9 Types of Mnemonics to Improve Your Memory

How to Stop Forgetting Things

Interested in becoming more efficient and effective in learning and recalling information? Whether you're in elementary school, graduate school or everyday life, using these mnemonic (pronounced ni-mahn-ik) strategies—think of them as very effective memory tips—can make it easier to remember facts, and they can be applied to almost any subject.


Keyword Mnemonics

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Studying a second (or third or fourth) language? Multiple research studies have demonstrated that using the keyword mnemonic method improves learning and recall, especially in the area of foreign language.

Here's how the keyword method works. First, you choose a keyword that somehow cues you to think of the foreign word. Then, you imagine that keyword connected with the meaning of the word you're trying to learn.

For example, if you're trying to learn the Spanish word for cat, which is gato, first think of a gate and then imagine the cat sitting on top of the gate. Even though the "a" sound in gato is short and the "a" sound in gate is long, the beginnings are similar. Thus, the visualization and association should trigger the recall of the correct word.


Chunking as a Mnemonic Strategy

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Chunking information is a mnemonic strategy that works by organizing information into more easily learned groups, phrases, words or numbers. For example, memorizing the following number: 47895328463 will likely take a fair amount of effort. However, if it is chunked like this: 4789 532 8463, it becomes easier to remember.

Interestingly, chunking is one of several mnemonic strategies that has been studied in people with mild Alzheimer's disease. Results from these studies concluded that chunking can be helpful in improving verbal working memory in the early stages of dementia.


Musical Mnemonics

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One way to successfully encode the information into your brain is to use music. A well-known example is the "A-B-C" song, but there's no end to what you can learn when it's set to music. You can learn the countries of Africa, science cycles, memory verses, math equations and more.

If you search online, you'll find that there are some songs already created specifically to help teach certain information, and for others, you'll have to make up your own. And no, you don't have to be able to carry a tune or write the music out correctly for this mnemonic method to work.

Music is also an effective tool for people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. Not only can the words of songs be remembered from their childhood even when other language ability is almost gone, but they can also learn new information more effectively if it's taught through music.


Letter and Word Mnemonic Strategies

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Acronyms and acrostics are typically the most familiar type of mnemonic strategies.

Acronyms use a simple formula of a letter to represent each word or phrase that needs to be remembered.

For example, think of the NBA, which stands for the National Basketball Association.

Or, if you're trying to memorize four different types of dementia, you might use this acronym: FLAV, which would represent frontotemporal, Lewy body, Alzheimer's, and vascular. Notice that I ordered the list in such a way to more easily form a "word," which you would not do if the list you need to memorize is ordered.

An acrostic uses the same concept as the acronym except that instead of forming a new "word," it generates a sentence that helps you remember the information.

An often-used acrostic in math class is: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. This acrostic mnemonic represents the order of operations in algebra and stands for parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.


Rhymes as Mnemonic Strategies

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"Hey diddle diddle. The cat and the fiddle..." Can you finish the rest of this nursery rhyme?

The ability to memorize and remember nursery rhymes is often due in part to repetition and in part to rhyming. Rhyming words can be used as a mnemonic to help us learn and recall information.

Sometimes, you can rearrange words or substitute a different word with the same meaning to make them rhyme.

Take the familiar spelling rule: "i" before "e," except after "c," or in sounding like "ay" as in "neighbor" or "weigh." This phrase sticks in our memories because we've heard it multiple times but also because of the rhyming within it.


Making Connections as a Mnemonic Method

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One mnemonic strategy that helps encode new information is to connect it with something else that you already are familiar with or know. This gives it meaning and makes it easier to remember. Making connections is a type of elaborative rehearsal and can be applied to almost any subject or type of information.

For example, imagine that you are just introduced to someone named Jeffery. Rather than mentally zipping past his name, pay attention and think about how you can remember it. Perhaps you notice that Jeffery is very energetic, so you can imagine him jumping around his work and connect Jeffrey with jumping. The next time you see him. you'll think, "There's 'Jumping Jeffery' and you can say hello by name." (Don't forget to leave the word "jumping" off his name when you greet him.)


Method of Loci Mnemonic Strategy

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The method of loci (pronounced low-sigh) is arguably the earliest identified mnemonic in history. It is first attributed to Simonides of Ceos, a Greek poet, in 477 BC. It's also one of the most researched mnemonics, demonstrating strong success across a wide spectrum of academic subjects and life situations.

How does it work? In the method of loci, the learner visualizes a room or a familiar path through a building and mentally associates facts or information with specific locations or objects along the way. In order to recall what he's learned, he re-visualizes moving through that room or along that path and each stop along the way triggers another piece of information. This method is also called the journey method, creating a "memory palace" or the mental walk strategy.

Research ranging from medical students learning about diabetes to college students remembering grocery lists show significant improvements when the method of loci is used.


Peg Method Mnemonics

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The peg method is an especially useful mnemonic for remembering sequenced information. If first requires that you memorize the following list in help you order the facts:

  • one = bun
  • two = shoe
  • three= tree
  • four = door
  • five = hive
  • six = sticks
  • seven = heaven
  • eight = gate
  • nine = vine
  • ten = hen

After you have memorized this list, look over the new information that you are trying to learn. Then, connect the first word to "bun," the second word to "shoe," the third word to "tree," etc. The goal is to make a memorable connection with each new piece of information you need to memorize.

For example, let's imagine you need to learn the scientific classification system - Kingdom; Phylum or Division; Class; Order; Family; Genus; Species. Using the peg system, you'll first think of a kingdom placed on a hamburger bun. Then, you'll imagine the mathematical division sign inside a shoe. Next, you'll picture a classroom perched on a tree branch. And so on.

This method allows you to be able to recall both the specific piece of information as well as the correct order in which it needs to be placed.


The Mnemonic Linking System (Stories or Images)

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The mnemonic linking method (also called "chaining") consists of developing a story or image that connects together pieces of information you need to remember. Each item leads you to recall the next item.

For example, imagine that you need to remember to bring the following things with you to school in the morning: homework papers, glasses, gym shoes, wallet, lunch money, and keys.

Using the linking system, you can think of the following short story to help you: Jack's homework papers put on their glasses and gym shoes and ran over to his wallet where his hungry keys were eating his lunch money.

If you add interesting details or humor, it often makes the information easier to remember.

A Word From Verywell

Using mnemonic memory strategies can give you that boost in your memory that we all need, and it can improve your efficiency in learning as well. Keep in mind that you may need to practice a few of these strategies before they come easily, but once you have them down, they should clearly benefit your learning and recall of information.

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