Mnemonics is a technique for easily remembering content that can be accessed quickly. The downsides with mnemonics, is that you do not necessarily understand the content and sometimes the amount of time spent learning them, it would have actually been better just to rote learn the content in the first place.
I’ve mainly used mnemonics for content that has a specific order, or as a prompt to remembering a a group of related things and there’s always that pesky one or two that’s on the tip of you tongue but never quite there.
There are different types of mnemonics, but these are the ones that I’ve found to be the most effective for learning.
I imagine you’ve used this one before. It’s basically where you take the first letter from each word of what you’re trying to remember and turn it into a simple word. For example: IPMAT – stages of the mitotic cell cycle (Interphase, Proprase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase)
Very similar to acronym mnemonics, but rather than make an acronym using the first letters of each word, you build a phrase. Usually the funnier, ruder, or more personalised ones, the more likely it is that you’ll find it easiest to learn and remember. For example: my very easy method just speeds up naming planets = Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn,Uranus, Neptune, Pluto
“red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue….”
‘I can sing a rainbow’ lyrics may not be the most useful for science, but think how long ago you learnt this one and how it’s still firmly lodged in your memory! Taking an area of science and turning it into a rhyme, song, or poem can be very effective. Just be aware that most people either sing out loud, or mouth it when recalling – not ideal in an exam hall!
One I made when I was training to be a teacher 11 years ago was about the difference between covalent and ionic bonding, sung to Afternoon Delight, and I still remember it perfectly to the day.
Recite your phone number in your head. How did you group the numbers? I bet you did it in groups of 3 or 4. Your brain is better at remembering numbers in ‘chunks, and instead of remembering 11 single digits of your phone number, you’re effectively remembering just 4 ‘chunks’.
Chunking doesn’t just apply to numbers. Anytime you can group information into a meaningful ‘whole’ will help you. When you try and recall the information, you bring out the whole group instead of just the individual piece of data.
Chunking can be good when you’re learning words in a question that should trigger specific responses. For example, if you get a question asking about an enzyme, certain words should jump out at you like: active site, substrate, catalyst, protein.
Chunking is a really good method when you start to see common marking points to the same types of question. Chunk specific marking points to specific key words, but try not to go above 5 as it become harder to recall all the components of the chunk. For example, I chink the following: 1. Electromagnet strength 3. Bigger current 4. more turns 5. iron core. I can now use this chunk in different ways from a simple recall question, like how ‘How can I increase an electromagnet’s strength’ to application questions about how to build an electromagnet to move cars in a scrap yard.
This relies on the fact that you can remember drawings/pictures more easily than text. What you’re trying to remember is constructed in the form of an image. Multiple, chunked content, can interact with each other, and try and make it bizarre, or unusual, as this will make it stand out to similar images you have – become a ‘sillyographer’! . For example, when I think of the hippocampus, the image of a hippopotamus springs to mind (they sound similar) and hippos have very good memories, which is the function of that part of the brain.
These are usually more tricky to design, but it is where you build a representation to help understanding and recall of content. This could be a flow diagram, or a pyramid of stages, a graph, just anything that makes recalling all the information much quicker. One of my favourite ones is how the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle interact as pupils always struggle with this section (especially as I used to enjoy playing poker).
What NOT to do
Mnemonics work best when you don’t follow the normal rules of logic, or when they are interesting or something a bit different. Don’t make them:
Colourless – go bright and vivid!
Nice and logical – make parts oddly sizεd αnd a little bit random
Safe – use ideas that are a little risky or naughty
Make it too complicated – this is supposed to be helping you!
Inspired? Try it now.
Pick a topic you’re currently learning or revising and attempt two different mnemonic techniques from above. Why not share your mnemonic in the comments section below (please keep it at a PG rating).