into a more general rule. These abilities at synthesis are not only what underpins creativity in the arts, but all important inventions, research and discovery depend upon them.

(h) Big Picture vs. Details. Detail-oriented ASL's may be great at carrying out all the assigned work, but fail to grasp the implications of what they are learning. VSL's grasp the big picture and the significance of what they are learning, and preserve all the basic concepts in memory, but attention to detail may be a weaker point. Many know far more than they show on class assignments or on tests because of detail errors. If the information is dished out in a piecemeal fashion, the VSL may lose track.

There is little point giving the VSL the twigs and the leaves before the roots and trunk are in place. It is important for the educator, when trying to reach these "systems" thinkers, to construct a curriculum that goes from the general to the specific. Web-based courses tend to be very good as students can read the overview page, and if required, they can click the link with more information about a particular topic.

(i) Maps vs. oral directions to a destination. ASL's can easily follow left-right-straight on directions, and notice landmarks along the way. The VSL may lose track of these type of instructions, and instead tends to prefer the holistic overview of the area provided by a map in order to spatially locate himself in relation to where he wishes to go.

(j) Mathematical reasoning vs. arithmetical computation. Higher level mathematics such as geometry depend upon visualization skills. ASL's excel in arithmetic, algebra and timed calculation tests, but opt out of more advanced mathematics courses. VSL's have the opposite pattern, and often think of themselves as being poor at mathematics until they move onto these advanced topics. Unfortunately, some VSL's may have been so poor at arithmetical computation in the early years that the school never permits them to move onto these advanced topics. They subsequently go through life believing that they are bad at mathematics, never realising how well they would have done once they got onto the “real” stuff!

There were a great number of students at my school who were in the lower sets for mathematics, despite being in high sets for other subjects. I wonder how many of these students might have excelled had the school been flexible enough to allow them to put the arithmetic to one side for a bit and introduce them to some higher mathematics topics instead, and see how they got on.

(k) Reading by sight vs. phonics, and visualizing spellings vs. sounding out words. Very young ASL children master phonics quite easily. VSL's may find it easier to learn words by sight, recognising the “shape” of the words. It is important for a teacher to use a combination of methods in teaching children to read. In addition, a young VSL may not be able to phonetically sound out words that they have never seen in print.

(l) Typing vs. neat, fast handwriting. There is very little correlation between general intelligence, and handwriting and spelling. Yet there are cases cited in articles on giftedness where a student's capabilities have been dismissed because of poor spelling and writing. Silverman cautions against penmanship and spelling being considered as part of the grading in other subjects. She suggests that keyboarding should be taught for the purpose of note-taking. However, when writing is taught as an art form, such as in calligraphy, many VSL's can develop beautiful handwriting.

(m) Organizationally challenged vs. well-organized. As well as untidy handwriting, the VSL is often the one with the messy desk, messy locker and disorganized filing system for their work. They may come up with their own unique organization methods. There is little point teachers or bosses nagging. "How could you ensure you don't forget your …?" is a more constructive approach.

(n) “Just knowing” vs. showing one's work. Some educational theorists believe that if a student cannot explain precisely how they arrived at their answers, then they do not understand the concepts. This idea can only have been dreamt up by ASL educators who think in a step-by-step, linear fashion and assume that the rest of the world does too – or if they don't, they should. The VSL often arrives at their conclusion all at once. They just know. They don't know how they know and can't explain the route they took to get there. This leads them to being penalised in classes which insist that they show a series of steps that they never took. Teachers can't imagine how they “just know” and draw the conclusion that the student must be cheating. The ideal is to just allow the student to come up with their answers on their own, and accept that not everyone views the world in the same way.

(o) Seeing relationships vs. rote memorization. VSL's remember meaningful material but struggle with school exercises that they see as non-meaningful. They see the connections between things easily, and once a topic is learnt, they understand in terms of a complete network of relationships. A weakness, so far as school is concerned, is that while the VSL is able to figure out the answer, it can take longer than the teacher is prepared to wait. In a class quiz, teachers want answers rapidly spat out from memory. This rapid-fire verbal fluency is an ASL trait. Longer, project-based assignments that give students time to reflect, integrate ideas and tackle problems creatively may give these students more opportunity to show what they know and can do.

(p) Visual long-term memory vs. auditory short-term memory. The ASL may have the advantage in terms of ability to hold things in short-term memory, such as a set of instructions or directions, but VSL's seem to retain things visually in long-term memory. The VSL may find it difficult to take notes in classes and lectures, having to co-ordinate listening, extracting the key points and writing things down simultaneously. Some such students have said things like, “It either goes in or it doesn't.” The student who is able to cram for their exams, memorize and spit out the data on the day, but who has forgotten most of it a week later is exhibiting a typical ASL study pattern.

There is a way to help all students beyond this superficial, short-term memorization phenomenon into more of a conceptual grasp of the data. Whilst having some small objects on the desk, ask the student to demonstrate, using these real objects, the main rules and principles being covered in the lesson. The glib, rote approach tends to shatter when the student is asked to physically SHOW the principles and how they apply.

(q) A permanent picture vs. drill and repetition. The ASL depends on drill for concepts to stick, and it is quite possible that the amount of drill found in textbooks has been based upon a careful study of what is required for average students to grasp and retain the information. It could be that a certain amount of repetitive practice is necessary for the associative pathways to form. Bright students need considerably less drill than average students, and the gifted usually get the concept the first time it is presented. For the VSL student who learns by creating pictures in their mind, those pictures are not improved in any way by practice. Exercises do not contribute at all to the student's understanding. This visual representation of the concepts is permanent. To insist that such a student repeatedly goes over the same ground is a waste of time and is off-putting for the student. The solution is for the teacher to give them a few of the hardest problems or exercises. If they succeed at those, then skip all the earlier ones.

(r) Developing own methods vs. learning from instruction. Whereas ASL's are good at mastering material the traditional way by copying the teacher's steps, a more productive way to teach VSL‟s is simply by giving them the problems and seeing if they can figure it out on their own. If they succeed, give them more and see if their system consistently works. Learning is more likely to take place when the VSL can come up with their own problem-solving strategies. Fortunately, our college's courses were structured so that each student had a copy of the curriculum, which they followed at their own speed, and the supervisor worked in a facilitator/advisory role rather than teaching the class as a body. This enabled students a great deal of latitude to work through the material in a way that worked for them.

(s) Learning dependent on emotions vs. learning in spite of emotions. ASL's are better equipped to compartmentalize their emotions. VSL's can be very sensitive to how they are perceived by the teacher or by other students. He becomes his emotions, and is are very sensitive to the teacher's attitude. If the VSL believes the teacher doesn't like him, little learning may take place in that class. I have, unfortunately, worked with other supervisors who seemed to think that the way to get students through courses more expeditiously was to behave like a drill sergeant. Such colleagues were often disdainful of my more laid-back approach, but then wondered why it was that I could get more course progress out of certain students. These students were inevitably the more creative, sensitive students and in hindsight I am fairly sure they all had VSL tendencies.

(t) Divergent vs. convergent thinking. Teaching that leads to one right answer (convergent) is comfortable for the thought processes of the linear, sequential learner but stifling to the thought processes of VSL's. On standardized tests, VSL's may give insightful but unscorable answers, having seen possibilities that the test designer never imagined.

(u) Asynchronous development vs. even development, and erratic grades vs. consistent achievement. The average ASL child develops fairly evenly across various domains, and even when there is some discrepancy in the level of physical, emotional, and intellectual development, etc, this still tends to be within certain limits. The gifted often develop asynchronously, but the gifted VSL's developmental areas can be all over the place! Their test scores can vary by several standard deviations between subtests. If ASL's are more successful academically in school, then it is because the school curriculum was designed to fit the developmental schedule that those students typically follow. VSL's can get an A with certain teachers, and an F with others, because they are not
only sensitive to the relationship with the teacher, but their developmental progress can be extremely uneven.

