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Mnemonic Devices

How To Play Mind Games With Your Memory & Manipulate Your Test

As someone who has taught standardized tests for over 12 years, I’ve often seen my students struggling with means of memorization — for example, in learning new words. Through the years I’ve studied different memory techniques for my students’ (and my own) use. The following are the ones I’ve found to be most effective.


Memory is linked to vision, and a lot of the techniques focus on that. Most of these methods will sound convoluted at first, but you’ll adjust quickly if you keep to it.

1) Memory Palace

Memory palaces associate a word/concept with a physical location. The familiar visual image makes the concept familiar as well.

Pick a place you’re intimate with. Put items you want to remember at distinctive crannies in this place. When you want to remember, walk mentally through though it. Each familiar corner will jump out at you, dragging with it the concept you placed there.

I do this when I go grocery shopping, and I use my old bedroom. Certain items get put on the desk, some hang from doorknobs, big packs such as seltzer cases are on the floor. I start at the door and cover the circumference around the room.

2) Images

This is another technique utilizing vision. Put together a composite absurd image to help you remember something; the more absurd, the better.

Imagine that you want to remember your plans for Thursday night. You’re going to meet your friend at the boardwalk at 7:00. Now envision your friend standing on a monster skateboard, sliding down the boardwalk while holding a giant gob of cotton candy in her hands. Seven little dwarfs are bouncing on her head.

Sounds ridiculous but you will remember it.

Look at the example below:

3) Chunking

Your memory has a tough time with large pieces of information. When you break things down to small chunks your memory has a much easier time of it.

Chunking is often used in conjunction with method 2, IMAGES. A chunk shouldn’t contain more than 4 items.


You want to remember what to pack for a trip. For your hair, you want your blow-dryer, hair cream, brush, and shampoo. Imagine that your hairbrush is getting a salon treatment. Shampoo is running through its spikes, a tiny blow-dryer is running around its top, and a hairdresser is standing on the side, holding a hot-pink bottle of hair cream.

Then use chunks within chunks. You want to pack your aesthetics (S). They include your hair items, makeup, jewelry, and accessories, each of which contain chunks of their own. Now imagine a red tube of lipstick coloring a charm bracelet. The charms consist of accessories: belts, clips, shoes, etc. Within the bracelet your hairbrush is swirling.

Now you want to address your entire suitcase: business items, electronics, clothing, and aesthetics. Imagine your labtop examining a business file while pulling on its jacket. The file shows a picture of lipstick.

And so on.

4) Numbers

The easiest way to remember numbers is to have a set stock of images for digits. For example, these are mine:

· Zero 0: a ball

· One 1: my dog

· Two 2: a pair of shoes

· Three 3: the 3 fates

· Four 4: a table

· Five 5: the fingers of one hand

· Six 6: an insect

· Seven 7: the seven dwarfs

· Eight 8: an octopus

· Nine 9: a cat, for nine lives

· Dot (for decimals): a period point

Example or the 365 days of the year, I imagine the 3 fates looking down at an insect, which in turn is crawling on a hand.

Clearly, you can use any images you like, and they have to be set horizontally or vertically in order to remember order.

You can then use this technique for remembering telephone numbers. This system should be used with method #3, chunking.

5) Patterns

Similar to chunking, patterns are easier to remember than single components.

One example is in trying to assemble vocabulary in a foreign language. Let’s say you’re trying to remember the words in Italian for flower (fiore), was (era), angry (arrabbiata), and yesterday (ieri):

The flower was angry yesterday.

La fiore era arrabbiata ieri.

The more absurd the phrase, the more memorable it will be.

6) Acronyms

A method commonly employed by students in medical school. Elements within a common system are brought together in a long word. Each letter in the word serves as a “memory anchor” for the elements it stands for. Take, for example, the layers of the scalp:

S = Skin C = Connective tissue A = Aponeurotic layer L = Loose connective tissue P = Pericranium

There are more many useful mnemonic devices, as well as a lot of research about this topic. Here are two suggestions to get

you started:

1) ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ by Joshua Foer

2) Memory Champion Nelson Dellis Back has an excellent YouTube series called ‘Random Memory Tips.’

Good luck with your studies,