Revision: The ultimate guide to mnemonics – how to improve your memory!

Our revision guide to mnemonics aims to help you to boost your memory ahead of your latest exams.

Introduction

First of all, what exactly is a mnemonic? It’s a very general term, referring to any technique that helps memory. Slightly more specifically, mnemonic devices are ways of turning information into an easier to remember format.

There are no rules to mnemonics, especially for revision, it’s just about what works for you.

For some tips, here’s our own guide to creating and using mnemonics…

Acronyms

An acronym mnemonic sees you abbreviate information by creating a word where each letter stands for something.

A classic science mnemonic most will probably be aware of if OIL RIG, which describes the difference between Oxidation and Reduction: Oxidation Is Loss, Reduction Is Gain.

Acronyms are very easy to remember but can only really be used for small amounts of information. Once your acronym is getting longer than 5 or 6 letters it may be hard to recall exactly what the letters stand for, especially if you have the same letter multiple times.

planets

Phrases and acrostics

Phrases and acrostics are better for memorizing longer lists of information, especially where order is important.

Famous ones include the order and names of the planets, remembered with the mnemonic My Violent Evil Monster Just Scared Us Nuts.

In general, to form an acrostic mnemonic you take the first letter of each word in the list you need to remember and use it to make a word. Then string those words together in a memorable sentence.

However it needn’t be even that complex as sometimes you may find it easier to just create a made-up phrase.

For example, in mathematics, the phrase SOHCAHTOA is used to remember how to compute the three main trigonometric functions.

Rhymes and songs

Rhymes and songs are quite a bit harder to create yourself, but once you’ve got one you’ll probably never forget it.

Famous rhyming mnemonics that most people will recognise include “I before E, except after C” and a way to remember the amount of days in a month:

Thirty days have September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have 31,
Except February alone,
And that has 28 days clear,
And 29 in a leap year.

More complex mnemonics

Mnemonics can also be used to remember more complex information, such as the digits of Pi or other numerical sequences.

The phrase “Now I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics” works by using the amount of letters in each word to represent a number.

Hence, “Now I need a drink”, translates to 31415.

But remember

The thing to keep in mind with mnemonics is that they themselves are meaningless. Write down ‘OIL RIG’ on your exam and you won’t get any marks.

The key is that mnemonics are not answers, but help you to remember the answers.

Our final top tip is not to overdo it: You can’t remember everything using Mneomics so don’t bother trying.

Further reading

A variety of books on mnemonics, including special guides on specific courses or subjects, are available from Amazon.

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