One of the great problems with expecting a student to have achieved XYZ academically by a certain age is that sometimes extremely able students may fall through the educational gaps. The Open University in the UK got it right by making their courses available to mature students who did not necessarily have formal school qualifications. I believe more colleges and universities could benefit from this approach. A society that does not give adults a second bite at the educational cherry denies itself the contribution that they may have made, given appropriate opportunities.

(v) Immersion vs. Language Classes. ASL‟s seem to learn languages well in class. VSL's find that they master languages more efficiently when fully immersed in the country and culture and are constantly surrounded by the foreign language. Watching foreign language movies and TV may help. Perhaps the reason why total immersion works better for this type of student is because every time a piece of the language is presented to them, it comes with a real-life setting and context.

(w) Creatively gifted vs. academically talented. The student who demonstrates their abilities through high academic achievement is far more likely to be nominated for gifted programmes, where these exist. Those students who are highly creative, good with technology, mechanically capable, or highly attuned emotionally and intuitively may not find the traditional school curriculum relevant for the development of their strongest abilities.

(x) Late bloomers vs. early bloomers. ASL's tend to be the children who talk early, and show early promise. One reason VSL's may appear to be later bloomers might be because advanced work becomes more challenging and demands more abstract reasoning – a strong suit for bright VSL's. Other reasons could be that later work demands more ability to visualize, VSL's learn compensation techniques or study skills, or they have more choice later on which subjects to take. Or it could be that they learn to control their distractability, become more determined to succeed, or mature later on. Perhaps all the above. I cannot reiterate in strong enough terms my view that colleges and universities should operate a more flexible admissions policy with older candidates. There is a lot of latitude within the study tech ethos for those students who tend to have better-developed visual-spatial abilities. Perhaps we have misplaced too much emphasis on words and language, just because it is easy and only requires the use of a dictionary. Supplying real-life views and demonstrations of items and procedures, finding videos and film clips, or liberally illustrated encyclopaedic entries with photographs and diagrams is more work for the person running the course. However, the structure of these courses favours the self-starter, and these students can be encouraged to find such material on their own initiative, both in and out of class.

In the workplace, employers need to make use of the particular strengths of these employees, even when such an employee occupies a very junior or entry-level role. Giving them routine tasks may not be the best use of the resource that they are for the company. A person with highly developed visual-spatial abilities is a gift, and they need to be developed and pushed forward, academic qualifications or not. These are the abilities of the great geniuses, of artists, inventors, innovators and makers of great scientific discoveries.

When we waste the person, we waste the potential.

© Gwyneth Wesley Rolph 2011.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Mnemotechnics - A Review of the Giordano Memory System

Disclaimer: Giordano Memory System is a registered trade mark owned by the School of Phenomenal Memory. This article does not attempt to cover the entirety of what the School teaches in depth. Readers are advised to contact the School and study the GMS Manual for a comprehensive discussion of this system. This article is my own review; fair usage applies where appropriate.

This article appeared in IQ Nexus Magazine, Vol. 5, September 2010.


If I could name one single factor that made teaching and learning as performed in schools grossly inefficient, it would be the fact that students are expected to memorise information without being taught any systematic method for doing so.  Much of what teachers recognise as "academic ability" is not necessarily the ability to understand and apply, but the ability to retain in memory for the purpose of repeating on an exam paper.

Study technology, as discussed in an earlier article, places great emphasis on the understanding and application of what one is learning, and for the purpose of grasping the general practice and principles of a subject, this method is second to none.  Unfortunately, just as in school, the only approach study tech teaches for the purpose of memorisation is drill, as it assumes that if facts cannot be recalled, then they have not been taken to the level of conceptual understanding.  While this logic works well as a general rule in regard to non-specific principles and practical procedures, it falls down where volumes of abstract data such as numbers or codes, detailed facts, lengthy lists, charts and tables of data etc. must be known.

Where a large amount of such data must be committed to memory, in a rapid and efficient fashion, a more organised approach needs to be taken.  That brings us onto the subject of mnemotechnics, or memory training.

There are numerous books and courses on memory techniques available in any bookstore or online.  However, many readers give up trying to implement the techniques for their own studies or everyday needs, because they are limited in scope.  In addition, most of the memory improvement methods described in popular paperbacks or personal development websites are fundamentally flawed, as I hope will become evident as I describe a mnemotechnical system that actually works.

In 1990 Vladimir Kozarenko made an in-depth study of the memory techniques used by classic mnemonists and orators, and the techniques described in the works of Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher, mathematician and astronomer.  He synthesised and refined these basic principles to construct a mnemotechical system that was simple to learn, efficient to use and could be modified and adapted as necessary to real-life situations, and not just used to remember playing cards and shopping lists.  Although many of the practical elements of memory training were known to the ancient orators, modern discoveries in neuropsychological research additionally enabled Kozarenko to develop a whole new theory of memory to explain how and why these techniques worked so well.  He named this modernised system the "Giordano Memory System", or GMS.


According to GMS principles, visual images are the foundation of the thinking process, and the entirety of the techniques are based on them.  Material to be memorised is encoded into visual images, connections created between them in an exact sequence, and this data is then fixed using specialised fixation techniques.

If this description sounds very familiar to those who have studied other memory books or systems, then let it be known that the similarity ends there.  GMS in fact contradicts most of what is taught in books by Tony Buzan, Kevin Trudeau, Dr. Bruno Furst or Harry Lorrayne.

Most such authors simply throw a pot-pourri of techniques at the reader, in the mistaken assumption that more is better where the presentation of various techniques is concerned.  Thus we are offered the Major system, the body-peg system, the number-shape system, the number-sound system, the story-link system, and the list goes on.  This tendency leaves the reader with no idea what technique to use for which purpose, as none of the aforementioned authors have ever synthesised the all the various techniques they teach into a fully integrated, logical system.

There are no "jingles", acronyms or creative stories used in GMS.  It does not teach the student to attempt to see the visualised pictures in action, and drawing emotional content into the memorised material plays no part in it.  These approaches were found to merely over-complicate the memorisation process and slow the student down.  Books written by former world memory championship athletes were found by Kozarenko to be full of such advice, but most of the heats in such contests place very great emphasis on speed, and there simply wouldn't be time for the competitor to fill their images with action, emotional content etc. at the speed that he or she would need to memorise in order to participate.  The fact that advice is being given to readers that the author himself doesn't use is probably not deliberate disingenuousness on the part of the author, but rather indicates a lack of understanding of what in fact makes mnemotechnics work.

GMS teaches that an isolated image or datum cannot be memorised; only the connections between them are memorised.  The data must link to something, otherwise they will be impossible to memorise.  In order for recollection to occur, a stimulus of some kind must prompt the retrieval of the data.
Data such as numbers, dates and textual information are described in GMS as "sign data" or "precise data".  A fiction work contains very little precise data; a chemistry text is full of it.  A page full of chemical equations would create far fewer visual images in the reader's imagination than would the fiction book, hence most people would consider it harder to remember.

GMS provides a way in which this hard to remember data can artificially be encoded into visual images and affixed in the memory, and which can be easily decoded back into the original material later on when the need arises.

Encoding techniques

Abstract words (words which do not have any visual sense) can also be transformed into visual images.  This is known as the symbolisation technique.  For instance, think of the word "love".  The word "love" doesn't evoke a picture, but most people would think of a heart.  That would be a good symbolisation for "love".  The student must find their own set of images according to their own experiences.  Usually, the image that appeared first in the imagination is the best one to choose.  If it proves difficult choosing an image, it would be wise to consult a good dictionary to ensure that the meaning of the word is fully grasped.
Familiar information contains elements that cause visual images to appear.  When a perceived data element spontaneously prompts a visual image, this technique of linking to familiar information can be used.  This technique is particularly useful for transforming names into images, e.g. when reading about the solar system, "Mars" could be visualised as a Mars chocolate bar.  Where an image is not spontaneously prompted, other methods of encoding should be used.

