A Mnemonic is something which we can use to remember things much easier.
As is often the case, it could be a phrase, a short song, or something that
is quite easily remembered, that we use to remember something that would otherwise
be difficult to remember. For example, we may use a phrase to remember a series
of numbers, such as the mathematical Pi sequence (3.14159 etc) or an ordered
list whose numbers or items are not easily memorized. Mnemonics are a way of
remembering using association - associating easy to remember
things with data.
Popular & Useful Mnemonics
Colors of the rainbow/spectrum
A number of mnemonic devices have been made to help people to remember the
order of the colors of the spectrum, proving the power of mnemonics in revising
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain
This phrase, easily remembered when thought about for a few seconds,
borrows the first letter of colors in the spectrum as the first letters
of each of its words (e.g. R in Richard represents red, Y in York helps
us to remember Yellow, etc)
Sing a Rainbow Song
Many readers will recall singing the 'I can sing a rainbow' song in school
in order to remember the colors of the rainbow. This song is useful in
remembering easily in that it uses a tune that's easy to memorize, so
that we associate the list of colors as we think of the tune.
Beginning music students trying to memorize the notes of the staff use the
mnemonics "Every Good Boy Does Fine" and "FACE" for the
lines and spaces of the Treble Clef respectively. The Bass Clef equivalents
are "Good Boys Do Fine Always" and "All Cows Eat Grass".
The acronym HOMES is also a mnemonic aid that can be used to remember the names
of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).
The famous mnemonic for approximating the digits of pi: "May I have a
large container of coffee?" Counting the letters in each word yields the
sequence 3,1,4,1,5,9,2,6. A longer version is: "How I want a drink, alcoholic
of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!" Another
notable (but shorter) version is "How I wish I could recollect pi".
A famous mnemonic used by medical students to remember the cranial nerves is
"On Old Olympus' Tiny Top A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops" (with
variations; some say "terraced tops," some say "towering top,"
and "view some hops" is sometimes rendered as "vaulted a hedge").
A mnemonic used by physics students to remember the Maxwell relations in thermodynamics
is "Good Physicists Have Studied Under Very Fine Teachers", which
helps them remember the order of the variables in the square, in clockwise direction.
Another mnemonic used here is "Valid Facts and Theoretical Understanding
Generate Solutions to Hard Problems", which gives the letter in the normal
left to right writing direction.
A mnemonic for remembering the number of days in the months of the year, practically
a cultural universal in the United States, is "Thirty days hath September/April,
June and November." (Although this is only part of a longer rhyme, this
is the only part that most people remember, so they commonly complete it with
words similar to "... except February, which has twenty-eight, or twenty-nine
in a leap year." The full mnemonic is "Thirty days hath September/April,
June and November/All the rest have thirty-one/except February alone/which has
eight and a score/until leap year gives it one day more.")
Another mnemonic for the days of the months is not a rhyme or a jingle, but
a gestalt. Whereas the traditional mnemonic simply associates the name of the
month with the number of days, this one emphasizes the sequence. The 31 and
less-than-31-day months would be easy to remember if they simply alternated,
but this pattern was broken in 27 B.C. by the decision to rename the month of
Sextilis to Augustus and to increase its length from 30 to 31 days. Thus the
fourth 31-day month, July, is immediately followed by another 31-day month.
Since the human hand has four fingers, one can, given an appropriate mind-set,
perceive this pattern in a view of the knuckles of two fists, held together.
The raised knuckles can be seen as the 31-day months, the dips between them
as the 30-day-months-and-February, and the gap between the hands ignored. (Thus:
left-hand-pinky-knuckle = January, dip = February, left-hand-ring-knuckle =
March, dip = April, and so on to left-hand-index-knuckle = July; then continue
with right-hand-index-knuckle = August, dip = September, etc).
A curious characteristic of many memory systems is that mnemonic devices work
despite being (or possibly because of being) illogical, arbitrary, and artistically
flawed. "Roy" is a legitimate first name, but there is no actual surname
"Biv" and of course the middle initial "G" is arbitrary.
Why is "Roy G. Biv" easy to remember? Medical students never forget
the arbitrary nationalities of the Finn and German. Any two of the three months
ending in -ember would fit just as euphoniously as September and November in
"Thirty days hath...", yet most people can remember the rhyme correctly
for a lifetime after having heard it once, and are never troubled by doubts
as to which two of the -ember months have thirty days. A bizarre arbitrary association
may stick in the mind better than a logical one.
More complex mnemonic techniques
A mnemonic technique is one of many memory aids that is used to create associations
among facts that make it easier to remember these facts. Popular mnemonic techniques
include mind mapping and peg lists. These techniques make use of the power of
the visual cortex to simplify the complexity of memories. Thus simpler memories
can be stored more efficiently. For example, a number can be remembered as a
picture. This makes it easier to retrieve it from memory. Mnemonic techniques
should be used in conjunction with active recall to actually be beneficial.
For example, it is not enough to look at a mind map; one needs to actively reconstruct
it in one's memory.
Other methods for remembering arbitrary numbers or number sequences use numerological
(lit. number+word) systems such as the abjad, where each numeral is represented
by a consonant sound.
An example of a widely used system for memorizing numbers as words is the major
Egg and Spear or Number Shape system
This is another peg system, much like the number-rhyme system but more suitable
for those with visual learning styles (a one looks like a candle; a two looks
like a swan, and so on).
Psychologist World is an online magazine dedicated to psychology, providing theory and experiment overviews, popular psychology articles and practical psychology guides. For details of content available with membership click here.