How to Use Mnemonic Devices to Improve Your Memory

Teenage boy contemplating while sitting with laptop at home

Maskot/Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Mnemonics are memory tools that can help you learn or remember information more easily.

One of the most common examples of a mnemonic device is the “A-B-C-D…” song, which helps us learn the English alphabet. Another common example of a mnemonic device is the acronym “ROYGBIV,” which helps us remember the sequence of colors in a rainbow.

While songs and acronyms are two types of mnemonics, there are several other types as well. This article explores how mnemonics help with memory and the different types of mnemonics you can use.

Did You Know?

The use of mnemonic devices to store information is believed to go back to the ancient ages. The Greek poet Simonides is credited with first discovering mnemonics, or the ancient art of memory, in 447 B.C.

How Do Mnemonics Help With Memory? 

Mnemonics can help your memory in a variety of ways:

  • Learning large chunks of information: It can be difficult to memorize a large amount of information at once, so mnemonics can help. For instance, they can be helpful while you’re learning the names of state capitals, or the names of all the bones in the human body.
  • Remembering information sequentially: We’re often required to remember not just words or facts, but also their correct order. Mnemonic devices can help you remember information sequentially. For instance, they can help you learn the names of the planets, the colors of the rainbow, or the letters of the alphabet—all in the correct sequence.
  • Memorizing abstract concepts: Mnemonic devices can help you remember abstract words or concepts you’ve not familiar with. For instance, they can help you remember mathematical formulas or words of a foreign language.

A 2014 study notes that mnemonic devices work because they take creative routes to learning, either by linking to some knowledge you already know, or by appealing to your humor or emotions.

Research shows us that mnemonics can be quite effective. One study found that using mnemonics improved learning and recall by 20%.

Types of Mnemonics

Listed below are some of the different types and examples of mnemonic devices.

Musical Mnemonics

You may not remember even one pageful of words from your favorite book, but you probably remember the lyrics to dozens of songs. That’s because music can be an effective tool when it comes to learning and recall. Advertisers know this, which is why they use catchy jingles to promote products.

These are some examples of musical mnemonics:

  • Alphabet song: The “A-B-C-D…” alphabet song helps us learn the English alphabet, which is essentially a string of 26 random letters.
  • 50 Nifty United States song: This song helps us learn the names of all 50 American states in alphabetical order.

Rhyme Mnemonics

Like songs, rhymes and poems are also catchy and make it easier to remember information, due to the use of repetition and rhyming words.

For instance, the "'I' before 'E,' except after 'C,' or when sounding like 'A' as in 'neighbor' or 'weigh'" spelling rule helps us remember the correct order of the letters “I” and “E” in different types of English words.

Or the next time you're trying to remember the number of days in each month, try this rhyme mnemonic:

“30 days hath September, April, June, and November. 
All the rest have 31.
Except February, my dear son.
It has 28 and that is fine.
But in a leap year it has 29.”

Acronyms and Acrostics

These are among the most common types of mnemonics. To form this type of mnemonic, the first letter of each item in a list is used to form a word (an acronym) or a phrase (an acrostic).

These are some common examples of acronyms that function as mnemonic devices:

  • ROYGBIV: This acronym helps us remember the sequence of colors in the rainbow, which are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet.
  • HOMES: This acronym helps us remember the names of the five Great Lakes, which are: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.

Is an Acronym the Same as a Mnemonic?

Some acronyms are mnemonics. However, all acronyms are not mnemonics and all mnemonics are not acronyms.

These are some common examples of acrostics:

  • Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally: This is an acrostic that helps us remember the order of algebra operations, which is: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction.
  • Kings Play Cards On Fairly Good Soft Velvet: This is an acrostic that helps us remember how living beings are classified, as per the taxonomy: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, and Variety.

NASA has a handy tool that you can use to create your own acrostics.

Keyword Mnemonics

Keyword mnemonics involve using keywords and visual cues to create association and cue your memory.

These are some examples of keyword mnemonics:

  • Latitude: It can be confusing to remember which way latitudes and longitudes run. You can remember this by pegging the keyword “flat” to “latitude” to help you remember that latitudes run horizontally and therefore longitudes run vertically.
  • Ranidae: Common frogs are scientifically known as ranidae. You can remember this by pegging the keyword “rain,” (which resembles “ranidae”) to “frog” and picturing a frog jumping around on a rainy day.
  • Gato: The Spanish word for cat is “gato.” You can remember this by pegging the keyword “gate” (which resembles “gato”) to “cat” and picture a cat sitting up on a gate.

Try making your own keyword mnemonics for anything else you need to remember. They can be particularly helpful while learning words in a foreign language.

Spelling Mnemonics

Spelling mnemonics can help you spell out difficult words. These are some examples of spelling mnemonics:

  • George Edwards’ Old Grandma Rode A Pig Home Yesterday: This mnemonic helps us spell the word “GEOGRAPHY.”
  • A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream: This mnemonic helps us spell the word “ARITHMETIC.”

You can make your own spelling mnemonics for words that you struggle to spell. In fact, research shows us that using mnemonic devices can help improve your vocabulary.

Alliteration Mnemonics

Alliteration mnemonics help you remember words by associating them with another word starting with the same letter. These are some examples of alliteration mnemonics:

  • Sophisticated Sylvie: If you have a new colleague named Sylvie and you're struggling to remember their name, find a quality that describes them with the letter "S." For example, if they appear sophisticated, you can think of them as sophisticated Sylvie.
  • Tutoring Tuesday: If you have a tutoring session on Tuesday, this alliteration can help ensure you don't forget it.

You can use alliteration mnemonics to keep track of names, dates, or other important information.

Using Mnemonics

You can use mnemonics to remember all kinds of information, such as the dates of historical events, the laws of physics, or the names of your colleagues. Mnemonics can also keep you from forgetting something important you need to keep track of, like passwords or the list of groceries you need to buy.

If you’re trying to learn a specific piece of information, you can check if there are existing mnemonics for it online. For instance, if you’re trying to memorize the year that Christopher Columbus set sail, there is already an existing rhyming mnemonic for it: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Alternatively, you can choose to make your own mnemonics. A 2022 study found that making your own mnemonics can improve your chances of remembering the information because the association holds more meaning for you.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Patten BM. The history of memory arts. Neurology. 1990;40(2):346-352. doi:10.1212/wnl.40.2.346

  2. West N. Mnemonics are useful memory tools in modern medicine. Ugeskr Laeger. 2014;176(50):V66204.

  3. Knott D, Thaut MH. Musical mnemonics enhance verbal memory in typically developing children. Front Educ. 2018;3. doi:10.3389/feduc.2018.00031

  4. University of Central Florida. Nine types of mnemonics for better memory.

  5. Cirigliano MM. Musical mnemonics in health science: a first look. Med Teach. 2013;35(3):e1020-e1026. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2012.733042

  6. Ghoneim NM. Elghotmy H. Using mnemonic strategies to improve primary stage pupils' vocabulary learning and retention skills. Res J of Eng Lang and Lit. 2395-2636.

  7. Tullis JG, Qiu J. Generating mnemonics boosts recall of chemistry information. J Exp Psychol Appl. 2022;28(1):71-84. doi:10.1037/xap0000350

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.