Many foreign words, names and terms are similar to their English counterparts, and where that is the case, those can be used as visual representations.  By remembering each image and pronouncing them aloud (and thereby making use of the additional modality of sound and the muscle memory), the visual concept and pronunciation of the word can easily be remembered.

For words or names which have no similarity to any English word, the method of creation from syllables can be used.  Any syllable can be developed into a meaningful word by adding elements in front of it, behind it, or on both sides.  The technique is to break down the word into its component syllables, turn each syllable into a complete, meaningful word.  For instance, a meaningless term such as "machbasrul" can be transformed into easily visualised words like "machine", "basket" and "ruler".  The final step is to connect these three pictures as one unit, taking "machine" as the base (a large picture), and seeing the "basket" and the "ruler" connected to different parts of the machine.  This will be sufficient prompt to recall the original word "machbasrul".

The distinctive feature technique is used for memorising a particular person.  A distinctive feature can be singled out from the appearance of a person you do not know.  When the person is someone you know (and you wish to create the image in order to connect other information to them, such as a telephone number), you can choose distinctive features on the basis of their job, hobbies, habits, idiosyncracies etc.  It is not easy to pick out distinctive features on people, since the mind tends to distinguish objects that have differing contours, rather than objects of similar shape whose details differ.  Kozarenko recommends spending some time practising this technique on people in a public place, for example while waiting for the bus.

Names are usually forgotten automatically, and not because we did not pay attention (as writers of memory books are all too ready to chastise us for), but because they constitute a one-element information message which is not connected to anything.  As we know that memory works on the basis of connections, in order for the person's name to be remembered, it must be connected to something, usually a distinctive feature on the person.

A key technique that must be mastered if one is to use this system effectively is the use of figurative codes.  Figurative codes are visual images that symbolise letters, numbers, weekdays, months, foreign language alphabets, geographic locations, people's names, mathematical operations, and terms and signs used in specialist subjects.  These types of data do not by themselves readily produce visual imagery, thus the figurative code for each must be something that can be easily visualised.  Further, it is time consuming to hunt for a visual image representing the number 42 every time it occurs (perhaps in a bank account number or pass code).  The student must choose the same figurative code, learn it, and use it to represent the number 42 every time.

Techniques for Connection of Images

No matter what larger memorisation schema is being used for a specific body of data, in GMS only two images at a time are ever connected in the imagination.  It should take about two seconds to visualise the first image, two seconds to visualise the second, and then two seconds to see the two together, making six seconds in total to create one connection.  This six-second rule is taught to students of GMS right from the beginning; if a student takes longer than six seconds to form one connection, then an instructor must assume that the student is doing something wrong.  Experienced users can of course create connections much more quickly.

Visualised images must be large (take up the entire mental visual field), detailed, in colour, and three dimensional.  To connect the two images, it may be necessary to rotate them, imagine them from different sides, re-size their proportions, or perform other mental manipulations to make them fit together and get a connection that is easy to use.  In contrast to other memory systems, there is no requirement to make the connections "illogical".  Some people prefer familiar types of connections, others find unfamiliar types of connections easier to memorise; it is a matter of personal choice.  Irregardless of whether the individual finds familiar or unfamiliar connection types preferable, the second image of the pair is connected to the first either by piercing it, stacking on top of it, or being placed to the right hand side of it.

An association of a group of image elements can be created that encode particular information, as in the example of the nonsense word mentioned above.  The first or principal element of the information message forms the association base, with other information elements being affixed to selected parts of the base image.  Associations can contain from two to six images.  Association elements (the connected parts) always run from left to right or top to bottom, the same way that we read text, thus ensuring that the order of the information is preserved.

These associations can subsequently themselves be connected, either by connecting the various association bases among themselves, or by connecting the association bases to a system of support images – images which themselves contain no information message, but use sequences of familiar or pre-memorised information to prompt recall of data which has been connected to it.

Methods of Sequence Memorisation

The Cicero method (also known as the Roman Room method or the Method of Loci) uses familiar images from rooms in your house, workplace, your friends' houses, and other familiar locations.  The technique is to decide on a specific order of rooms (for example, hallway, living room, kitchen) and then select a predetermined number of objects, working clockwise around each room.  Images should be chosen that will later allow the user to single out five image parts in each one – the reason for this will be made clear later, under the heading "Support Image Blocks".  Other information which one wishes to remember can be attached to images of these familiar objects.

The Free Association Method is a way of remembering a sequence of images that have natural inter-relations, for instance, where there is a cup, there is often a saucer.  This technique is useful when the user needs to quickly form additional support images.

Parts of an image can be singled out in order to economise on images, and when creating associations.  Image parts are chosen from left to right or top to bottom to preserve the correct order of the connected data.

Long chains of images are not used in GMS (apart from during training exercises where long-term storage of the memorised data is not required) because they tend to deconstruct over time, with only the first few and last few items being remembered.  Short chains of images are however used in combination with other support images.  The entire chain is never visualised in one take, but each pair of images is visualised and connected in turn.  It is essential to distinguish which is the first and which is the second image of each pair.  The technique of having the second image pierce the first, stack on top of it, or connect to the right of it is used.

Often it is important to memorise images in sequence, while leaving each image in the sequence free for other sub-images, as in an association.  For this purpose, the Russian Doll method is used, whereby images nest inside one another, like a set of Matryoshka dolls.  To connect the next image in the sequence, one must zoom in on a part of an image and visualise the second image inside the magnified part of the first.  When recalling, the second image of the pair will not appear in the mind's eye until one mentally increases the size of the relevant part of the first image of the pair.

The return method is a combination of the Chain method and the singling out of image parts.  This is used for memorisation of difficult textual extracts containing many often-repeated figurative codes (two and three-digit numbers, names etc.).  Images representing precise data are memorised using the Chain method, but when data is encountered for which a figurative code is required, it is connected with an image part, rather than the previous image.

Material memorised can be recalled backwards, by simply scrolling through the visual images in the opposite direction, or by type, for example, everything containing the number 25.

Support Image Blocks

Before describing how all these techniques fit together to form blocks of data, a word of warning: figurative codes are never, ever used as support images!  This is one of the key mistakes taught in other memory systems, which invariably teach some form of pictonumeric system of figurative codes, and then teach the reader to peg other information to it.  This is wrong because a fresh set of images recorded on the support images will tend to overwrite the information that was stored previously.  It becomes increasingly difficult to use figurative codes for their intended purposes (the recall of numbers, letters etc.) when they have been misused in this way, because of the confusion of different information that may have been connected to them at different times.

This "overwrite" mechanism can be used to the mnemonist's advantage, however, when information becomes out-of-date and it is necessary to replace it with fresh data, for example, when a business associate changes his contact details.

Support image blocks consist of multiple levels of support images.  This may sound complex, but it is actually an extremely efficient way of generating almost infinite quantities of easily-memorised images onto which useful data can be connected.  Different support image blocks can be used to organise different databases in one's memory and keep different types of data separate – study data in one location, personal and business data in another, and yet another kept free for memorisation practice and training.  Obviously, these support blocks are prepared in advance before attempting to connect other information to them.  It is a good idea to always have one or two pre-prepared support image blocks in your memory so that they will be available when needed.

The first level, or the base images of the support block, would consist of Cicero images from a room in your house or some other familiar location.  For example, let's say your first room was the hallway, and the first image you selected was the front door to your house.

The second level would be the selection of image parts.  Take the image of the front door, and distinguish five separate parts, e.g. the glass panel, the doorbell, the lock, the letterbox and the kick plate.

