Mnemonics are memory tools that can help you learn or remember information more easily.
One of the most common examples of a mnemonic device is the “A-B-C-D…” song, which helps us learn the English alphabet. Another common example of a mnemonic device is the acronym “ROYGBIV,” which helps us remember the sequence of colors in a rainbow.
While songs and acronyms are two types of mnemonics, there are several other types as well. This article explores how mnemonics help with memory and the different types of mnemonics you can use.
Did You Know?
The use of mnemonic devices to store information is believed to go back to the ancient ages. The Greek poet Simonides is credited with first discovering mnemonics, or the ancient art of memory, in 447 B.C.
How Do Mnemonics Help With Memory?
Mnemonics can help your memory in a variety of ways:
- Learning large chunks of information: It can be difficult to memorize a large amount of information at once, so mnemonics can help. For instance, they can be helpful while you’re learning the names of state capitals, or the names of all the bones in the human body.
- Remembering information sequentially: We’re often required to remember not just words or facts, but also their correct order. Mnemonic devices can help you remember information sequentially. For instance, they can help you learn the names of the planets, the colors of the rainbow, or the letters of the alphabet—all in the correct sequence.
- Memorizing abstract concepts: Mnemonic devices can help you remember abstract words or concepts you’ve not familiar with. For instance, they can help you remember mathematical formulas or words of a foreign language.
A 2014 study notes that mnemonic devices work because they take creative routes to learning, either by linking to some knowledge you already know, or by appealing to your humor or emotions.
Research shows us that mnemonics can be quite effective. One study found that using mnemonics improved learning and recall by 20%.
Different Types of Memories
Types of Mnemonics
Listed below are some of the different types and examples of mnemonic devices.
You may not remember even one pageful of words from your favorite book, but you probably remember the lyrics to dozens of songs. That’s because music can be an effective tool when it comes to learning and recall. Advertisers know this, which is why they use catchy jingles to promote products.
These are some examples of musical mnemonics:
- Alphabet song: The “A-B-C-D…” alphabet song helps us learn the English alphabet, which is essentially a string of 26 random letters.
- 50 Nifty United States song: This song helps us learn the names of all 50 American states in alphabetical order.
Like songs, rhymes and poems are also catchy and make it easier to remember information, due to the use of repetition and rhyming words.
For instance, the "'I' before 'E,' except after 'C,' or when sounding like 'A' as in 'neighbor' or 'weigh'" spelling rule helps us remember the correct order of the letters “I” and “E” in different types of English words.
Or the next time you're trying to remember the number of days in each month, try this rhyme mnemonic:
“30 days hath September, April, June, and November.
All the rest have 31.
Except February, my dear son.
It has 28 and that is fine.
But in a leap year it has 29.”
Acronyms and Acrostics
These are among the most common types of mnemonics. To form this type of mnemonic, the first letter of each item in a list is used to form a word (an acronym) or a phrase (an acrostic).
These are some common examples of acronyms that function as mnemonic devices:
- ROYGBIV: This acronym helps us remember the sequence of colors in the rainbow, which are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.
- HOMES: This acronym helps us remember the names of the five Great Lakes, which are: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
Is an Acronym the Same as a Mnemonic?
Some acronyms are mnemonics. However, all acronyms are not mnemonics and all mnemonics are not acronyms.
These are some common examples of acrostics:
- Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally: This is an acrostic that helps us remember the order of algebra operations, which is: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.
- Kings Play Cards On Fairly Good Soft Velvet: This is an acrostic that helps us remember how living beings are classified, as per the taxonomy: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and Variety.
NASA has a handy tool that you can use to create your own acrostics.
Keyword mnemonics involve using keywords and visual cues to create association and cue your memory.
These are some examples of keyword mnemonics:
- Latitude: It can be confusing to remember which way latitudes and longitudes run. You can remember this by pegging the keyword “flat” to “latitude” to help you remember that latitudes run horizontally and therefore longitudes run vertically.
- Ranidae: Common frogs are scientifically known as ranidae. You can remember this by pegging the keyword “rain,” (which resembles “ranidae”) to “frog” and picturing a frog jumping around on a rainy day.
- Gato: The Spanish word for cat is “gato.” You can remember this by pegging the keyword “gate” (which resembles “gato”) to “cat” and picture a cat sitting up on a gate.
Try making your own keyword mnemonics for anything else you need to remember. They can be particularly helpful while learning words in a foreign language.
Spelling mnemonics can help you spell out difficult words.These are some examples of spelling mnemonics:
- George Edwards’ Old Grandma Rode A Pig Home Yesterday: This mnemonic helps us spell the word “GEOGRAPHY.”
