Study Skills: The Bionic Power of Mnemonic Devices

Posted by Richard Gold on 2/6/15 11:00 AM

woody allenRobots are awesome, but don't become robotic while using mnemonics!

Mnemonics: from the Greek “Mnemonikos:” of or relating to Memory.A device such as a verse or formula or rhyme used as an aid in remembering concepts. Named for Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory in Greek mythology.

The most popular kind of mnemonic device is known as “expressions/words.” This refers to the method whereby the first letters of the items to be remembered are organized into a snazzy and memorable word, phrase, or sentence . Almost all algebra students know “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” but just because you’ve graduated high school doesn’t mean mnemonics stop being useful—in fact, they’re more important than ever for developing good study skills. In an effort to remember the 11 organelles in the cytoplasm of eukaryotic cells, even a professional biologist will rely on a sentence like “Nobody Can Roast Really Great Steaks Like My Neighbor’s Cousin Vinny.” For our MCAT tutoring students in Boston and New York, mnemonics are the very breath of life. But it’s important to understand that there are way more ways to design mnemonics than just simple sentences. Today, I’d like to show you some.

Sing It!

If you are clever or musical enough you can create a song or jingle like the famous “ABC” song sung by generations of children. Sometimes these musical interludes can be only one memorable line. Just apply your own words to a song you already know! A current advertising favorite seems to be 1-877-Kars for Kids, or if that is too lame—and Cambridge Coaching apologizes for having put that godawful tune in your head—then how about “Every kiss begins with K?”

Give It a Name!

The use of a quasi “name” can be very helpful and one of the oldest is Roy G. Biv. This name denotes the colors of the rainbow in the correct sequence, which is just another way to remember the way in which a triangular prism diffracts white light.

Visualize It!

Models are a bit less obvious, but they are basically a type of representation that is constructed to help you remember important information. When you look at sheet music, the way in which the notes are depicted on the staff is a good visual clue for you to remember where they belong. The sequence of notes on either the lines or spaces can also be recalled with a sentence or expression mnemonic (see above) such as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge for the lines on a musical staff, or FACE for the spaces between. You might not think of it that way, but the Periodic table of elements is a mnemonic, too--it’s information laid out in a grid that is deliberately designed to facilitate memorization.

Rhyme It! 

Simple rhymes are very popular and occasionally poems can be very useful and surprisingly easy to remember. It is incredible how often I still mumble the “30 days has September” poem to myself when needed. The fate of the 6 wives of Henry the Eighth is famously recorded as “Henry the Eighth, to 6 wives he was wedded, one died, one survived, two divorced and two beheaded.”  The difference between the lethality of cyanate and cyanide can be vividly remembered as: “Cyanate I ate, Cyanide I died.” 

Now, having said all of this, there are still a few things to think about. Clearly it takes time and effort to compose a mnemonic. Sometimes, shorter items and lists might be easier to memorize outright—don’t let crafting mnemonics become a procrastination strategy! In scientific subjects there are lists of mnemonics on line which can save time and be very helpful. Sharing mnemonics with friends can reveal ideas to help you further. On the other hand, do not try to pretend you understand something just because you have reduced it to a mnemonic. Important concepts take time and energy to truly comprehend. Make sure you can tell the difference.

And finally for every one reading this, there is a unique imagination and a unique learning style. Try to enjoy your own abilities, your own creativity and the fact that you could be locking away some important information for a lot longer than it takes you to study for an examination. If you’re looking for more help, whether with MCAT tutoring or advanced math tutoring in Boston or New York, give us a call here at Cambridge Coaching. Our expert tutors can guide you through any test, and any subject.

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Tags: study skills, chemistry