The third level would consist of a short chain of random images connected to each sub-image above, e.g. a radio, an electric guitar, an alarm clock, a teakettle and a bicycle pump.  The first image of the sequence is connected to the first image part of the second level, e.g. the radio image is connected to the image of the glass panel of the front door.

The fourth level consists of breaking the third level images into parts, e.g. distinguish the radio's carry strap, aerial, tuning scale, tuning knob and speaker.  These final image parts are the images onto which your useful data will be connected.

If all the sub-images of the front door have a similar chain of random images, each of which are further broken down into five parts, this would give you a support block of 125 support images – and that is only based on the first Cicero image (the front door) in your first room!  As you can see, huge numbers of support images can gradually be built up from relatively few base images.

Fixing the Data

It is all very well being able to memorise data using the above techniques, but unless the material is activated and recalled, it will erase.

A user of GMS is able to control how long the data is kept in memory, according to need.  Data memorised as part of training exercises to build the skill of these techniques does not need to be kept, and therefore only one control recall is necessary to check the quality and speed of memorisation.  Useful data, on the other hand, can be kept for a lifetime if need be, using an appropriate repetition schedule.  Repetition, in GMS, does not mean rehearsing the data to memorise it, but rather refers to the fixation of data by means of multiple recollections.

The frequency and timing of such repetitions will, of course, depend on the quantity and complexity of the data, as well as the memorisation skill of the person using it.  An approximate schedule might be as follows:

1st repetition: 40-60 minutes after first memorisation.
2nd repetition: approx. three hours later.
3rd repetition: after approx. another six hours.
4th repetition: the next morning.

This number of repetitions would probably be the minimum necessary.  The more often the data is repeated, the better it will be fixed.  To store the data for a lifetime, it should be repeated at least once every six weeks.

If any part of the memorised data is no longer required, all that the user needs to do is stop repeating it, and eventually it will be naturally pruned out.

Developing the Skill

Students coming to GMS expecting a quick fix really ought to look elsewhere.  Nothing can be gained by merely reading about the techniques, or perhaps trying them out once or twice.  It takes intense preparation, study and practice to develop the necessary facility in using the techniques, concentration, stability of attention or mental stamina to memorise vast quantities of data.  Regular training must be done to build up to the level of skill where one can memorise a whole book or lecture.

Doing a two hour GMS lesson at least three times a week is the bare minimum for most people to begin to build up the skill, but preferably one lesson a day should be taken.  For those who struggle with the lessons, there are the "psychotechnical exercises" – additional drills to assist the student with their concentration and visualisation abilities.

Eventually, it is possible to create 300 and more connections in one sitting (and this level of skill will almost certainly be necessary if one wishes to memorise entire books).  This skill can then be pushed to a whole new level by practising with the TV on in the background, so one really learns to focus the attention and block out distractions.

Final Word

A person can only use the data that is available for recall.  By increasing the amount of data that can be held in the memory at any one moment, then it stands to reason that the ability to think reflectively or creatively, to analyse or synthesise information, will be greatly increased.  To my knowledge, no formal "before and after" IQ testing has ever been conducted.  However, after developing one's memory skills to even a fraction of the level described above, the repetition of a short series of random numbers and letters on a test, forwards, backwards or in any desired order, would be extremely easy.
For further information on the Giordano Memory System please visit the School of Phenomenal Memory website.

(c) Gwyneth Wesley Rolph 2010.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Beyond Accelerated Learning: The Use of Audiovisual Entrainment as a Study Tool

This article examined the work in accelerated learning techniques pioneered by Dr. Georgi Lozanov and popularised by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their book "Superlearning" (1979), and how the underlying principles can be enhanced using modern neurotechnology. This article appeared in IQ Nexus Magazine, Vol. 4, June 2010. Some of the technology referenced in the article has now been superseded with more modern equipment and this may be the topic of future blog entries.

Beyond Accelerated Learning - the Use of Audiovisual Entrainment as a Study Tool


This report examines a teaching method originally based on the works of of Dr. Georgi Lozanov, the Bulgarian professor and psychotherapist, and then examines how more recent technological developments in the field of neuroscience can be used to enhance the relaxation/assimilation technique even further.


In 1966, Dr. Lozanov founded the Suggestology Research Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Unlike most classroom learning, Dr. Lozanov developed a holistic method of teaching involving role-playing, games, the visual arts, and music. Learning was designed to be a natural, pleasurable process. The learning environment was designed to be pleasant, safe and foster the involvement of the student with the subject content, the facilitator and other students. Dr. Lozanov was interested in making the learning process user-friendly as well as rapid. This method was named Suggestopedia (from "suggestion" and "pedagogy"), based on the idea that suggestions can and do affect the outcome of learning.

Suggestopedia was part of bundle of techniques designed to help people research the reserves of mind and body by co-ordinating the function of the body and both sides of the brain. These techniques were named Suggestology and had their roots in Raja Yoga. Lozanov was interested in the application of altered states for learning, healing and intuitive development.

Dr. Lozanov's early program focused on the teaching of foreign languages using relaxation, pictures and music. Using this method, students were able to learn anywhere between 100 and 1,000 new foreign vocabulary words per day with a retention rate of 98% or even better. Although what came to be known as Accelerated Learning or Superlearning works exceptionally well for language learning, this teaching method can be applied to most types of subject matter.

When educators in the West heard of Dr. Lozanov's work, they were obviously keen to replicate the results, which to those educated in more traditional classrooms seemed too good to be true. The original Western observers were shown 12 students sitting in a circle of reclining chairs, with background music playing while the teacher read material aloud to the class using different tones of voice. When the procedure was finished, the class were tested and were shown to have recalled everything.

Attempts to replicate the technique in the United States and elsewhere were disappointing. Students were tested after such a study session and could not reproduce anywhere near the level of speed or retention claimed by the original Lozanov studies.

In the 1960s, everything was all about politics behind the Iron Curtain. In a climate where being seen to get too cozy with Western "spies" had consequences, the Bulgarian and Soviet powers that be had been reluctant to hand over their secrets to those whom they perceived as the enemy. Key parts to the technique that made the Lozanov method so effective had not been revealed to the Western observers.
Dr. Jane Bancroft, Associate Professor of French at the University of Toronto, also happened to be trained in music and became interested in the work being done. Visiting the Suggestology Institute, she found herself inadvertently swept into a class with a group of visiting Soviets. She seized the opportunity to tape this demonstration, in addition to the recording of the session she already had for the benefit of Westerners.

Back in Toronto, Dr. Bancroft compared the two recorded demos. The recording for the Soviets contained music pieces which had the slow 60 beat per minute tempo often used in music therapy to slow down the rhythms of mind and body. Using a stopwatch, Dr. Bancroft discovered that the material was being read by the teacher to the students in a precise rhythm of 8-10 seconds.
This 8-10 second pattern had previously been researched by two of America's leading medical hypnotists to vastly accelerate learning and creativity by expanding a person's time perception. It worked well - provided the person was in deep hypnosis. The Bulgarians had apparently discovered a way to get remarkable results on students while they were in full conscious control.

Dr. Bancroft decided she needed to investigate further recordings of classes and made a series of visits to Suggestology centres in the USSR and Hungary, and conferred with many educational experts and Communist defectors.

The Bulgarian students had additionally been tested for sensitivity to music. If a person happened not to be responsive, other ways of slowing down the body/mind rhythms could be used, such as breathing exercises, autogenic training, biofeedback or even a metronome set to 60 beats per minute.
Dr. Bancroft and a colleague tested the newly reconstructed technique on schoolchildren who were behind in their reading. The results were nothing short of spectacular: many achieved a 4:1 speed-up of their reading skills.

The more relaxed the students were, the better the technique appeared to work.

In 1972, Ray Benitez-Bordon of the University of Iowa and Dr. Donald Schuster, Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University became interested in enhanced memory techniques and began experimenting with these learning methods. Students learned more than a full year's Spanish in 10 days. The Iowa professors broke down every element of the technique that Dr. Bancroft had described to find out exactly what caused such superior learning performance and find out what each of the variables did.

