Mnemonics for Memorization: Do they Work?

Modified on by Max Wilbert

Mnemonics for Memorization

One of the best tried-and-true tactics for memorizing a great deal of material is the use of mnemonics: patterns of letters, ideas, sounds, or other associations that assist in learning something. Probably the simplest example is the alphabet song. All of us probably learned to sing the ABCs in kindergarten, and we’re willing to bet you still remember that song today. It’s ingrained in your brain through the use of a mnemonic.

In this article, we’re going to learn a bit more about using mnemonics for memorization to assist in learning all kinds of subjects: new languages, scientific concepts, legal principles, and just about anything else. Let’s get down to business.

Using Mnemonic Devices for Learning

The roots of mnemonic devices for memorization stretch back into antiquity. It is well documented that the ancient Romans and Greeks knew and valued mnemonic techniques, practicing them to ease the demands of poetry recitations, public speaking, and other tasks.

a461e0db011d0f0de7cf6adc02e399ccBasic mnemonic memorization revolves around associations. The most basic mnemonic devices in the English language include the alphabet song, as mentioned above, and ROYGBIV, the acronym for the colors in the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Another common mnemonic is the phrase, “i before e except after c,” which encodes spelling information (although there are many exceptions to this rule. Often the word “weird” is used to remind students of these exceptions, as it both ignores the rule and describes the non-adherence of certain, unusual words).

 e3b3510d72b32d031c4f60c2ec0607daThe Mind Palace

Cicero, the famous Roman writer and orator, write in his book De Oratore (55 BCE) of a memory aid called the “method of loci,” sometimes called the “mind palace” technique. In this method of memorization, a person uses their spacial reasoning brainpower to organize and store memory inside an imagined building or geographic space.

It’s a process that gained some notoriety in recent years due to the BBC show Sherlock, which features a young savant Sherlock Holmes using the mind palace technique to recall vast quantities of information that assist him in solving complex and diabolical crimes.

To build a mind palace, a person begins with the blueprint of a physical location (which could be a room, building, or even town or landscape). The larger or more detailed the location, the more data can be stored there. Then, they create a path through the location that they can follow during every “visit,” and begin to associate objects or landmarks in the mind palace with specific pieces of information.

The Promise of Mnemonics

For people who have to memorize and store a huge amount of new information, like people studying for medical school, law, or a new language, the techniques of mnemonics can be invaluable. As the alphabet song demonstrates, even the simplest lessons can benefit from these methods. It’s important to remember, however, that mnemonics can only take you so far. You still have to put in the work of memorization in other ways, such as flashcards, as well.

Do you have any mnemonics that you’ve remembered for years? Any creative ones that you’ve made up yourself? Let us know in the comments!

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Marc 3 years ago

Great post! The biggest challenge facing effective early childhood education is attention span. Or rather the lack thereof. Attention span is defined as the amount of concentrated time one can spend on a task without becoming distracted. But sustained attention span is the one that really matters. Sustained attention span is what produces the most consistent learning results over time. A recent study by psychologists has determined that, over the last 10 years, our average sustained attention span has fallen from 12 minutes to just 5 minutes. So what does this mean? It means that when teaching our children something new, they are giving us approximately 5 minutes of focused, sustained attention to make it stick.

Not surpisingly, many leading educators believe that the best method of actually teaching a subject is by delivering short, multiple, engaging bursts of information, repeatedly, over an extended period of time. In other words, capturing kids attention and then engaging them with rich content, in a compressed time period, leads to maximum learning absorption. It's kind of a riff on the old "repetition gets results" theory updated for the digital age.

Getting kids excited about learning is not easy. But fortunately, modern technology provides us with a lot of options other than the dry text books and long, boring lectures of the past (and in the case of a lot of schools, still the present). And I don't just mean on line, monthly subscription "learning platforms" that really are just a bunch of games disguised as a teaching method. Although there is an abundance of supplemental educational materials available, both on line and in print, research indicates that much of it is disjointed, contradictory, repetitive, and for lack of a better word, boring. A company called FutureSoBrite,, is doing some really cool things to engage kids in the learning process.

Eane 3 years ago

The second to the very best!

Re-D Media 3 years ago

Cool blog, mate!


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