Mnemonic devices are tools that you can use to help you remember things more easily. Essentially, mnemonics are shortcuts; they give your brain tricks that allow it to encode and recall information in a snap.
You’ve probably used mnemonics before, even if you don’t realize it. There are a few different types of mnemonic devices:
1. Imagery and Visualization
Our brains remember images much more easily than words or sounds, so translating things you want to remember into mental images can be a great mnemonic device.
For example, if you are trying to learn a new language, you might benefit from creating mental images for some of the vocabulary words:
The Spanish word for tiger is tigre, so you could imagine a tiger drinking tea that has turned gray.
The Spanish word for sun is sol, so you could imagine the sun is burning the sole of your foot.
The Method of Loci (The Journey Method)
This mnemonic device has been around since ancient Greek times. It’s a form of imagery and visualization, but in this method, you choose a place you are familiar with—your house, your car, or the route you take from home to work every day.
By mentally “placing” objects you want to remember around the familiar location, you can remember them by simply mentally walking around your house or driving to work.
2. Acronyms and Acrostics
An acronym is a word or words formed by using the first letter(s) of the items you want to remember.
For example, to remember the colors of the rainbow—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet—you could use the acronym Roy G. Biv.
An acrostic is a mnemonic device that takes the first letter of each item you want to remember and uses those letters to make a new, memorable sentence or phrase. Some popular acrostics are:
Order of operations in algebra: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction. With those first letters, we can make the sentence, “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.”
Order of the planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Those letters can be used to make the sentence, “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos.”
Rhymes are a great mnemonic device; they use acoustic encoding to make concepts easier to remember. Here’s a rhyming mnemonic you might know:
I before e, except after c,
And when sounding like a
As in neighbor and weigh.
This mnemonic device breaks down larger pieces of information into small, easy-to-remember pieces, or chunks. Since our brains can only process so much information at a time, this device helps simplify information that might otherwise be too complex to remember.
A good example of chunking is 10-digit U.S. phone numbers, which are broken into two three-digit sets and one four-digit set:
877-245-0347 is much easier to digest and remember than 8772450347, right?
Using Mnemonic Devices
You can use mnemonic devices to remember just about anything. Try putting these handy tools to work next time you need to remember something, and be amazed at how much information your brain can hold!
What are your favorite mnemonic devices? Tell us in the comments below.