| Kinds of Mnemonics
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> Chapter 6 > Improve Your Grade > Topics In-Depth > Kinds of Mnemonics
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Work with these documents and activities to master chapter learning objectives.

Kinds of Mnemonics

  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Mnemonics
  • Word and Picture Associations
  • The Stacking System
  • Peg Systems
    • Human Body Peg System
    • Rhyming Peg System
    • Number Shape Peg System
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Mnemonics

Mnemonics serve an important role in memory, but they have limitations and should be used sparingly. If you use mnemonics too extensively, they become cumbersome and can add confusion to your learning process. If you do not study the mnemonics accurately, they hinder rather than help you recall information accurately. The following chart shows the advantages and disadvantages of using mnemonics.

Advantages of Using Mnemonics

Disadvantages of Using Mnemonics

1. They provide a memory bridge to help you recall information that otherwise is difficult to remember.

1. They must be recited and practiced in a precise manner in order to work correctly.

2. They involve rearranging or reorganizing information, which also helps you personalize the information and be a more active learner.

2. They require time to create, learn, and practice.

3. They add interest to studying by providing you with new ways to work with information.

3. They can become "crutches" and can give you a false sense of security that you know the information.

4. When used properly, they allow you to spend less time retrieving information from your long-term memory.

4. They rely more on rote memory than on elaborative rehearsal, so your actual understanding of the concepts may be inadequate.

5. Overuse can result in confusion and an excessive expenditure of time reviewing.

Word and Picture Associations

Associations also work as memory cues to help you locate information when you conduct a memory search. Most mnemonic associations involve a visual cue or mental image that links a new word, definition, name, or object to a familiar object that will be easy for you to recall. The following steps can help you create vivid images that you can recall more easily.

Steps for Creating Associations

  1. Be sure you understand the item (new information) before you create an association. Once you understand the item, actively search for a familiar word, object, picture, or concept that you can link or associate with the item.

  2. Visualize the shape and colors of items you plan to use in your association. You can also add sounds and smells to the association when appropriate. Change the actual proportions by exaggerating some part of an object by making it larger than its real size. If you are visualizing letters, use large, bold capital letters.

  3. Visually link both items together by blending the two images in the association into one integrated picture.

  4. When possible, put action into your image to create a "mini-movie" instead of a still shot.

Ways to Use Associations

To use associations effectively, you need to actively look for and think about ways to create simple associations that will be easy to remember and use to recall information. The following examples show several kinds of associations you can create to learn factual information.

  1. Recall a person's name: Associate the name with an object.

    For example, you want to remember the name of a new classmate, Annie Carpenter. Picture Annie as a carpenter wearing a carpenter's apron and holding a hammer in one hand. The name ANNIE is printed boldly across the carpenter's apron filled with tools.

  2. Recall a person's name: Think of another person you know with that same name.

    For example, you want to remember the name of William Herschel, an English astronomer who discovered the planet Uranus in 1781. First you think of your uncle William, who was an avid football fan. Then you think of Herschel Walker, a great NFL running back, who retired from the NFL in 1997. Finally, you create an image of your Uncle William with his arms draped over Herschel Walker's shoulders as the two gaze up into the evening sky, wishing they could see Uranus.

  3. Define a new term: Associate the meaning with an object that has a similar characteristic.

    For example, you have had problems remembering the difference between a waxing moon and a waning moon. You know that one term means that the illuminated portion of the moon gets larger and that the other term means that the illuminated portion gets smaller. You begin by focusing on the term waxing. You immediately think about waxing your car. The more you wax, the shinier it becomes. The shine increases; a waxing moon also increases. This association makes it easy to remember that the illuminated surface of a waxing moon increases, and thus, the illuminated surface of the waning moon decreases.

  4. Spell a word correctly: Create associations by using specific letters within the word.

    For example, to avoid spelling confusions between the words dessert and desert, just remember that the word with ss (dessert) is so sweet. Also, the plural desserts spelled backwards spells stressed. To avoid confusion between the homonyms principal and principle, remember that the only time you use principle is when you are referring to a rule or a standard, such as the principles of accounting or living your life by your own principles. You can also remember that a principal of a school is your pal, but you would also need to remember that there are other meanings of principal, such as a principal on a loan or a principal part in a play. To use the correct homonym piece or peace, remember that piece is a portion of something, such as a piece of pie.

  5. Remember a specific number: Find number patterns to use in an association.

    For example, you want to remember that Mount Fuji in Japan is 12,389 feet high. Twelve reminds you of 12 months in a year. There are 365 days in a year. You subtract 365 from 389 and get a remainder of 24. There are 24 hours in a day. The association to recall the height of Mount Fuji is 12,365 + 24 = 12,389 feet.

  6. Remember a specific task to do: Associate the task with an object you will encounter.

    For example, you are in bed when you remember you need to get your gym clothes out of the dryer before you go to school. Since you always begin your day with coffee, you create a clear mental picture of your gym clothes stuffed inside your coffee pot. In the morning when you see your coffee pot, you receive the reminder to get your gym clothes.