- A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream: This mnemonic helps us spell the word “ARITHMETIC.”
You can make your own spelling mnemonics for words that you struggle to spell. In fact, research shows us that using mnemonic devices can help improve your vocabulary.
Alliteration mnemonics help you remember words by associating them with another word starting with the same letter. These are some examples of alliteration mnemonics:
- Sophisticated Sylvie: If you have a new colleague named Sylvie and you're struggling to remember their name, find a quality that describes them with the letter "S." For example, if they appear sophisticated, you can think of them as sophisticated Sylvie.
- Tutoring Tuesday: If you have a tutoring session on Tuesday, this alliteration can help ensure you don't forget it.
You can use alliteration mnemonics to keep track of names, dates, or other important information.
You can use mnemonics to remember all kinds of information, such as the dates of historical events, the laws of physics, or the names of your colleagues. Mnemonics can also keep you from forgetting something important you need to keep track of, like passwords or the list of groceries you need to buy.
If you’re trying to learn a specific piece of information, you can check if there are existing mnemonics for it online. For instance, if you’re trying to memorize the year that Christopher Columbus set sail, there is already an existing rhyming mnemonic for it: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Alternatively, you can choose to make your own mnemonics. A 2022 study found that making your own mnemonics can improve your chances of remembering the information because the association holds more meaning for you.
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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Knott D, Thaut MH. Musical mnemonics enhance verbal memory in typically developing children. Front Educ. 2018;3. doi:10.3389/feduc.2018.00031
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The answer is yes! Mnemonics are an efficient memorization technique because they help you learn, retain, and recall information easily. To put it simply, your brain encodes, stores, and retrieves memories. Mnemonics help improve your long-term memory.Can mnemonics improve working memory? ›
The answer is yes! Mnemonics are an efficient memorization technique because they help you learn, retain, and recall information easily. To put it simply, your brain encodes, stores, and retrieves memories. Mnemonics help improve your long-term memory.How do you use mnemonics effectively? ›
- Take the first letter or a key word of the item to remember and write it down.
- Repeat for all items.
- Create a sentence. ...
- Write the sentence out a few times while saying the words that the acronym refers to.
- Practice reciting the items and the created sentence together until you've got it memorized!
Revise a topic, then revisit it the next day, after three days, and after seven days. This is thought to be the perfect amount of time to help your brain remember information.What is an example of a memory mnemonic? ›
Some examples of this technique include “Roy G. Biv” for the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) and “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” (PEMDAS) for the order of operations in mathematics (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction).What is the most powerful method of improving memory? ›
The best way to protect and improve memory is by making good lifestyle choices: exercising regularly, limiting stress, eating healthfully, and getting enough sleep. You can also keep the mind agile by learning a foreign language or playing brain training games to improve thinking skills and short-term memory.What is the best memorization method? ›
- Try to understand the information first. Information that is organized and makes sense to you is easier to memorize. ...
- Link it. ...
- Sleep on it. ...
- Self-test. ...
- Use distributed practice. ...
- Write it out. ...
- Create meaningful groups. ...
- Use mnemonics.
A mnemonic is an instructional strategy created to improve retention and recall of information through the use of visual or auditory clues. These clues improve students' ability to make connections between their existing knowledge and new information.What are the mnemonics devices to improve memory? ›
- Setting the ABCs to music to memorize the alphabet.
- Using rhymes to remember rules of spelling like "i before e except after c"
- Forming sentences out of the first letter of words in order (acrostics), such as "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally," to remember the order of operations in algebra.
The FIRST-Letter Mnemonic Strategy involves the use of several first-letter devices including (1) using the first letters of the items in the list to form a word, (2) inserting a letter among the first-letters to form a word, (3) rearranging the letters to form a word, (4) creating a sentence using the first letters of ...
Mnemonic tools allow you to recall large amounts of information that would be incredibly difficult to remember. You're able to quickly retrieve information from your long-term memory.Can working memory be trained and improved? ›
"A general pattern [we've found] is as long as you have working-memory problems and you have the ability to train, you can improve your abilities." Some researchers suggest that memory training may have more of an effect on motivation than working memory.How can mnemonic devices be used to improve learning? ›
Mnemonic methods can also be combined—use keywords and acronyms together, for example, to form an extra-effective mnemonic super-strategy. Say your students are trying to memorize key facts about the Civil War. You can create a map-like display and enhance it with mnemonics to help them recall the information.Why are mnemonics ineffective? ›
Using mnemonic devices for memorizing words is time-consuming (especially at the beginning). Using mnemonics requires more effort (especially at the beginning) than rote-learning. Mnemonics don't guarantee understanding. Learning with mnemonics lacks context.