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Mnemonics

How do you memorize a long list of items? Do you organize them into groups, set them to a little melody, or draw pictures to illustrate them? When you use these tools to assist your memory, you're making use of mnemonics.

Definition of Mnemonics

Mnemonic is a weird-looking word. What does it mean, and why do we use it?

Mnemonics, also called mnemonic devices, are learning tools designed to help with memorization.

These devices can take the form of images, songs, acronyms, graphs, associations, and even "mind palaces."

The word mnemonic (pronounced ne-MON-ick) comes from the Greek word mnēmōn, which means mindful. It's also related to the word for memory. A mnemonic device, then, is literally a memory device.

The word mnemonic is often mixed up with two similar words: pneumonic and pneumatic. Even though they sound similar, these words have very different meanings. Pneumonic (pronounced new-MON-ick) refers to the disease pneumonia, and pneumatic (pronounced new-MA-tick) describes something that functions with pressurized air or gas. It's an easy pronunciation mistake to make!

What Is the Mnemonic Method of Learning?

Mnemonics are a popular tool for learning. They are often used in educational spaces and by individuals trying to learn new concepts and skills. Here's an example of a mnemonic in action:

The planets in the solar system are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

An expression mnemonic is often used to remember the names of the planets in order. The first letter of each planet's name becomes the first letter of one word in the expression.

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.

Connecting each word in this expression with a planet makes the full list of planets easier to remember.

Mnemonics like these are widely used in schools. They provide a standard memory device for lots of people to share. It can also be helpful to create your own mnemonics. Creating a mnemonic that's unique to your learning style can help you study and memorize in a way that works for you.

Importance of Mnemonics

Mnemonics are more than just silly songs and doodles. The reason mnemonic devices are so popular in education is because they improve your memory, help you understand difficult concepts, and teach you to use new learning strategies.

Say for instance that your best subject is art, but you're having trouble memorizing lists and concepts in your biology class. With mnemonic devices, you could use art to understand biology. You could draw a decorative diagram of the five taxonomic kingdoms, paint a portrait of Gregor Mendel performing early genetics research, etc.

Mnemonic devices can teach you to use what you do know to understand what you don't know.

Types of Mnemonics

Mnemonics come in several forms to match different learning styles. Here is an overview of the basic categories of mnemonics:

  • Words and Letters
    • Acronyms
    • Expression/Word Mnemonics
    • Spelling Mnemonics
  • Music and Rhyme
    • Music
    • Rhyme
  • Visualization
    • Model Mnemonics
    • Image Mnemonics
    • Method of Loci
  • Chunking
    • Note Organization
    • Connections

Examples of Mnemonics

Now for some specific examples of each type of mnemonic device.

Words and Letters

Words and letters make up a lot of common mnemonic devices. They can help you learn spelling rules, ordered words, hierarchical concepts, and more.

Acronyms

Acronyms are words made up of the first letters of other words. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is an acronym that serves as a simple abbreviation. Here's the full definition:

Acronyms are abbreviations made up of the first letters of the words in an expression.

Acronyms shorten a long string of words and make it easier to remember.

In English, the visible light spectrum is often divided into seven main colors, ordered from lowest to highest frequency:

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.

To remember all the colors in the correct order (and to refer to them without listing them all out), people sometimes abbreviate the list to ROY G. BIV.

Expression and Word Mnemonics

Similar to acronyms, expression and word mnemonics combine the initial letters of a group of words. Instead of pronouncing the combination as its own word, though, they create a new, memorable expression using the same initial letters.

The order of operations is often taught in math classes with the acronym PEMDAS:

Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, and Addition and Subtraction.

To reinforce this order, a second expression is used that fits the same acronym:

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

Spelling Mnemonics

Spelling mnemonics are designed to help you memorize the spelling of words. They can refer to the spelling of a specific word or to a broader spelling rule.

One common spelling mistake is mixing up these two words:

  • stationery, meaning stamps, envelopes, and writing supplies
  • stationary, meaning not moving

Because the words are pronounced identically and spelled with only one vowel difference, the spelling can be easy to forget. Luckily, a simple spelling mnemonic can help you remember the rule.

The e in stationery stands for envelope.

Remembering this connection (e is for envelope) makes the spelling difference between stationary and stationery easier to remember.

Music and Rhyme

Mnemonic devices sometimes make use of songs and poems to help with memorization. This can include setting a concept to a little jingle or forming it into a stanza that uses rhymes or alliteration.

The ABC song uses both music and rhyme to help kids memorize the alphabet. It sets the otherwise tedious list of 26 letters to an easy melody and separates it into four lines, all ending with rhyming letters (G, P, V, and Z).

Music Mnemonics

Music mnemonics often set a long list of items to a simple melody.

