Mnemonic devices are techniques you can use to help improve your ability to remember something. They are simple shortcuts that help you better encode and recall information. These mnemonic devices are usually images, words, or phrases.
Mnemonic devices use association and cues to recall information. You associate the item you want to remember with something else that is easily remembered such as an image, word, or phrase. You then use that image or word to provide the retrieval cue for the item you wish to remember.
Mnemonic devices can be useful when you need to remember a list of items, specific facts, or steps in a procedure.
Popular Mnemonic Devices
Below is are some popular mnemonic devices that can help you to remember information.
Method of Loci
Imagery or Visualization
Method of Loci
The method of loci involves visualizing yourself moving through some familiar place and placing each item to be recalled in a specific place. It is commonly referred to as the mental walk, and is a great technique for kinesthetic learners.
To utilize this method, first, select a location you are very familiar with. It could be a route you know well (drive to work or school) or specific locations in a building (your home). You need a path through the location as well as clearly defined locations along the path.
Imagine yourself walking through the location and placing items you want to remember in specific places you selected. Picture yourself putting items into each of these places by moving through this location in a direct path. Later imagine revisiting each location and retrieving the items.
Acronyms are words formed from the first letters of a list of words. Each letter acts as a cue to an item you need to remember. In school, students are often taught to use the acronym HOMES to remember the five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior).
To create acronym, take the list of words or facts that you want to remember and put them in an order so that the first letters of each word spell a real word or a made-up word.
PEMDAS, sequence in solving or evaluating math equations Parenthesis | Exponents | Multiplication | Division | Addition | Subtraction
ROY G. BIV, the colors of the visible spectrum Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
IPMAT, the stages of cell division Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telephase
Similar to acronyms, an acrostic is a sequence of letters that helps you remember a list of items. Instead of making a new word (like an acronym), you use the key letters to make a sentence or phrase. You make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. This method is very helpful if you need to keep items in a particular order.
My Dear Aunt Sally (mathematical order of operation: multiply and divide before you add and subtract).
You can remember the order of the planets by the sentence “My very elegant mom just served us nine parrots” (representing Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).
In music, students can remember the order of notes of the treble staff which is EGBDF by using the acrostic Every Good Boy Does Fine or Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.
A rhyme is a saying that has similar sounds at the end of each line. Since each line ends in a similar sound, it creates a singsong pattern that is easier to remember. Similar to song lyrics, rhymes are fairly easily recalled because they stick in your mind. This is because they are stored in your brain through acoustic encoding. Acoustic encoding refers to the ability to remember and understand something learned through hearing. Therefore, by rhyming information, your brain can encode it easier, and thus remember it easier.
- In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
- Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November; February has twenty-eight alone, All the rest have thirty-one, Excepting leap year, that’s the time When February’s days are twenty-nine.
Chunking is breaking large pieces of information down into smaller groups or units. It is based on the idea that short-term memory is limited in the number of things that can be retained. A common rule is that a person can remember 7 (plus or minus 2) “items” in short-term memory. If you try to remember groups of items in chunks of more than 9, your brain gets confused.
Chunking decreases the number of items you are holding in memory by increasing the size of each item. Instead of trying to remember the string of 10 number individually it would be easier to remember by grouping or chunking them. For example, it is easier to remember a phone number as 401 771-5895, instead of 4017715895. Therefore, instead of trying to remember 10 individual numbers, you are remembering three larger numbers.
Clustering or Grouping Information
Clustering is grouping ideas or items together according to common characteristics. Clustering makes it easier to remember specific items on a list by grouping them with other related items.
Your long-term memory naturally organizes information into related groups. Therefore, it makes sense that when you are trying to memorize information, you would put similar items into the same category so you can recall it easier.
Instead of simply trying to remember an entire list of items in random order, you might cluster information into smaller groupings of related items. For example, you may cluster your grocery list by creating separate clusters for vegetables, fruits, dairy, frozen foods, and bakery items.
Imagery or Visualization
Imagery can help you remember groups of words through visualization. By recalling specific imagery in your mind, it can help you recall information associated with that imagery.
For example, if you can imagine certain objects interacting, you may be able to remember them better. If you need to remember random items such as bread, eggs, cornflakes, tomatoes, and maple syrup. Picture; cracking an egg on a slice of bread, then placing a tomato on it then pouring maple syrup on the tomato, and finally sprinkling cornflakes on top.
Typically, positive, colorful images that are vivid are easier to remember. Also, concrete images are more memorable than abstract ideas. So think in pictures, shapes, and colors.