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How to use mnemonics

1 min read

One of the best ways to improve retention is by using mnemonics.

A mnemonic is something that aids your memory, such as an acronym.

For example, I memorise the bones of the hand by using the mnemonic Some Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle, which corresponds to Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetrum, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate and Hamate.

I also use another mnemonic for the 12 cranial nerves: On On They Traveled and Found Voldemort Guarding Very Ancient Horcruxes: Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlea, Trigeminal, Abducent, Facial, Vestibulocochlear, Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, Accessory and Hypoglossal Nerve.

Mnemonics works because it creates a vivid picture or association between one thing and another. These associations make it easier for you to remember them. We’re not good at remembering words, but we are good at remembering mnemonics in the form of songs, pictures, stories and rhymes.

Mnemonics can be very powerful if you need to memorise highly dense information in a specific format, mainly if you use this information often. You can also use mnemonics to make the initial learning easier when there’s a lot of information to learn.

When I have a list of things I need to memorise, I challenge myself, “Can I rearrange this list so it spells out something interesting or make it into an acronym I can remember?”. It makes studying fun as I try to use my creative muscles to form memorable mnemonics.

However, it’s easy to be overly reliant on mnemonics. Some things are not worth memorising. To avoid this, understand the big picture of what you are learning before remembering it with mnemonics.

Examples of how to use mnemonics

1. Use humour. You are more likely to remember a mnemonic you find funny or crude. Your brain remembers events that evoke an emotion better.

2. Use logical associations. When making mnemonics, make sure it relates to the subject you are trying to remember.

3. Use imagery. Create an elaborate image or visual in your head when using mnemonics. When you want to recall something, simply think of the picture.

4. Use the keyword method. The keyword method is useful if you are learning terms or languages. Take a foreign-language word and convert it into something that sounds like your native language.

Effective Learning


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