This can include songs listing out 50 U.S. states in alphabetical order, jingles explaining the function of helping verbs, the essential amino acids set to the tune of Beethoven's 9th Symphony—you name it.

Mnemonics, Sheet Music of German Dative Prepositions Song, StudySmarterThe German dative prepositions set to the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss, StudySmarter.

Nouns in the German language can take four cases. Certain prepositions can "trigger" a particular case for their objects. Some German learners use a music mnemonic to remember which prepositions trigger which case.

The eight prepositions that could trigger the dative case can be set to the tune of the Blue Danube Waltz (1866) by Johann Strauss.

Aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu.

Rhyme Mnemonics

Maybe songs aren't your thing, but poems and rhymes are. Rhyme mnemonics use rhymes, alliteration, and other poetic devices to help with memorizing lists and concepts.

You might be familiar with this spelling mnemonic:

I before e, except after c, and when sounding like "ay," in "neighbor" and "weigh".

This device attempts to explain a confusing and inconsistent spelling pattern in the English language. Even though the rule isn't perfect, it's a good example of a rhyme mnemonic. The rhyme scheme can make the pattern easier to remember long-term.

Visualization

Visualization mnemonics do exactly as you'd guess: they visualize concepts to make them more memorable.

Mnemonics, a bubble diagram of the types of mnemonics, StudySmarterA visualization mnemonic modeling the types of mnemonics. StudySmarter.

Visualization mnemonics make use of models, pictures, and imagined locations to assist in memorization.

Now for a deeper investigation into the types of visualization mnemonics.

Model Mnemonics

Science textbooks are often full of illustrations and diagrams. These are examples of model mnemonics.

Mnemonics, Model Mnemonic Neuron Cell Diagram, StudySmarterA model mnemonic showing the anatomy of a neuron. Pixabay.

The model mnemonic above is a labeled diagram of a neuron. The image is zoomed in and cut open in places, so that every part of the cell is visible. There are so many individual parts that it would be difficult to learn every part's name and function without a visual aide. Learning these terms by looking at the model makes the structure of a neuron clearer and easier to remember.

Image Mnemonics

Image mnemonics are very similar to model mnemonics. They use pictures and illustrations to assist with memorization. This type of mnemonic is very broad and open to creativity. You can design image mnemonics however you want—whatever helps you reach your memory goal!

The main difference between image mnemonics and model mnemonics is that image mnemonics don't have to directly represent a concept. Instead, they can just illustrate it.

The order of Linnaean taxonomy is:

Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

A common word and expression mnemonic is often used to remember this order:

King Phillip Cried Out, "For Goodness’ sake!"

You could create an image mnemonic to reinforce this memorization further. For example, you could draw a picture of a king with a speech bubble, saying "for goodness' sake!" Making images as mnemonic devices allows you to be creative with your memorization process.

Method of loci

Method of loci is an interesting type of mnemonic device because it involves picturing objects in space.

This memory device is sometimes called a "mind palace" or "memory palace." It was used as a mnemonic device by the Roman philosopher Cicero, and by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional character Sherlock Holmes.

Say you're making a grocery list, and you want to remember every item you need to buy from the store. If you wanted to use the memory palace technique, you could picture a chair in your mind. Picture all the grocery items you need on or around the chair.

Maybe a watermelon is in the seat of the chair, a bag of potatoes is hanging off the back, and a bottle of dish soap is on the floor under the chair.

Later, when you're at the store, you can picture that chair again and try to remember what was on it.

Chunking

When you "chunk" information, you separate a large group of items into smaller and more memorable groups.

Chunking is a memory device that involves grouping items in a list together into smaller, easier-to-remember "chunks."

The ABC song is not only a music mnemonic and a rhyme mnemonic. It also makes use of chunking by breaking up the group of 26 letters into four smaller groups.

Chunk 1: A B C D E F G

Chunk 2: H I J K L M N O P

Chunk 3: Q R S T U V

Chunk 4: W X Y Z

Chunking can also take the forms of note organization and connections.

Note Organization

The chunking method of note organization applies easily to a school setting. It involves grouping and ordering notes to make them easier to study and remember.

Flashcards are an example of note organization. When you create flashcards, you separate your notes on a subject into individual "chunks" of information. Instead of staring at a page full of notes, you can study by quizzing yourself on one concept at a time.

Put this mnemonic to use by going through the flashcards in this study set!

Connections

When you use connection mnemonics, you attach new information that you want to remember to old information that you already know.

Gluing what you're trying to learn to what you already know forges a connection between the two pieces of information. Whenever you think of one, you'll also think of the other.

Abraham Lincoln wrote and gave the Gettysburg Address (1863).

How could you use a connection mnemonic to remember this?