Tests showed that if students breathed rhythmically during a session in which rhythmically paced material was featured, retention jumped 78%, compared to 25% if they did not.

The addition of affirmations for pleasant, easy learning pushed retention still higher.


Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their book "Superlearning" outline the basic principles of the Lozanov technique for DIY'ers. They recommend that before starting to listen to recordings, the student should practise the following for a week:

1. Relaxation, while listening to positive recorded affirmations regarding study and learning.
2. Calming the mind, using visualisations.
3. Recalling times when learning was joyful.
4. Practising breathing to patterns of 4, 6 and 8 seconds.

People doing Superlearning at home could get a friend to read the material to them, or make a recording.

A recording would typically have 4 minutes of introductory music, 13 minutes of learning material, followed by 3 minutes of faster music to end the session.

The 8-second pattern goes as follows: 4 seconds of silence (known as the first frame), followed by 4 seconds of spoken material (the second frame). It is possible to fit quite a bit of material into 4 seconds. It is not necessary to read in time to the beat, and the music will change tempo slightly from time to time anyway. The idea is simply to fit the material within a space of 4 seconds.

For longer material, such as foreign phrases, the Bulgarians often used the last 2 beats of the first frame. The key material to be learned is kept within the second frame. For example, if you were using this technique to learn French phrases, the English translation would be given quickly during the third and fourth seconds of the first frame, and the French phrase given during the four seconds of the second frame.

For learning rules, mathematics principles, long definitions etc. which cannot be kept within a 4 second timescale it is better not to fragment the material, but to read it all and take as many beats as needed. In one American study, a 12 beat cycle was successfully used, comprising 3 frames of 4 seconds each.

The Bulgarians used varying tones of voice to enhance interest/concentration. Typically, the first piece of information would be read in a normal speaking voice, the second in a soft, whispering voice, and then then third in a loud, commanding voice. This pattern was repeated over and over. Some people have done superlearning successfully without intonation, it seems to be an optional component, but the more components that are included, the more successful the technique is overall.
The first step in using this technique is to review the material. The student should try to make the material as vivid as possible: try going over it as a game, play or dialogue.

Relaxation exercises should be done next, accompanied by the positive affirmations and recalling of times when you felt you learned something well.

The supermemory sessions are in two parts. The first part is to silently read along with the material being recited to you to the rhythmic pattern. The breath is held while the material is read aloud (4 seconds), then exhale (2 seconds) and inhale (2 seconds) during the four seconds of silence.

In the second part, the students' eyes are closed while they listen to the same material being recited again with the music behind it, with the same breathing rhythm as in the first part.

Most people start with 40 to 50 new bits of information, but it is possible to assimilate as many as 80-100 new bits of information during the course of a 15 minute recording.

Afterwards, a short quiz can be used to provide feedback. It is of course important to try and use the new material over the next few days.

Superlearning apparently has a snowball effect: when using the system over a period of time, it appears to become more and more effective.


The billions of neurons that make up the brain use electricity to communicate with each other. The combined effect of millions of neurons sending signals simultaneously produces an enormous amount of electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected using equipment such as an EEG, measuring electricity levels over areas of the scalp.

Along with the discovery of brainwaves came the discovery that electrical activity in the brain varies according to the person's activities. For instance, the brainwaves of a sleeping person are have a very different pattern to the brainwaves of a person who is wide awake. The development of more sensitive equipment has brought about an increased knowledge of what the various brainwave patterns represent.

The delta band (3 hz and under) is associated with deep, dreamless sleep. Theta (3-8 hz) occurs in light sleep or extreme relaxation. Alpha waves occur at around 8-12 hz and are associated with a relaxed but awake state, such as on first waking in the morning or while daydreaming. SMR, or sensorimotor rhythm, occurs at 12-15 hz and is related to body motion as well as concentration. Beta waves (15hz and higher) are associated with high alertness. The very high beta frequencies can also be associated with anxiety.

It has been demonstrated that the best frequencies for the type of relaxation and receptivity required for superlearning lay in the region of the alpha-theta border (around 7-8 hz).

It is possible to learn how to access the various states of consciousness associated with these brainwave frequencies through practices such as meditation or biofeedback. For the purposes of study and learning, taking the time first to learn how to do this is impractical for most people. Fortunately, there are other means of achieving the same effect more rapidly and efficiently.

It is a commonly known fact that attending a rock concert tends to cause the pulse to synchronise to the beat of the music, whereas listening to classical music with a more sedate rhythm has a calming effect. This tendency for the body's physiological responses to synchronise with some external stimulus is known as the frequency following response.

Early experiments with an EEG showed that a person's brainwave patterns also tend to mirror external stimuli. By using the classical music as a backdrop to his teaching technique, Lozanov had taken advantage of a process known as entrainment: the deliberate use of frequencies to gently coax the brain into a desired brainwave state.

Whereas relaxation for Superlearning worked using classical music, there are means of producing much stronger entrainment effects.

The most effective audio stimulus is the isochronic tone, an evenly-spaced pulsed tone which simply turns on and off at a given rate per second. Binaural beats (the effect produced when two musical notes that are slightly out-of-tune with each other are played separately into each ear), and monaural beats (when the two tones are simply played together without the stereo effect) can be used, but they have a much softer wave form and their effect is not nearly as strong in producing the desired cortical response.

Visual entrainment (the use of lights flashing to a specific rhythm) has been found to produce ten times as much stimulation as audio entrainment. It is possible to use these effects to produce a far more effective Superlearning session than could have been envisioned when Ostrander and Schroeder wrote their 1979 work.


A light and sound machine is a device with earphones and a set of goggles fitted with LED lights. When a session is selected, pulsed beats are synchronised with flashing lights to produce the effect desired by the user. A session usually starts somewhere in the alpha range and changes gradually to faster or slower frequences, depending on which session has been selected. There are various models of light and sound machines on the market today. Most come with a generous amount of preset sessions, and many are also programmable. The DAVID Paradise light and sound machine comes with a heartbeat sound for the purpose of synchronising the breathing; a useful feature if one wishes to use the machine for Superlearning.

Although using a light and sound machine with the features described above is ideal for doing Superlearning, however a slightly less expensive, but highly effective, option is a PC-based system. The Transparent Corporation produces audiovisual software incorporating various types of audio beats and a flashing screen. Their Neuroprogrammer software even incorporates a "Superlearning tool" - basically, a session that ramps in frequency down to the alpha-theta border and then plays material pre-recorded by the user and looped a desired number of times.

Nowadays, there is a variety of home recording software and PC-based sound editors available to the average user.

Digital recordings can be made using software such as Audacity. There are even mini mixing desks with their own software which can be purchased extremely cheaply. Using such software or recording equipment, it is possible to pace the material to the desired pattern using onscreen editing, rather than having to grapple with a stopwatch to time oneself while trying to read aloud from the original source materials.

Users of entrainment often ask questions regarding how to tell what effect the entrainment is having, whether it is having the desired effect, or even whether entrainment is happening at all. It is possible to purchase home EEG packages which can be used for personal exploration, or to use in conjunction with entrainment for monitoring purposes. Unfortunately, most of the models available within the budget range of the home experimenter tend to be rather limited. Typically, they have two channels (one electrode for each side of the head), which may not be sufficient to provide any more than very basic feedback. Anyone wishing to go down the route of home EEG would be advised to invest in the best model they can afford, and take the care to learn about correct placement of electrodes and how to interpret the data. The Mind Mirror would be the cheapest home EEG that I would consider, at a cost of approximately $3,500. More sophisticated models are not only much more expensive, but it is possible that suppliers may only sell them to medical practitioners.

