9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory

By Dennis Congos, University of Central Florida

Mnemonics are memory devices that help learners recall larger pieces of information, especially in the form of lists like characteristics, steps, stages, parts, phases, etc. We knew back in 1967 from a study by Gerald R. Miller that mnemonics increased recall. He found that students who regularly used mnemonic devices increased test scores up to 77%!

Many types of mnemonics exist and which type works best is limited only by the imagination of each individual learner. The 9 basic types of mnemonics presented in this handout include Music, Name, Expression/Word, Model, Ode/Rhyme, Note Organization, Image, Connection, and Spelling Mnemonics.

  1. Music Mnemonics

    How many lyrics to songs do you remember? How did you come to remember them? The same method you used to recall song lyrics also can work just as well in academics. Music can used to help students recall important details to main ideas and many learners have made songs out of information when a list of items must be learned. Advertising on radio and TV uses music to help potential customers remember their products when shopping. With sufficient repetition of commercials, advertisers have discovered that when shoppers see their product in the stores that often the shopper will start reciting a oft repeated phrases from the commercial or start singing the lyrics to the promotion melody. The results has been increased sales of the product.

    You can make a song or jingle using any type of music you choose for any list of items. Music Mnemonics work best with long lists. For example, some children learn the ABC's by singing the "ABC" song. Other children learn all the states in alphabetical order using the "50 Nifty United States" song.

  2. Name Mnemonics

    In a Name Mnemonic, the 1st letter of each word in a list of items is used to make a name of a person or thing. Sometimes, the items can be rearranged to form a more recollectable name mnemonic. Examples:

    ROY G. BIV = colors of the spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.)
    Pvt. Tim Hall = Essential amino acids (Phenylanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isolucine, Histidine, Arginine, Leucine, Lysine.

  3. Expression or Word Mnemonic

    This is by far the most popularly used mnemonic. To make an Expression or Word mnemonic, the first letter of each item in a list is arranged to form a phrase or word. Examples:

    For physical laws dealing with gasses, try these:

    Charles' Law: For a constant volume, pressure is directly proportional to temperature.
    The simple way to remember Chuck is if the tank's too hot, you're blown into muck.

    Henry's Law: The solubility of a gas increases with pressure.
    To remember good old Hank, remember the bubbles in the shaken Coke you drank.

    Boyles' Law: At constant temperature, pressure is inversely proportional to volume.
    Boyle's law is best of all because it presses gasses awfully small.

    In English, the 7 coordinating conjunctions are For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So = FANBOYS.

    The order of operations for math is Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract = Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

    The categories in the classification of life are Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species, Variety = Kings Play Cards On Fairly Good Soft Velvet.

    For those who have to remember the order of color coding on electronic resistors: Black, Blue, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Brown, Violet, Gray, White, Silver, Gold.

    Bad Boys Rile Our Young Girls, But Violet Gives Welts (to) Silly Guys
    Bad Beer Rots Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well (in) Silver Goblets.

    Almost every anatomy class has to remember the eight small bones in the wrist: Navicular, Lunate, Triquetrum, Pisiform, Multongular (Greater), Multongular (Lesser), Capitate, Hamate.

    Never Lick Tilly's Popsicle, Mother Might Come Home.

    Create an Expression Mnemonic for remembering the order of the planets from the sun outward: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

  4. Model Mnemonics

    In a Model Mnemonic, some type of representation is constructed to help with understanding and recalling important information.

    Examples include a circular sequence model, a pyramid model of stages, a pie chart, and a 5-box sequence. Models should be used in addition to words and lists because they make recall at test time much easier. With a large model such as the Krebs Cycle, it is easier to learn and remember if it is divided into quarters and learned one quarter at a time; hence, the cross hairs.

  5. Ode or Rhyme Mnemonics

    An Ode or Rhyme Mnemonic puts information in the form of a poem. Examples include:

    A commonly used Rhyme Mnemonic for the number of days in each month is:

    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 Leap Year it has 29.

    You'd probably prefer your doctor to know the difference between cyanate and cyanide: Cyanate "I ate" and Cyanide "I died." Cyanide is a little fatal.

    Remember this one? In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

    How is your spelling?
    I before e except after c
    or when sounding like a
    in neighbor and weigh

    Here is an easy way to remember the nerves: olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, acoustic, glassopharyngeal, vagus, spinal accessory and hypoglossal.

    On Old Olympus' Towering Tops, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops

  6. Note Organization Mnemonics

    The way textbook and lecture notes are organized can inhibit learning and recall or promote it. In the sense that the organization of notes can promote recall, it is a memory device. Three examples of organizing note formats that promote recall are as follows:


    Notecards are an easy way to organize main ideas and relevant details to be recalled. If main ideas are formatted into possible test questions, notecards can give learners practice in seeing questions and recalling answers as they must do on exams.


    Outlines clearly separate main ideas from details. This helps organize the information in the mind making it easier to remember.

     A. Four Stages
       1. Sensorimotor
       2. Preoperational
       3. Concrete Operations
       4. Formal Operations
     B. Definition of each stage
       1. Sensorimotor means ........ etc.

    Cornell System

    The Cornell System is another way to use a Note Organization Mnemonic to promote recall. A vertical line is drawn 3 inches from the left margin of notebook paper. Main ideas or questions from them are placed to the left of the line and details or answers placed to the right.