Abraham Lincoln wore a top hat. You could use this to connect the two pieces of information: imagine or draw a top hat on the words "The Gettysburg Address." Now you'll associate the Gettysburg Address with the top hat that you already associated with Abraham Lincoln!

Different types of mnemonics serve different purposes. Not every type will work for everyone. Maybe music doesn't help you to learn, but models and pictures do. You'll get the most out of your study if you choose and create mnemonics that fit your learning style.

Mnemonics - Key Takeaways

  • Mnemonics, also called mnemonic devices, are learning tools designed to help with memorization.
  • Mnemonics can be taught as a standard in a classroom setting, or they can be created by an individual to suit a particular learning style.
  • Mnemonics can improve your memory, help you understand difficult concepts, and teach you to use new learning strategies.
  • The main categories of mnemonics are words and letters, music and rhyme, visualization, and chunking.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mnemonics

Mnemonics, also called mnemonic devices, are learning tools designed to help with memorization.

An expression mnemonic is often used to remember the names of the planets in order. The first letter of each planet name becomes the first letter of one word in the expression.


My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.

Mnemonics can improve your memory, help you understand difficult concepts, and teach you to use new learning strategies.

You can use mnemonics to memorize terms and concepts. The four main types of mnemonics are words and letters, music and rhyme, visualization, and chunking. Creating a mnemonic that's unique to your learning style can help you study and memorize individually.

The word mnemonic is often mixed up with two similar words: pneumonic and pneumatic. Even though they sound similar, these words have very different meanings. Pneumonic (pronounced new-MON-ick) refers to the disease pneumonia, and pneumatic (pronounced new-MA-tick) describes something that functions with pressurized air or gas.

Final Mnemonics Quiz

Question

What are mnemonics?

Show answer

Answer

Mnemonics, also called mnemonic devices, are learning tools designed to help with memorization.

Show question

Question

What are the four main types of mnemonics?

Show answer

Answer

The four main types of mnemonics are:


  • words and letters
  • music and rhyme
  • visualization
  • connections

Show question

Question

What are the three subtypes of the mnemonic type words and letters?

Show answer

Answer

  • acronyms
  • expression/word mnemonics
  • spelling mnemonics

Show question

Question

What type of word and letter mnemonic is this?


The five Great Lakes in the U.S. are Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. The list can be abbreviated as HOMES.

Show answer

Answer

Acronym

Show question

Question

What type of word and letter mnemonic is this?


The four spaces on the bass-clef musical staff mark the notes A, C, E, and G. This can be remembered with the initial letters of the sentence, "All Cows Eat Grass."

Show answer

Answer

Expression and word

Show question

Question

What type of word and letter mnemonic is this?


The word "accommodate" can accommodate both a double c and a double m.

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Answer

Spelling

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Question

What are the two subtypes of the mnemonic type music and rhyme?

Show answer

Answer

  • Music
  • Rhyme

Show question

Question

What type of music and rhyme mnemonic is this?


Back in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Show answer

Answer

Rhyme

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Question

What type of music and rhyme mnemonic is this?


The comedian Tom Lehrer set the entire periodic table of elements to the tune of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from the musical "The Pirates of Penzance." —"The Elements," Tom Lehrer (1959).

Show answer

Answer

Music

Show question

Question

What are the subtypes of the mnemonic type visualization?

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Answer

  • model mnemonics
  • image mnemonics
  • method of loci

Show question

Question

What type of visualization mnemonic is this?


You can remember the five taxonomic kingdoms by imagining them all in a zoo. The first exhibit "Animalia" is full of animals and fish, the second "Plantae" is full of plants, the third "Fungi" is full of mushrooms and yeast, the fourth "Protista" is full of protozoa, and the fifth "Monera" is full of bacteria. As you "walk" through the zoo, you see each exhibit in order.

Show answer

Answer

Method of loci

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Question

What type of visualization mnemonic is this?


You can remember the layers of the earth by drawing a cross-section, labeling and color-coding each layer .

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Answer

Model mnemonic

Show question

Question

What type of visualization mnemonic is this?


You can remember that Louis Pasteur invented the rabies vaccine by drawing a cartoon of Louis Pasteur holding a syringe labeled "RABIES."

Show answer

Answer

Image mnemonic

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Question

What are the two subtypes of the mnemonic type chunking?

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Answer

  • note organization
  • connections

Show question

Question

What type of chunking mnemonic is this?


You can remember the names of new acquaintances by assigning alliterative descriptions to them. For example, "Harry wears a hat," "Monica is a mom," or "Pedro plays the piano."

Show answer

Answer

Connections

Show question

Question

What type of chunking mnemonic is this?


Compiling, color-coding, and drawing boxes around similar topics in your notes will help you study them more easily.

Show answer

Answer

Note organization

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