A project for further experimentation would be to build a home system incorporating full 360 degree feedback. A good quality light and sound machine would need to be be used, such as the DAVID Paradise XL, with the pre-recorded lesson material set to start playing once the desired frequency had been reached. Using appropriate software, data could be fed from a multi-channel EEG back to the light and sound machine to ensure that the learner is continually provided with the exact frequency necessary to ensure that he or she stays the optimum state for memory and learning throughout the duration of the session.

It goes without saying that the student should go through the material first to ensure that the nomenclature etc. is thoroughly understood before attempting to memorize it using Superlearning. An accumulation of misunderstood words cause a person to become drowsy; this plus the combination of entrainment at the alpha/theta border level is a recipe for only one outcome: sleep. Superlearning cannot be expected to somehow force recall of information which was incomprehensible to the student.

(c) Gwyneth Wesley Rolph 2010

Friday, 31 May 2019

Effective Study Methods and Biomonitoring-Assisted Study Debug Techniques

This is the second article in the series that was originally published  in IQ Nexus Magazine, this one in Vol. 3, March 2010. This article explores the most workable study techniques, together with the use of the GSR meter to locate and resolve a student's areas of difficulty with his or her study materials.


The subject of this paper is twofold.

Firstly, it covers some of the problems that can be encountered in teaching and learning, and how to overcome them. The methodology described is known as study technology.

The subject of study technology is too large to cover every part of it in its entirety here, and it should not be assumed that the methods described here for overcoming the main barriers to learning constitute the entire subject.

Although popularised by others, the basics of study technology were originally researched over a 40 year period by two English professors, Charles and Ava Berner. Their work collated the successful methods of many of the foremost educators down through time and distilled these into a simple but workable methodology.

The brief description of the key elements to study tech is given to provide some essential background context to the second part of this paper. In this latter section, I describe how the GSR meter can be used to locate where a student is having problems in study, and to assist the supervisor or teacher in helping him getting it cleared up. For an in-depth discussion of the theory of the GSR meter and how it works, see my earlier paper entitled "Biofeedback Monitoring using a Galvanic Skin Response Meter".

This paper is written up from my experience as a course supervisor and study debug specialist.


Unless the student truly believes that there is something there to learn, and desires to know about it, he or she will not be receptive to the subject matter. Unwillingness to learn is the first and biggest stumbling block to be overcome.

One of the most obvious ways that unwillingness to learn manifests itself is when the student starts out with the assumption that he already knows about the subject. It can be very difficult to teach someone who believes his knowledge in a similar earlier field qualifies him as an expert in the new subject, and such students can often be seen trying to persuade the teacher how, by incorporating their ideas, the new subject can be "improved".

Some students believe that their powers of critical analysis are so great that they can critique each new datum before they have actually acquired sufficient subject context to formulate informed judgments. On being given any new piece of information regarding the subject, characteristically this type of student will immediately attempt to challenge the teacher or lecturer or engage him in a debate about it, instead of taking the viewpoint that they are there to learn, and should treat the course as a resource to add to their arsenal of knowledge. Until the student can disabuse himself of such a peremptory attitude, little progress can be made.

It can be very difficult to study without having a concrete reality on the concepts described in the course content. It is not difficult to visualize a familiar subject, for example, if a tennis coach were reading an article about tennis. He would already be sufficiently au fait with the subject to translate the author's words easily into mental pictures. Students run into difficulty when the concepts are new to them and they have little or no real life familiarity with the subject area. The more the abstract the text and the farther removed the student is from the actual physical reality of what it is describing, the greater student's prior understanding of the subject must be in order to comprehend it.

When this physical world reality - real objects, scenarios, people, places etc. - is not available to a person while studying, this can give rise to actual bodily feelings. Study tech calls this phenomenon absence of mass. Students start to hunch over their books, feel "heavy" in the body or head, or feel wooden or lifeless. They will start to feel pressures in the head or face, have headaches, stomach aches, discomfort in the eyes, spinning or dizzy feelings, or become bored or exasperated with the subject. When a child gets sick during study this is a symptom of not having sufficient mass or reality on the subject present.

The most optimum solution would be for the student to go and find the actual object itself to observe during study. If a person is reading the manual for their car, then the obvious thing to do would be to go out to the car and look at the actual parts of the car described in the manual.

When the real-life object is not available, then some substitute representing the item can often serve adequately. Movies, videos, photos, maps, drawings and diagrams all work well for this purpose. In this day of television, video, DVD and Internet, I see absolutely no reason for not using these resources to the max as study aids. I disagree with those who label the use of video resources as "dumbing down", and I certainly cannot agree with certain educational purists who seem to wish to impose a blanket ban on television for schoolchildren! The Open University in the United Kingdom realised the value of television programmes as a study aid decades ago - it seems their curriculum designers recognised its value in terms of providing mass and reality on the University's course topics.

Another resource is the demo kit. Students are taught to use various small objects to represent items and show concepts. The purpose of this is to demonstrate understanding. Paper clips, bottle caps, rubber bands and other small items are moved around on the table to show a rough and speedy outline of the datum being taught. An extension of this demonstration principle is the construction of clay demos - crude plasticine models showing the datum or situation the student is trying to learn about. These methods of demonstration are useful not only in providing an approximate physical universe representation of the datum to the student, but are an excellent way for the teacher to check the student's understanding.

It is a personal observation that visual learners need mass, and lots of it, in order to understand a concept. Mass may be more important for a strongly visual-spatial learner than repeatedly drilling basic datums. Linda Silverman describes such students in her book "Upside Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner". I believe that one major weakness of study tech is that it does not mention that the sizeable minority of students who are very strongly visual-spatial need mass and reality, rather than drill and the gradient approach.

When a person jumps several steps ahead and consequently finds the material or action too difficult, this is known as a skipped gradient. For example, a person is trying to play complex rock guitar licks, but has never even sat down and worked out which string and fret produces which note.

People often skip ahead and take on too much because they are impatient. A would-be athlete might make a resolution to run five miles a day. On his first day, he is surprised to sustain an injury. This occurs, however, because he had never done any running before, except perhaps to run for the bus.

Although this barrier is most visible when it comes to practical actions, it does apply to theoretical understanding too. A person would not get very far as a book-keeper if they had never mastered basic arithmetic.

There are also non-optimum study reactions connected with a skipped gradient: the student experiences confusion, or a sort of reeling sensation.

The way to handle a skipped gradient is to go back and find the last action the student could do well, and spend some more time strengthening that skill. Note that the trick is to go back to BEFORE the point where the student started to struggle, as there will be an earlier missed skill or datum that is causing the difficulty. The best description I ever heard that sums up this principle was from a seminar leader who said, "When it becomes difficult, find the simplicity you missed." It may be that the student has to practise Exercise 1 a few times or a hundred times more before he is ready for Exercise 2. But it will be worth the work put in and the time spent, because the student is building up a solid foundation of skill.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to work at the basics when tackling a new subject or activity.

The next barrier to comprehension is bypassing definitions which were not understood, or inadequately understood.

People are often not as literate as they think they are. It seems counter-intuitive, but from my experience as a course supervisor, usually the more educated the person, the more likely he is to over-estimate his level of literacy. I have had native English-speaking doctors, accountants and teachers in my courses who could not give precise definitions of basic vocabulary words. Virtually none of them had ever been gotten into the habit of using a dictionary during their formal education.

Words which the student cannot define exactly cause a vast array of physical and mental symptoms. Count Alfred Korzybski, in his works on General Semantics, noted that reading past inadequately defined or undefined words (hereinafter called "misunderstood words" or "misunderstoods" for the purpose of brevity) caused physiological and psychological responses, and argued that it is crucial to fully understand every word in a text.

The first phenomenon of the misunderstood word is as follows. When reading on past a such a word without getting it adequately defined, the text immediately following that word becomes a blank in the student's memory, because the student's attention is still unconsciously stuck on the earlier word. This explains why most people have had the experience of reading to the end of a page or chapter and not being able to recall anything they just read.

