Mnemonics are learning techniques designed to improve memory retention. They are highly effective for making new information relevant and will speed up your revision sessions.
How Do Mnemonics Work?
Otherwise known as a ‘memory device’ or ‘memory aid’, a mnemonic (pronounced with a silent m) is a tool that makes use of anything from images, codes, songs, rhymes to help you remember a set of arbitrary information. As memory aids, they are particularly useful for memorising new things, long lists or a specific set of data. You will have already used mnemonic devices during your education without realising!
You probably remember from primary school many funny phrases that generated acronyms such as:
Never Eat Shredded Wheat
North East South West
Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain
Colours of the spectrum
My Very Excited Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies
Order of planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
May I have a large container of coffee?
The value of Pi: The number of letters in each word form the numerals of pi = 3.1415927
You may also recognise short songs such as:
‘I can sing the rainbow…’
For remembering rainbow colours.
Days of the month
Thirty days hath September/April, June and November/All the rest have thirty-one/except February alone/which has eight and a score/until leap year gives it one day more.
The Mnemonic technique is not just for primary school and early learning, but for life. Used for any field, from music, languages to physics, mnemonic devices help improve memory by making associations in your mind.
They are also amazing for quickly triggering and unlocking long-term memory. This is where stubborn pieces of information are kept and buried in the past. You don’t need to remember the whole system. Just thinking about the beginning of a song or rhyme will help bring back the rest or most of it in a matter of seconds. This is what’s called the successful transfer of artificial memory to natural memory. Natural memory is part of your instinct and can be recalled automatically. Only certain sets of information make in the natural memory bank. The rest get placed in long-term memory and need to be trained to be part of natural memory. Using mnemonic devices are the most effective method for this form of memory training.
Applying Mnemonic Techniques
The great thing about mnemonic devices is that you can customise them whichever way you want. By connecting chunks of information to a phrase, colour or image that is relevant to you makes it more meaningful and enjoyable. You will form closer, more personal and emotional links with your field of study. It will become a part of you and your educational growth.
There are many other easy mnemonic methods that can improve your learning experience:
Mind-maps and Peg Lists
These will make texts and data more visual! If you are having trouble memorizing from the page, it could be that you are more suited to a visual style of learning. Too many letters and numbers can pile up and become one big mass of information. Transforming your work into one or multiple diagrams of your choice will help you recall it in fast-paced scenarios like a timed exam.
When compiling notes, you can attribute a topic, theme or even a number with shapes. This will help you sort through them mentally when the document is unavailable. Commonly used shapes are candles and swans (usually denoting the numbers 1 and 2).
Using the body is a mnemonic technique with proven results. By turning your information into something solid and tangible it no longer exists as an abstract thought, but as a real thing. The ‘knuckle strategy’ is a well-known tool for remembering the calendar. The knuckles represent the months with 31 days, while the dips in between the finger joints represent the months with 30 days (and February with 28 days).
Applying mental scenarios and auditory markers to words and phrases is a great way to remember. This is easier than it sounds as many connections happen naturally. For example, the French word for ‘winter’ is ‘hiver’, which sounds like ‘shiver’, which can be connected to the cold. This makes it much easier to recall. You can relate your own past events to new information. For example, if a description in a text sounds like a recent holiday, you can connect the two thoughts so whenever you think of one you will be able to recall the other easily. This will make the recognition quicker as it is personal and has the back-up of another layer of memory to bolster new retention.
If your current study techniques are failing you, introduce mnemonic devices into your revision session.
Memory aids will make arbitrary information more visual and meaningful. With mnemonics, you will memorise with skill using personally customised tools to help you think faster and learn more effectively.