    The topic used here is from How To Study In College (3rd edition) by Walter Pauk, pages 292 300.

  7. Image Mnemonics

    The information in an Image Mnemonic is constructed in the form of a picture that promotes recall of information when you need it. The sillier the Image Mnemonic is, the easier it is to recall the related information. These images may be mental or sketched into text and lecture notes. Don't worry about your artistic ability. As long as you know what your sketch means, Image Mnemonics will help you learn and remember. Examples:

    You can use an Image Mnemonic to remember BAT (the depressant drugs mentioned above - Barbiturates, Alcohol, and Tranquilizers). Visualize or sketch in your notes a limp, depressed bat that took Barbiturates, Alcohol, and Tranquilizers.

    Picture meeting someone new at a party named John Horsley. Use an Image Mnemonic to help you remember his name. Visualize a horse sitting on a john: not pretty but effective in recall. No example provided on this one.

    What is a numismatist? Visualize a new mist rolling onto a beach from the ocean and beach is made of coins. Silly? Of course, but sillyography makes it is easier to remember that a numismatist is a coin collector.

    How about using a bad joke to help you remember? Picture two numismatists having a drink for "old dime's sake." Corny? Yes, but cornography often makes things easier to remember.

  8. Connection Mnemonics

    In this type of mnemonic, the information to be remembered is connected to something already known. Examples include:

    Remembering the direction of longitude and latitude is easier to do when you realize that lines on a globe that run North and South are long and that coincides with LONGitude. Another Connection Mnemonic points out that there is an N in LONGitude and an N in North. Latitude lines must run east to west, then because there is no N in latitude.

    Another Connection Mnemonic is related to sound. The 1st part of the word latitude sounds like flat and flat runs horizontal or East and West.

  9. Spelling Mnemonics

    Here is an example of a spelling mnemonic: A principal at a school is your pal, and a principle you believe or follow is a rule.

    Another commonly used Spelling Mnemonic is combined with an Ode/Rhyme Mnemonic.

    I before e except after c
    or when sounding like a
    in neighbor and weigh

    A third example deals with the problems some learners have remembering that there is an "a" in the middle of separate and not an "e." A Spelling Mnemonic combined with an Image Mnemonic may be used to spell the word sep rate using an exaggerated "a."

    To spell Mississippi, many learners combine a Rhythm Mnemonic with a Spelling mnemonic: M-iss-iss-ipp-i.

    Here are some more examples of spelling mnemonics:

    Geography: George Edwards's Old Grandma Rode A Pig Home Yesterday.

    Arithmetic: A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream.

    Saskatchewan: Ask At Chew An with an S in front of it.

    Take the 1st letter of each type of mnemonic listed above and print them below on the line to help you remember the 9 types.

Have a Mnemonics Party

Wanna' Practice? You become better at that which you practice. If you practice not making mnemonics……………………………………

Get some classmates or friends together and practice making mnemonics using the lists provided below. Nine times out of 10 everyone gets a side ache from laughing so hard before the exercise below is finished.

Using the items below, devise a mnemonic for remembering each piece of information. Use any of the 9 types of mnemonics as a guide or combine any of the types. Try making a mnemonic without changing the order and then a few where you reorganize the items to fit your mnemonic.

  1. 9 characteristics that facilitate learning - Open-mindedness, self-awareness, tolerance, alert mind, energy, ability to set goals, willingness to take risks, self-discipline, and the capacity to value, accept, and undergo change.

  2. Order of the planets from the sun out - Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune Pluto

  3. Going shopping - Eggs, milk, onions, butter, cucumbers, lettuce, Tide

  4. Blooms 7 levels of thinking ability - recall, translation, interpretation, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation

  5. The royal houses on England - Norman, Plantagenet, Lancaster, York, Tudor, Stuart, Hanover, Windsor

  6. Body's excretory organs - Liver, kidneys, skin, lungs, intestines

  7. Reasons why reciting notes aloud increases memory - Gets you involved, provides feedback on what you know, supplies motivation, uses many senses in learning, and promotes concentration.

  8. 6 types of machines - lever, inclined plane, axle and wheel, jackscrew, pulley, & gear.

  9. 6 ways to purify water - settling, filtration, coagulation, chlorination, aeration, boiling.

  10. Factors that affect water evaporation - temperature, area exposed, wind, and humidity.

  11. How soil fertility is restored - rotating crops, adding fertilizer, resting the soil, sweetening the soil, draining and irrigating, undoing damaged or polluted soil.

  12. Major features of sole proprietorship - easy to start, can make decisions quickly, no bosses, profits are not shared, losses are not shared, and borrowing is limited.

  13. Four types of chemical reactions - synthesis, decomposition, single-replacement, and double-replacement.

  14. Basic steps in the scientific method - state the problem, gather information on the problem, form hypothesis, experiment to test hypothesis, record data, analyze date, and draw conclusions.

  15. General properties of matter - mass, weight, volume, and density.

  16. Five parts of a deciduous forest - upper stratum, lower tree stratum, shrub layer, ground layer, soil layer.

  17. Four Ocean zones - intertidal, near-shore, edge of continental shelf, perpetual darkness

You are only limited by the restrictions that you place on your own creativity.

Questions or comments? Contact the author at dcongos@mail.ucf.edu.