This would also go a long way towards explaining why "speed reading" does not work. Speed reading courses spend a large percentage of the instruction time coaching students on the physical actions of moving their fingers and eyes over the page in order to increase reading speed, but there is nothing in these courses which explains how to simultaneously increase the student's understanding. Speed reading gurus are fond of selling the idea of speed reading by pointing out the correlation between reading speed and comprehension. Their interpretation of this correlation however is backwards. Reading speed and comprehension are indeed linked, but this is because people who understand what they are reading automatically tend to read faster than those who are struggling with the material. The way to achieve greater comprehension is to read carefully and clear up any vocabulary, symbols etc. that need to be cleared up as the student goes along. Unless the text is very easy, or relatively unimportant, attempting to "speed read" is a sure way to stack up many misunderstood words, which will be more difficult to go back and find later, as the student will have read very much further on in the text at high speed.

When a person's misunderstood words are not found and cleared up, there is a second phenomenon which occurs. The mind's solution to something which is not understood is to attempt to separate from it. Once this happens, the student may feel justified in committing large or small misdeeds against the more general area. (Did you ever wonder why there is so much vandalism and bullying in schools?) Eventually, the student may drop out of the course or choose to give up on the subject altogether. In our modern society, where leaving school before a certain age may be against the law, or where social pressures are brought to bear on the student not to give up on his or her studies, physically leaving may not be an option. The mind has its own way of responding to this enforced continuation of the subject. The student rotely memorises material which can be dutifully repeated on an exam paper, or stand up under questioning, such as on a class pop quiz. However, the student remains mentally detached from the material, which although it seems to be understood by the student by all appearances, it in fact has been superficially memorised and is not known well enough for the person to actually apply the data in a live situation. Hence you get students who get A+ on their exams but cannot transfer their theoretical "understanding" to the real world. People who study many subjects but never do anything with the information have misunderstoods that were blocking their comprehension to the point that they could not, or were not willing to attempt to, get a practical result.

Some authors tell you to disregard the words you don't know or are unsure of, and try to work them out from the context before continuing! Tony Buzan in his books on brainpower and study makes this mistake, and even Marilyn Vos Savant gives this same piece of erroneous advice in her Brainpower book. This is probably because these authors, being themselves very literate people, seem unable to put themselves in the position of the average student, who is more likely to run into difficulty with words and vocabulary than a professional author. Buzan also runs professional study skills seminars, but he clearly hasn't observed or grasped what happens in the student's mind when he/she bypasses a misunderstood word.

The physiological and mental phenomena caused by misunderstood words are manifold. They include blankness (as mentioned above), feeling of being mentally absent or daydreaming, anxiety or nervousness, or doing inappropriate actions owing to having developed a wrong idea of what is to be done.

When a student feels tired, sleepy or dopey while studying, this is an indication that he or she has sufficient undefined words that his/her attempt to grasp the subject has been blocked. A student usually wants to learn and get a result. A person whose goal or objective has been thwarted can feel tired because of this. Hence the student, whose learning goal has been prevented because of insufficient vocabulary to grasp the material enters this phenomenon. Many times I have taken a sleepy student, carefully picked over the words in the references they were reading, helped them clear them up with a suitable dictionary, and had them bright and alert before the course period was over.

A person who has a limited vocabulary and has many misunderstood definitions will be very, very stupid. In fact, a person's vocabulary is key to their performance on many types of tests of ability.

A common problem is for students to assume that words only need to be cleared when he or she has a completely wrong definition, or no definition at all. A student can have a partial definition for a word, an invented definition, a definition that is related in some way but isn't accurate, a different definition that doesn't fit the context, confuse it with a word that sounds the same, attempt to define a word in terms of its synonyms, or simply reject the proper definition for the word outright because of some unpleasant emotional association. It is easy for a student to think that such terms are understood, and yet still have difficulty.

Sometimes, despite applying the data on the barriers to comprehension as above, a student can still have difficulty understanding and applying the data, and this can be tracked down to having acquired earlier false data regarding the subject the student is trying to study. What happens here is that either the student tries to assemble a synthesis in his mind of the two conflicting facts - which turns out to be crazy and inapplicable - or his ability to think in that area simply freezes up and does not function.

Where a person doesn't seem to understand the on-the-job training or can't be educated on a subject, is not grasping or understanding the material he has studied or is incapable of applying them correctly even after word clearing on the materials, is rejecting the data he is learning or the definitions of words being cleared, you know or suspect that the person has studied earlier materials on the subject at hand, that could contain incorrect data, he quotes such sources repeatedly and has a hard time with data at hand, is afraid of actually applying the data, even after word clearing, is being superficial with the data, is bogged, or just can't think with the data, there is a very strong possibility that you are looking at a student with false data.

There is a procedure which enables the student to inspect his own beliefs about the subject and track false data down to its source. This is known as false data stripping.

A student can have trouble with a subject when its purpose is not being made clear to the student. I believe a prime example of a subject that is taught this way habitually is mathematics. Young students are taught basic arithmetical operations without having it explained why they need to know, or that arithmetic belongs to the greater science known as mathematics which has many real-life applications. Later, those same students are presented with such topics as geometry and algebra, which the school curriculum assumes they are now "ready" to learn, having covered basic arithmetic, but again without being told what those calculations are actually for or what mathematics really is or does.

Again, in my experience it is the very strongly visual-spatial learner who suffers from this approach to teaching. Those students with a primarily auditory-sequential learning style are more likely to be able to cope with merely following instructions. The former, however, tend to be the students who really NEED to grasp the purpose of the subject as a central concept on which to peg the details.

The matter of "too long a runway" gives us a simple rule - that the longer the runway, the more chances the student has to fail. Where education becomes a conveyor-belt system, where having a sheepskin is more important than what the student has actually learned, and bureaucracy insists on having the boxes checked for all the "prerequisite" levels and extra bells and whistles, it is possible that many students end up having to invest time and money in courses that have nothing to do with their core areas of interest and merely serve to add time and expense to the training. It is very possible that many students who have had to drop out of higher education on financial grounds may have gotten through their training had they been catered to by means of a course more tailor-made to what they actually needed to know.

And then there are the courses which are so user-unfriendly it begs the question whether they were actually designed to put the student off. There are teachers and materials which constantly warn the student, "Don't do this", "Don't do that", to the point where it is a wonder anyone who takes the course actually ends up doing anything at all. There are courses and books which include material which has no possible use or relevance to the skills supposedly being taught, yet the student is flunked if he can't repeat such pedantry on an exam paper. There are books and materials which include terms or symbols which aren't defined anywhere, but the student is still expected to understand it. The only thing that can be done when encountering such material or such a teaching approach is to realise that the subject is being taught suppressively, and find a course or materials that present the material in a more student-friendly fashion.

Because of its strict methodology, this study technology is ideal for teaching to students of all abilities and educational attainments to improve their ability to study.

The particularly uneducated (or mis-educated) will particularly benefit from its gradient approach, its relation of abstract concepts to the real world, and its insistence on clearing up vocabulary, in which they will usually be found to be particularly weak.

However, this method of study and teaching is just as much a boon to the gifted, as many of them may have fallen through the educational gaps due to lack of challenge in their early schooling. Gifted students may have failed to acquire good work habits, failed to learn to persist or learn from their mistakes. Part and parcel of this methodology is the use of a checksheet: a document listing out all the items to be studied and practical exercises to undertake in the exact order they are to be done. This has the advantage that the more able students can study faster than the rest of the class if they so wish. Because students are expected to have mastered each piece of theory material and practical exercise before moving onto the next study item on the course, it teaches the student a high level of personal study discipline which the student can easily transfer to other types of courses. Learning to apply the barriers to comprehension means that bright students are able to take responsibility for their own learning situation, recognise when they have grasped something and when it requires more work, and to apply the right gradient for their own abilities.


