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Mnemonic Devices

Memory Tricks to Prep for that Test


Mnemonic devices are memory tricks used to help you learn anything from SAT vocab to your regular old Civil War battles. Most people are familiar with verbal devices like acronyms, but there are many types of mnemonic devices from spatial to auditory to kinesthetic to help you remember important information for tests.

Here are some types of mnemonic devices you may or may not have heard of. Feel free to use profligately!

1. Acronyms

Getty Images | Aaron Fielding

"Roy G. Biv" is a popular acronym used to remember the colors of the rainbow.

If you have a long list to remember in sequence, try taking the first letter from each item in the sequence and creating a word or several words from those letters. Corporations and organizations do this all the time so customers will remember their business, even if the title is complicated. (NAACP, USDA, FEMA, etc.)

2. Phrases

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"My very elegant mother just served us nine pizzas"

Create a phrase, even if it's silly, to remember a sequence of items, such as the phrase above which is used to remember the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

The more you associate the phrase to something you know, the better!

3. Poems

"Thirty days has September, April, June and November. Of twenty-eight there is but one, and all the rest have thirty-one." If you're clever, you may be able to create a poem to memorize information you need to know. Trust me, rhymes are difficult to get out of your head, so if you're memorizing vocabulary words, try putting the definition into a rhyming phrase to help it stick.

4. Songs

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Long lists of things to remember (like the Periodic Table of the elements for instance) go really well put to music. I can still sing the Periodic Table, because I set it to the song, "One little, two little, three little Indians" "Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium" So if you have to memorize all the states and capitols, sing them to your favorite tune. You'll be surprised how many years later you can still remember them.

5. Drawings

Copyright Flickr user jlyiesnew

Your mind will remember a picture much longer than it will a word. So, for instance, instead of memorizing, "20 ways to conserve energy" in list format, you could draw a picture next to each idea, say a light bulb for "Turn off the lights" and the recycling symbol for "Recycle." This also works really well for remembering characters in novels/plays. Draw a stick figure of each character with one unique feature (beard, glasses, cane) next to the character's name so you remember who is who.

6. Physical Spaces

Getty Images | BME Images

It's easy to remember the bones of the body because each bone has a place – a physical place you can point to and associate the word. It would be much more difficult to learn the bones as a list of items. It's easy to remember things spatially, which is why babies learn their body parts very early, before they can even talk.

Try assigning a piece of information to a body part, or a location you're very familiar with. If you're memorizing the presidents: maybe Washington goes on your forehead, Adams on your nose, Jefferson on your chin, etc. Or, you could put them in your kitchen. Washington leaning against the door, Adams sitting at the table, Jefferson raiding the cookie jar, etc.

If you arrange things spatially, you can visualize it in your head on test day, and you'll remember more, guaranteed.

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