Mnemonic devices are techniques a person can use to help them improve their ability to remember something. In other words, it’s a memory technique to help your brain better encode and recall important information. It’s a simple shortcut that helps us associate the information we want to remember with an image, a sentence, or a word.
Mnemonic devices are very old, with some dating back to ancient Greek times. Virtually everybody uses them, even if they don’t know their name. It’s simply a way of memorizing information so that it “sticks” within our brain longer and can be recalled more easily in the future.
Popular mnemonic devices include:
The Method of Loci
The Method of Loci is a mnemonic device that dates back to Ancient Greek times, making it one of the oldest ways of memorizing we know of. Using the Method of Loci is easy. First, imagine a place with which you are familiar. For instance, if you use your house, the rooms in your house become the objects of information you need to memorize. Another example is to use the route to your work or school, with landmarks along the way becoming the information you need to memorize.
You go through a list of words or concepts needing memorization, and associate each word with one of your locations. You should go in order so that you will be able to retrieve all of the information in the future.
An acronym is a word formed from the first letters or groups of letters in a name or phrase. An acrostic is a series of lines from which particular letters (such as the first letters of all lines) from a word or phrase. These can be used as mnemonic devices by taking the first letters of words or names that need to be remembered and developing an acronym or acrostic.
For instance, in music, students must remember the order of notes so that they can identify and play the correct note while reading music. The notes of the treble staff are EGBDF. The common acrostic used for this are Every Good Boy Does Fine or Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. The notes on the bass staff are ACEG, which commonly translates into the acrostic All Cows Eat Grass.
A rhyme is a saying that has similar terminal sounds at the end of each line. Rhymes are easier to remember because they can be stored by acoustic encoding in our brains. For example:
- In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue.
- Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November; All the rest have thirty-one, Save February, with twenty-eight days clear, And twenty-nine each leap year.
Chunking & Organization
Chunking is simply a way of breaking down larger pieces of information into smaller, organized “chunks” of more easily-managed information. Telephone numbers in the United States are a perfect example of this — 10 digits broken into 3 chunks, allowing almost everyone to remember an entire phone number with ease. Since short-term human memory is limited to approximately 7 items of information, placing larger quantities of information into smaller containers helps our brains remember more, and more easily.
Organizing information into either objective or subjective categories also helps. Objective organization is placing information into well-recognized, logical categories. Trees and grass are plants; a cricket is an insect. Subjective organization is categorizing seemingly unrelated items in a way that helps you recall the items later. This can also be useful because it breaks down the amount of information to learn. If you can divide a list of items into a fewer number of categories, then all you have to remember is the categories (fewer items), which will serve as memory cues in the future.
Visual imagery is a great way to help memorize items for some people. For instance, it’s often used to memorize pairs of words (green grass, yellow sun, blue water, etc.). The Method of Loci, mentioned above, is a form of using imagery for memorization. By recalling specific imagery, it can help us recall information we associated with that imagery.
Imagery usually works best with smaller pieces of information. For instance, when trying to remember someone’s name you’ve just been introduced to. You can imagine a pirate with a wooden leg for “Peggy,” or a big grizzly bear for “Harry.”