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Learning Techniques

Hacking your Memory – Four Magic Mnemonic Techniques

Studying listed information can be such a drag!
Luckily that is a known problem and time has developed a bunch of useful memory hacks.
Learn more about these mnemonics and how they work in this post!

Remembering listed information like the elements of the periodic table or the essential amino acids can be a huge drag and drastically reduce your studying progress and productivity.

Luckily, there are a bunch of simple tricks out there which can make our lives easier – Mnemonics! A mnemonic is a memory device that allows you to better remember huge amounts of facts in a listed or ordered form. They come in a bunch of different forms like acronyms, songs or certain special methods.

In this post you’ll not only learn about some common mnemonics but I’ll also show you some tricks and tools for creating mnemonics on your own. Let’s get started!

1. Chunking

First I want to get started with a simple method that you can easily apply in daily life. Chunking is the act of dividing up long pieces of information in smaller packages that are easier to remember.

Our short term memory doesn’t really want to comply when it comes to holding more than about 5-10 items at a time. That’s especially annoying when it comes to remembering the characters of passwords or digits of phone numbers.

Funnily, you can easily trick it by splitting up the items smaller chunks of about 4 characters. Here’s how it could look like with a phone number:

Magically already looks a lot easier with packages of four digits.

This method enables you to more easily pick up information and transfer it to your long-term memory. However, for it to stay there you will need to apply one of the following methods.

2. The Mind Palace

A mind palace is a very advanced mnemonic device. It’s especially effective for learning long lists of ordered items. In order to do that it relies on the associative manner in which the human brain stores and processes information:

Its general concept is the combination of old visual and spatial memory with new information. This can be done by imagining a familiar mental place like your home, choosing different items and associatively putting them into relation with the new information you want store.

Here’s an example when it is applied to a shopping list:

  • Oranges: orange as light bulb
  • Bananas: banana sleeping in your bed
  • Cabbage: cabbage blocking your toilet
  • Eggs: Humpty Dumpty looking inside through your window
  • Cereals: TV advertisement

When doing this for a lot of items you are basically constructing an entire palace in your mind where you store your information!

Due to its very work intensive nature and the repetitions to make it stick, I advice you to only apply it to very important information like passwords or things that just doesn’t want to stick.

If you want to learn more about this technique, be sure to check out my detailed post about the Mind Palace!

3. Acronyms and Acrostics

You’ve certainly already stumbled upon “PEMDAS” or similar acronyms during your high school career and up to this day still remember what they are referring to.

Acronyms are abbreviations formed by the initial letters of other words.  Their power lies in the compression of long lists of items into one or more brief and memorable words.

Due to the simplicity of the technique you can easily apply it to almost every unordered list you have to learn by heart. It therefore really is an all-rounder you want to keep in the back of your mind when studying.

As it sometimes can be difficult to construct easy to remember acronyms here’s a small but useful trick: Simply outsource the problem to internet applications like Acronymify.

Acronymify lets you enter a list of words out of which a bunch of different acronyms are created and rated with a different score. All you have to do is select the acronym that you like best!

Short break: Honestly, why did they have to remove Pluto!

Acrostics are very similar to acronyms. Instead of constructing words though, you simply create new sentences out of the initial letters. Get creative and go over board! The crazier the sentences the better they stick in the long run.

Certainly one of the best known ones is about the planets of the solar system. But there are countless of other ones out there, especially for medicine students. So be sure to check out the internet for help when studying!

4. Rhythm, Rhymes and Music

Have you ever stumbled upon a song that you listened to a lot a few years ago or in your childhood? Very likely you probably had no problem at recalling the lyrics and singing along! At least I’m always absolutely astonished when it happens to me.

This is the exact reason why songs are such an excellent medium for learning! Probably the best example of you already using this technique is the “ABC-song”. Hell, you’re very likely not even able to recall the ABC without automatically singing it in the back of your mind!

This effect is what a lot of multinational companies also exploit in their marketing campaigns. I’m quite convinced that you’ll easily remember one or the other fast-food chain or tech company just by trying to recall one of the most prominent jingles out there.

Sure, you’ll say, that’s all fine and good but do you expect me to write my own songs now? Unless you’re really into doing exactly that, it is probably never going to happen. Luckily, there are other people out there who already did the hard work for you and you just have to tune in!

Check out the awesome guys from ASAP-Science who regularly upload new song about a lot of different scientific topics. Here’s a famous one about the element of the periodic table:

Certainly the stickiest song about elements you will ever encouter!

The Importance of Repetition

Sadly, we can’t cheat our way around the most important part of learning – repetition! And especially with mnemonics it’s really important to repeat them over and over again in the beginning so they get burned into your memory!

You can think of mnemonics like the keys to information filled drawers.  Whenever you need your documents and lists you just need to get out your key and open it. Lose your key, however, and you’ll encounter many problems in the long run as you aren’t able to recall the content of all of your documents!

Therefore, I advice you to keep your all your mnemonics in a master document which you can actively revise from time to time. Be sure to check out my post about Spaced Repetition if you want to know how to effective revision strategies! Revision itself can then also be scheduled with flashcard tools like Anki.

Cheers and happy learning!

 Summary:

  • There are a bunch of mnemonic devices that make it easier to recall or learn information of many sorts
  • They rely on the compression or alteration of items into more memorable bits of information
  • You have to actively study your mnemonics in order to obtain the best results

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