Enhancing memory with mnemonic strategies

If you are looking for strategies to improve your memory, you’re in the right place!

Our brains process new information on a daily basis. There are times when having extra reinforcement using proven techniques to retain information is helpful.

Mnemonic strategies, also called mnemonic devices, are strategies serving to help remember facts and increase the recall of information. Their first uses were recorded in ancient Greece and Rome, during times when pen and paper were scarce but people still needed to remember facts. One of the earliest mnemonic strategies was used in Greece as early as 86-82 B.C.E. (Yates, 1996). These mnemonic strategies might not be as effective in improving everyday memory as increasing rehearsal, engaging in deeper processing, and organizing material; however, they have proven to be the next best thing (Wilding & Valentine, 1996). These strategies can be especially helpful in making abstract material more meaningful or memorizing information to which meaning cannot be assigned.

Method of Loci

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Method of Loci is believed to be the oldest mnemonics yet. It is also one of the most researched mnemonics, demonstrating strong success across a wide range of academic subjects and life situations (Mccabe, 2015).  This strategy involves us walking through an imaginary familiar path or a room where items to be remembered are associated with certain locations (loci) or objects along the way. 

The first order of operation is to imagine a familiar path or a room in the order we’d walk through it. It is usually our home or our way to school, work, morning runs, or anything that we know well. Then, visualize each thing that you want to remember in one of each location or object. Try to imagine those images clearly. Once we’ve assigned each place an item, we need to imagine ourselves walking along that familiar path and let each place or object trigger an association with items to be learned. 

For example, Alice needs to memorize her grocery list. Before she leaves, she imagines grocery items in different places around her house. As she opens her closet, she imagines a big fish flopping around. She then imagines walking to the bathroom and seeing a bunch of apples in the sink, she visualizes walking through the living room with a massive watermelon obstructing the way, moving through the driveway with chicken eggs all over, and cucumbers covering the garage door. When Alice is at the grocery store, an imagery walk through her house, starting at the closet that would remind her to buy fish, will remind her what she needs to buy. 

This strategy is also called the journey strategy or creation of a memory palace. Evidence shows that the method of Loci can help with retaining an increased amount of information effectively (Gross et al., 2014; Moe & De Beni, 2004). Moreover, in addition to remembering information, this strategy allows for memorization of items in the exact order since the order is determined based on the sequence of locations we choose. 

Link Method

Custom made image

This method involves creating a story or image that links the items to be remembered together. 

For instance, Matt needs to prepare a showing of an experiment in school. Experiment requires him to bring a carrot, milk, pens, cheese, and tomatoes. So, to remember everything, he might create a mental image of a cheese surfing on a carrot board in the milk ocean while wearing pens for earrings and juggling tomatoes. When Matt thinks of this image later, he will remember what he needs to bring to class. 

McDaniel & Einstein (1986) suggest that the more ridiculous we make the image, the easier it is to remember it. 

Keyword Mnemonics

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This method is very effective with learning new languages or technical words in the native language we don’t know. To use this method, we need to choose a keyword that cues us to think of a word we are trying to learn. Then, we need to somehow connect that keyword to the meaning of the word we are trying to learn. 

For instance, Adib is trying to learn the word “poshli” in Russian, which means “let’s go”. To remember it, Adib chooses “brushy” (brushing one’s teeth) as a keyword. He then imagines brushing his teeth singing “brushy brushy” in his head and someone calling him in Russian “Poshli!” to urge him to start going. 

Studies have shown this method to be effective in improving learning and recall, especially when it comes to learning a new language (Campos et al, 2014).

Acronyms

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Acronyms are words that are formed out of the first letters of a series of words. It can be helpful in memorizing a list, definitions, or order. 

A good example of an acronym would be LGBTQ that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.

nother example of acronyms for those who want to memorize the stages of cell division is IPMAT. IPMAT stands for Interface, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase. 

Acrostics

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Acrostics are similar to acronyms in that they take the first letter of each item to be remembered, the difference is that they form sentences or poems instead of a word. 

Those who are learning how to play guitar probably learn the notes and their order using the “Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie” acrostic representing E,A,D,G,B,e notes.  

EXTRA

Chunking

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Our short-term memory has limited capacity and can generally remember only 7 (+/- 2) items (McLeod, 2009). When we try to memorize more than 9 items, our recall of information can get messy. 

The Chunking technique involves breaking larger amounts of information into smaller units or chunks. This makes retention and recall more manageable for us. For example, instead of memorizing a phone number as 7785647421 we remember it as 778-564-7421 because it is easier to remember it in chunks. 

Rhyme Mnemonics

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Rhymes have regular corresponding sounds, especially at the end of lines. Rhyme encodings can be helpful with increasing memory storage capacity because information can be stored by acoustic encoding in our brains.

Below is a good example of rhyme mnemonic strategy used to learn the number of days in a month:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November;

All the rest have thirty-one

Excepting February alone:

Which hath but twenty-eight, in fine,

Till leap year gives it twenty-nine.

You can find different rhymes on the internet or create your own ones for better encoding of information. Don’t worry about having a perfect rhyme, the most important part is for it to be helpful to you in remembering things. Have fun with it!

In conclusion, our short and long term memories have certain capacities. Using mnemonic strategies enable us to train our memorization ability, enhancing our memory capacity and use what we have to its fullest. If you liked this article, you might also like improve your reading comprehension and developing effective study habits articles.

Hi, I’m Alona! I’m open, compassionate, and love adventures. Welcome to StudyTips, a place where I share knowledge from years of experience, studying, and hard work.

It is possible to do well in school and have fulfilling balanced lives. I learnt it the hard way but hope you won’t have to. Studying more is not always better, the trick is to know how to do it well.

Here you can find tips, concepts, and techniques based on various psychology principles that I wish I knew in my first years of university.

References:

Campos, A., Rodríguez-Pinal, M.D. & Pérez-Fabello, M.J. Receptive and Productive Recall with the Keyword Mnemonics in Bilingual Students. Curr Psychol 33, 64–72 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-013-9197-y

Gross, A.L., Brandt, J., Bandeen-Roche, K.., Carlson, M.C., Stuart, E.A., Marsiske, M. & Reebok, G.W. (2014). Do older adults use the method of loci? Results from the active study. Experimental Aging Research, 40, 140-163. Doi: 10.1080/0361073X.2014.882204.

Mccabe, J. (2015). Location, Location, Location! Demonstrating the Mnemonic Benefit of the Method of Loci. Teaching of Psychology. 42. 169-173. 10.1177/0098628315573143. 

McDaniel, M. A., Einstein, G. O. (1986). Bizarre imagery as an effective memory aid: The importance of distinctiveness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 12, 54-65.

McLeod, S. A. (2009, December 14). Short-Term Memory. SimplyPsychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/short-term-memory.html

Moe, A., & De Beni, R. (2004). Studying passages with the loci method: Are subject-generated more effective than experimenter-supplied loci pathways? Journal of Mental Imagery, 28 (3-4), 75-86

Wilding, J., & Valentine, E. (1996). Memory expertise. In D.J. Herrman, C. McEvoy, C. Hertzog, P. Hertel, & M.K. Johnson (Eds.), Basic and applied memory research: Theory in context (Vol. 1). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Yates, F. A. (1996). The art of memory. London, UK: Routledge & Kagan Paul.

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