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Mnemonics: What Are Mnemonics?

Defined in broad terms, a mnemonic is a device, procedure, or operation that is used to improve memory. Defined in narrow terms — and what is usually meant by the word — a mnemonic is a specific reconstruction of target content intended to tie new information more closely to the learner's existing knowledge base and, therefore, facilitate retrieval.

Mnemonics have been used for thousands of years. Having limited access to writing materials, the Ancient Greeks developed complex mnemonic systems for remembering stories, poems, plays and lectures. Many of the Ancient Greek techniques were revived in the Middle Ages, where they were sometimes associated with mysticism and the occult. However, with the invention of the printing press these ancient arts became lost as more and more people relied — sometimes exclusively — on note-taking and on the printed page.

There are a variety of mnemonic techniques, including keywords, pegwords, acronyms, acrostics, loci methods, spelling mnemonics, phonetic mnemonics, number-sound mnemonics, and Japanese “Yodai” methods.


An acronym is a word that is made up by taking the first letter from each word that you want to remember and making a new word from all those letters. For example, if you want to remember the names of the Great Lakes, you could learn the acronym HOMES — Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. Below are several more examples.

BEDMAS Brackets, Exponents, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction
Sequence in which you should tackle any math problem with multiple calculations.
BRASS Breath, Relax, Aim, Sight, Squeeze
How to shoot a rifle.
FACE The letters of the treble clef notes in the spaces from bottom to top spells “FACE”.
FAN BOYS Use a comma between two independent clauses separated by one of the “FAN BOYS” (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So).
FOIL F stands for first terms; O stands for outer terms; I stands for inner terms and L stands for last terms.
The steps involved in factoring algebra problems.
HOMES Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior
Names of the Great Lakes.
IPMAT Interphase, Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase
The stages of cell division.
MET DR THIP Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion, Iapetus and Phoebe
Saturn's moons
NEWS North, East, West, South
The points of the compass.
PEN Proton, Electron, Neutron
The parts of an atom.
ROY G. BIV Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet
Colors of the spectrum.
STAB Soprano, Tenor, Alto, and Bass
Four voices in a quartet.

Acrostics support recall by creating an entire sentence with the first letter of each word being the prompt for the to-be-recalled information. For example, the planets in the order from the sun correspond to the first letter of each word in the sentence “my very educated mother just sent us nine pizzas.” Below are several more examples.

Blood’s functions:
Old Charlie Foster Hates Women Having Dull Clothes
Oxygen (transport), carbon dioxide (transport), food, heat, waste, hormones, disease, clotting

Bones of the skull:
Old People From Texas Eat Spiders
Occipital, parietal, frontal, temporal, ethmoid, sphenoid

British rank order below Kings and Queens:
Do Men Ever Visit Britain?
Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, Baron

Eat An Aspirin After A Nighttime Snack (NOTE: The 2nd letter in the first three "A" words help to remember the "A" continents)
Europe, Antarctica, Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, South America

Cranial nerves:
On Old Olympus Towering Tops, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops
Olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, acoustic, glossopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory, hypoglossal

Cranial nerves (function):
(1st letter) S=sensory, M=motor, B=both
Some Say Marry Money But My Brother Says Bad Boys Marry Money

Directions of the compass:
Never Eat Sour Watermelons
North, East, South, West

Geological ages:
Practically Every Old Man Plays Poker Regularly
Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, Recent

Great Lakes in order of size:
Sam's Horse Must Eat Oats
Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario

Guitar strings:
Eat All Dead Gophers Before Easter
E, A, D, G, B, E

Jupiter's moons:
An Icecube Ever Grows Colder
Amalthea, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto

I Am A Person
Indian, Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific

Metric system in order:
King Henry Drinks Much Dark Chocolate Milk
Kilometer, hectometer, decameter, meter, decimeter, centimeter, millimeter

Neptune's moons:
Neptune's Tiny Dancing Girls Look Pretty To-Night
Naiad, Thalassa, Despina , Galatea, Larissa , Proteus, Triton, Nereid

New Testament order:
General Electric Power Company
Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians

Planets in order from the sun:
My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas
Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

Rainbow colors:
Richard Of York Got Bugged In Venice
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet

Taxonomic classification system of living organisms:
King Philip Can Only Find his Green Slippers
Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species

Taxonomic classification for humans:
Anthroplogy Can Make People Hate Helping the Sick
Animalia, Chordata, Mammalia, Primates, Hominidae, Homo Sapiens

Seven deadly sins:
All Private College Leave Serious Educational Gaps
Anger, pride, covetousness, lust, sloth, envy, greed

Seven wonders of the Ancient World:
Seems Like MataHari Picked Her Targets Carefully
Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Colossus of Rhodes

Zodiac constellations:
As The Great Cook Likes Very Little Salt, She Compensates Adding Pepper
Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces


Spelling mnemonics is intended to help us remember the spelling of words. In order to remember that the word “cemetery” is spelled with three e's, for example, one can picture a lady screaming 'e-e-e' as she walks past the cemetery. Below are several more examples.

Use the word RAVEN to remember when to use “affect” versus “effect”.

R emember
A ffect
V erb
E ffect
N oun

Argument or arguement? I lost an ‘e’ in an argument.

Use first letter of each word: A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream

When you ascertain a fact, be AS CERTAIN as you possibly can.

Use first letter of each word: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants

Triple compound: oo kk ee

Remember to spell it with three e's: Picture a lady yelling “e-e-e!” as she walks past the cemetery.

Remember that a desert is Sandy; dessert has two s's in it, like Strawberry Shortcake or Sweet Stuff.

Use first letter of each word: George's Elderly Old Grandfather Rode A Pig Home Yesterday.

You HEAR with your EAR.

IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime.

Say to yourself “M I double S, I double S, I double P, I”.

Use first letter of each word: Mnemonics Now Erase Man's Oldest Nemesis, Insufficient Cerebral Storage

Use first letter of each word: Never Eat Crisps, Eat Salad Sandwiches, And Remain Young!

Use first letter of each word: Only Cats' Eyes Are Narrow

Remember one tea, two sugars.

Your princiPAL is your PAL; A ruLE can be called a principLE (both end in -le).

Use first letter of each word: Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move

A sculPTURE is a kind of piCTURE

There was a farmer named Sep and one day his wife saw a rat. She yelled, “Sep! A rat – E!!!”

Slaughter is LAUGHTER with an S at the beginning.

Remember how to spell “together” by noting that if you GET HER, you'll be “together.”


The purpose of number-sound mnemonics is to recall strings of numbers, such as telephone numbers, addresses, locker combinations or historical dates. To use them, learners must first learn the number-sound relationships:

6=sh, ch, or soft g,
7=k, hard c, or hard g;
8=f or v; and

To remember the date 1439, for example, the learner uses the associated consonant sounds, t, r, m and p, and will insert vowels to create a meaningful word or words. In this case, the word “tramp” can be used.

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