Top Five Mnemonic Devices

Sometimes it is difficult to remember things—whether formulas, orders, lists, combinations, or others, mnemonic devices help the brain remember things by creating a more memorable analogy of the knowledge that needs to be remembered.

Here are five of the best mnemonic devices: 5. Pictures: When in doubt, release your inner third-grader and draw a picture to represent what you are trying to remember. Try to make your picture as silly as possible, because it is easier to remember the ridiculous. For example, if you wanted to remember what the Eighteenth Amendment established (prohibition), you could draw a picture of a giant number 18 using a gavel to crush a bottle. The number 18 represents the amendment number, the gavel represents the law, and the bottle represents alcohol.

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4. Connections: Drawing connections between what you need to remember and a way to remember it are always helpful. Whether it is a play on words or a phonetic similarity, creating a connection with something outside of your situation creates an anomaly—something you can remember. For example, in order to remember the direction of the x-axis on a graph, you could say, “a cross [x] goes across [horizontally].” 3. Interesting Note-Taking: Add sarcastic comments or fun facts when taking notes.

Later, when trying to retrieve the information from your notes, you will remember the interesting things you wrote along with your notes to remember each point better. For example, if writing down lecture notes from history class, you could write, “Napoleon had an army of 100,000 men and conquered most of Europe as well as Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and more (and he was only 5’0″—short people for the win!).” On the history test, when trying to remember what Napoleon accomplished in his lifetime, you would remember your comment about his height, and then you would recollect where you had written it. 2. Acronyms: To remember the order of a sequence, you could create a mnemonic that pertains to the first letter of every item on the list. For example, remembering the order of operations becomes easier when you recall that Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, Addition and Subtraction have the same first initials as Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

Acronyms don’t only pertain to order, though. You can also remember a list of things by similarly taking the first initial of each word and creating an acronym out of it. For example, you could use the acronym HOMES to remember all of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). Though the lakes do not have a specific order, acronyms can still be used to remember them. 1. Rhymes and Songs: Who doesn’t love annoying tunes and jingles? Let’s face it, despite the fact that this mnemonic device is the most likely to annoy you, things can be very easily remembered if given a rhythm or tune.

If someone asked you when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, you would probably blurt out, “1492!” without a second thought. Rhymes and rhythms helped you to memorize that fact. How to remember the quadratic formula: (to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”) “x equals negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4ac all over 2a!”