  7. Remember a cause-effect relationship: Blend two items into an image of action.

    For example, you want to remember that fertilizer is a petroleum product. You imagine yourself holding a gas can, and as you pour out the contents, you pour fertilizer, not gas. As another example, you want to remember that for some people, rising quickly from bed can cause sudden fainting due to a drop in blood pressure. You picture someone rising quickly, fainting, and dropping to the floor. You can link this to dropping blood on the floor

The Stacking System

The stacking type of mnemonic uses pictures and associations to remember a list of specific items in order. You can use this stacking technique to memorize a list of items from one of your courses, or you can use it for a daily or personal routine such as grocery shopping. Using this technique can help you strengthen your visual memory and visual sequencing skills.

Steps for Creating the Stacking Mnemonic

  1. Make a list of a sequence of items you need to remember.
  2. Create a vivid image of the first item. Visualize the size, shape, color, and any other specific characteristics of the item. Mentally place this item on the bottom of the stack.
  3. Create an image of the second item. Mentally review the first item; then, stack the second item on top of the first item. Mentally review the image with the first and the second item.
  4. Continue this process of visualizing each new item, reviewing the items already stacked, and then placing the new item on top of the stack and visualizing the complete stack.
  5. For this mnemonic to work effectively as a memory tool, you need to keep the image of the stack fresh in your working memory by picturing, naming, or reciting all of the objects in order.

The following is an example of using stacking to remember items to purchase at the store without writing and taking a list with you to the store.

Click HERE for stacking example.

Peg Systems

Several kinds of peg systems can be used to help you remember a list of items. The human body peg system, the rhyming peg system, and the number shape peg system are common peg systems you can learn to use quickly. If you have ever seen a stage performer memorize fifty or even one hundred items that the audience calls out, chances are that the performer used a peg system to memorize the items quickly. The following steps apply to all three peg systems.

Steps for Creating a Peg System

  1. Make a list of the items you need to remember. Be sure you have a basic understanding about each item.
  2. Memorize the fixed set of pegs. Pegs do not change; only the items that you hang on the pegs change each time you create a new peg system mnemonic.
  3. Create a mental picture of the first item on your list. Funny, silly, bizarre, oversized, and colorful pictures work best to hang on the pegs. Mentally hang the picture of the first item on the first peg.
  4. Continue adding items, one at a time. After you hang a new item, review all the items in the order in which they are already hung on the pegs.
  5. After all the items are hung on the pegs, mentally picture and review all of the items in order. Then, practice recalling items out of order. For example, tell what is on peg 6, then peg 2, and so on.
  6. Review the items on your pegs frequently. For academic topics, tell about or recite information about each item.
Figure 7

Human Body Peg System

The human body peg system uses parts of the body as pegs; the pegs never change. To use this system, memorize the body parts in order before attaching the mental pictures. In your mind, hang on your forehead the first picture of the item you want to remember. Continue hanging mental pictures on the pegs. After you attach the pictures, practice naming each item in order.

For example, assume you want to use the body peg system to remember six main structures in the human eye: pupil, cornea, iris, lens, retina, and fovea. Picture the following items on the body parts:


Picture a student



Picture a corn on the cob



Picture an iris flower



Picture sunglasses with large lenses



Picture a tin can



Picture a belt buckle with FOV


The Rhyming Peg System

The rhyming peg system uses a picture that rhymes with a number word from one to ten. This picture is the peg that never changes.
































For example, assume you want to use the rhyming peg system to remember eight secondary defense mechanisms discussed in psychology: displacement, projection, identification, rationalization, intellectualization, substitution, fantasy, and regression. Your task, then, is to link the first mechanism with the bun. Continue to create the visual links; review each peg and defense mechanism before you add a new one. The following example shows the associations you could make to learn the eight secondary defense mechanisms.

Peg Picture

Defense Mechanism

Picture You Create with the Peg



a hamburger bun being thrown into a garbage can (displaced)



a shoe thrown through the air as a projectile



a person with a magnifying glass examining a tree



an opened door with someone being kicked out; the word but is written numerous times on the door



surround the hive with "intellectual" facts related to bee hives: drones, worker bees, queen bee, honey



show a hand replacing a brown stick with a red stick



show a person fantasizing about life in heaven



show a person walking backward out of a gate

Number Shape Peg System

The number shape peg system uses a picture in the shape of the number for each peg. A number peg system can go beyond ten pegs. Memorize the first twelve pegs that commonly appear in this system. You can use this number peg system for a list of items in one of your courses, or you can use it for everyday convenience, such as remembering a list of items while grocery shopping or a list of weekend tasks you need to accomplish. For a list of six weekend tasks, begin by memorizing the first six pegs. Then take the first task and associate a mental picture to the pencil. In the following example, your first task is to start the laundry. After you see the picture clearly, work with the second item. Review items one and two mentally. Proceed to add one item at a time. With practice, you can hang items quickly on the pegs.

Click HERE for peg system example.

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