As a study aid, the GSR meter is used chiefly to locate misunderstood words and inspect/reject false data.

The process of clearing up misunderstood words and symbols in a dictionary, grammar book or other reference book is called "word clearing". Students are taught to find and clear their misunderstood words as they go along without being reliant on the meter, however, students who have become stuck or bogged down, or are just simply not doing well in their studies, find word clearing performed on the meter by an expert word clearer to be extremely effective at handling the specific difficulty and getting them moving again.

Just as emotionally charged areas in counselling or psychotherapy register on the meter, so do misunderstood words.

Most people have been encouraged from an early age to suppress the normal reactions to reading words which do not make sense to them. The student is encouraged by the teacher to attempt to sound out the pronunciation of the word, and if he/she can pronounce it correctly, the teacher rarely checks for comprehension of that word, but instead prompts the student to continue reading. Dictionaries are rarely introduced as a classroom tool until several years later, by which juncture the young student will inevitably have already stacked up many misunderstood words during the course of their schooling. (My own primary school promoted dictionaries purely as a resource for looking up spellings.)

When a person reads a sentence containing a misunderstood word, that portion of the text cannot be encoded into concepts and pictures by the mind. This causes the area of text immediately following to literally become a blank area - the person cannot recall it, because it was never adequately encoded into a concept. This blank area generates sufficient protest in the mind of the individual to register on the meter. Usually this will show up as a fall, which can be taken up by the word clearer.

There are methods of using the meter to clear up specific areas of material with which the student is currently having trouble. An easy method is to direct the student's attention to specific portions of text and questioning them about possible difficulties while watching for reactions on the meter.

Obviously, the student would need to have studied through the materials first. The word clearer would check to make sure the student's study resources are complete, to ensure that any confusion would not have occurred from missing materials. The word clearer would ask the student to look over a manageable sized portion of text (paragraph, page, chapter or whatever), and ask questions such as did the student not understand something, have a confusion, couldn't apply the data etc. The word clearer would vary the questions. The point of this is to find the exact area(s) where the student was having the trouble.

Once such an area is located, the word clearer would ask if there was a misunderstood word just before that. Meter needle reactions can be used to help steer the student onto the word. If a fall appears on the question, this can obviously be taken up, but it may be necessary to look for little patterns or ticks that can be used to "steer" the student's attention onto the word. When found, the word can then be cleared up in a good dictionary. Just as when the meter is used for counselling purposes, the word clearer would be looking to take each word cleared to a floating (free) needle to signal a good point.

As with any word clearing done on the meter, it is possible that after clearing a word, no free needle is seen. When this occurs, the student may have another misunderstood, or possibly a whole chain of misunderstoods, that are similar in some way to the current word in question. The word clearer would ask the student if there is an earlier similar misunderstood word. Again, a fall on the question, or the use of meter steering, can be used to help direct the student's attention as he searches his own recall for such a word. This is cleared in the dictionary in the usual way, and once a free needle is achieved, the words touched upon while going down the chain can be checked to ensure that they too produce a free needle. It is not unusual while following a word chain to find that the student also has earlier misunderstandings of grammar terms and even gaps in his basic subject knowledge which will have to be cleared up using grammar books, encyclopedias or other appropriate resources.

Another method is to have the student read aloud from the text while watching for reads, which can then be followed up and cleared in the dictionary. However, experience has shown that unless the student has had their prior education very thoroughly worked over with word clearing, the meter may read on everything and anything due to the sheer amount of earlier misunderstoods, and so it may not be helpful to use the read aloud method until the person's earlier education has been cleared up to a thorough result.

The recovery of prior education word clearing is in fact done under the discipline of a metered counselling procedure, even though the purpose of it is to clear words, rather than dig into the person's case. This procedure constitutes a thorough overhaul of both subjects encountered in the person's formal education, plus any other subjects he/she may have been involved in personally or professionally. Once started, it must be completed to a thorough result. It can take several full days or a couple of weeks of work, depending on the quantity of subjects and words found, and is not a quick fix solution. Students can pair up and run this procedure on each other, on a turn-about basis.

The method is as follows. A standard list of common subjects, plus any additional subjects which the word clearer writes down in advance which he/she knows the student has studied, is read out to the student while watching for and noting down reads. After this prepared list is completed, the student is also invited to name any further subjects which he/she has studied which have not been included on the list so far. The word clearer would also look for reads on these subjects as the student named them.

Starting with the subject that gave the largest read, the word clearer would proceed to ask the student for misunderstood words to do with that subject. These would be fully cleared up using dictionaries, encyclopedias and any other necessary reference materials. Earlier and earlier words in the subject would be located and cleared up within the subject until the student made a statement to the effect that he felt good about the subject, accompanied by a free needle. This would signalize the completion of that subject, and the next largest reading subject on the list would be taken up.

It sometimes occurs that the student will run out of answers without reaching the point of feeling good about the subject. In this instance, the word clearer would ask for an earlier subject and then proceed to find and clear the misunderstoods to do with the earlier subject. Subjects can be taken earlier until the desired result is achieved.

Once each reading subject on the original list had been cleared up, the list is reassessed, with any reading subjects being taken up and handled per the above. This is done until a free needle is observed, with no further reads being produced, on the entire list. This is the end point of this procedure.

My own opinion and observation is that once all the misunderstood words have been removed from a person's earlier education, it may be important to allow the student to restudy that subject to a full result. I have observed a type of "informational hunger" setting in, which can invalidate the gains from the word clearing, when the student is not permitted to revisit the subject afresh and go over part or all of it from the viewpoint of their new-found understanding.

Sometimes under training, a person chronically alters some data or instructions. The GSR meter can be used to find the misunderstood word which is causing the person to have strange ideas about what is to be done. The person can be gently asked about the area of the alteration, and meter reads used to trace down the word that occurred before that.

Occasionally, a person will have such a key misunderstood word that it actually causes them to come to a crashing halt regarding more than one aspect of life. They are named "crashing" misunderstoods. It is possible to use the GSR meter to locate these words, even though quite a bit of hunting and digging around may be necessary to find it.

Another use is in the removal of false data. A person can have trouble studying when they have encountered too many pieces of incorrect information in the past. An example might be a person who has been taught the rules of grammar too rigidly by an authoritarian teacher. Later, while taking a creative writing class, the student cannot grasp examples of where those rules may be broken for dramatic or literary effect, such as the split infinitive in "to boldly go..." One of two things will be likely to happen. Either he will create an unworkable synthesis to try and deal with the cognitive dissonance caused by the conflicting facts, or his ability to think on the subject will simply lock up. Either way, the student requires a procedure known as false data stripping to get to the bottom of what is causing the confusion.

A series of questions are asked of the student, to enquire whether there is anything on the subject at hand that he couldn't think with, had no use for, etc. These questions can be used to track down areas of possible false data. When the person offers up such an area of confusion, the word clearer would ask if he had been given any false data regarding that.

A simple recall technique is used to ensure that the student has fully examined and mentally released ("blown") the false datum, i.e. where it came from, where the involved parties were, what they were doing etc. It is interesting to note that when a false datum first surfaces, it actually might not read on the meter, because the student believes it to be true. Other meter phenomena, such as a high skin resistance or a tight, unresponsive needle may be present. A datum that didn't flush up during one round of false data stripping may surface on a subsequent attempt, because false data tends to come off in layers, like an onion.

After the person has blown all the available false data to do with the subject, it is important to get them to study the true data to do with the subject, to ensure that they fully grasp what is the correct data. A simple textbook, encyclopedia entry, machine manual, or educational video usually suffices.


Testimonies to IQ increases after doing word clearing could be located online at the time of writing, but no actual test data were provided.

I propose that it would be worthwhile making an extensive study of the above mentioned techniques, with before and after testing, on quantities of students.

© Gwyneth Wesley Rolph 2010