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Techniques Memory methods > Mnemonics

Usage | Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Use to remember a sequence of words where you only need a simple set of initial letters to be able to remember the original words.


Mnemonics are devices that capture the initial letters of a set of words or phrase that you want to remember. Given that initial letter, it is assumed that you will be able to recall the rest of each word.

Method 1: Single words

Take the initial letters of the phrase or list of words to remember and list them together. If they can be pronounced, even strangely, then you have a useful mnemonic.

Sometimes it can help to insert a few non-important words to help make a pronounceable mnemonic.

Method 2: Revised phrase

Take the initial letters of the words you want to remember, then make up a memorable phrase that includes those initial letters with new different words.

For example, when working for the UK government, where departmental names change regularly I remembered the new 'Department for Children, Schools and Families' (DCSF) as 'David Cameron, Samantha Fox' (the prime minister and a famous topless model).


The first 18 elements in the Periodic Table can be remembered as the nonsense (but pronounceable phrases:

Huhee : H, He
Libeb Kunoffnee : Li, Be, B, C, N, O, F, Ne
Namgal See Pussclar: Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, Ar

The rainbow can be remembered as the word 'ROYGBIV'. It can also be remembered as Richard Of York Gained Battle In Vain.

The notes on the lines of the treble clef are EGBDF, remembered as Every Good Boy Deserves Favor. The notes in the gaps spell the word FACE.


Sometimes all you need to remember a short phrase or set of words are the initial letters. Like a cue for a song, once you have a starting trigger, you can keep going and pick up the rest.

This works well when there are only a few possible words that will fit with the letters (such as the hues of the rainbow) or where the words are familiar (such as the name of the government department).

It is important to rehearse the mnemonic, not only to bring back the word to mind, but also to recall what it all means. I still remember a college exam mnemonic from long ago: SHBOPOPOV. The problem is, I haven't the faintest idea what it means any more.

See also



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