For the Love of Mnemonic Devices

As I’ve been getting older and my late night studying sessions fade into distant memories, I’ve found it more difficult than ever to remember things. I can remember people’s birthdays without effort and without fail (that’s another post entirely), but numbers, addresses, and lists just can’t stick. Luckily, I realized that using mnemonic devices actually works. Crazy, right? Most of the facts I learned in school are long gone, either gathering dust somewhere in the deepest confines of my brain’s filing cabinet or lost entirely. However, any facts I associated with a mnemonic device I can spout off like it was five minutes before an important final.

So how do I go about finding mnemonic devices that stick? Just try and have a little R&R: make it rhyme and make it ridiculous. If you’re a fan of Modern Family, you might remember Phil Dunphy’s silly way of remembering people’s names.

“The other day I met this guy named Carl. Now, I might forget that name, but he was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. What’s a band like the Grateful Dead? Phish. Where do fish live? The ocean. What else lives in the ocean? Coral. Hello, Co-arl.”

This quote is hilarious because it’s so ridiculous. But truthfully, the more ridiculous your mnemonic, the easier it can be to remember. And as Phil Dunphy demonstrates, use what works best for you. If the standard mnemonic device doesn’t help you remember, then create one that will. Even if it’s a four-step one like Phil’s, remembering a name after ten seconds of thinking is better than not remembering at all. So let’s start with a well-known mnemonic you might already employ.

ROY G. BIV: everyone’s favorite color remembering system. ROY G. BIV is the mnemonic device for the colors of the rainbow in order from top to bottom. While the simple name can help most remember the colors, it helps me to take it a step further. I imagine Roy G. Biv as an eccentric fine arts professor teaching his students about color theory. For class, he dresses in the colors of the rainbow from top to bottom: red hat, orange bow tie, yellow shirt, green belt, blue shorts, indigo socks, and violet shoes. Ridiculous, right? But I never forget. Now let’s look at one I used in 7th grade science class.

Ants Have No Fear Of Ice Cold Beer is the rhyming phrase I used to remember the eight elements of the periodic table that exist in diatomic states, meaning they form molecules consisting of only two atoms (e.g. Oxygen is written O2). While this is a list of items that serves me no real purpose in life, I’ll never forget it. Just picture the little ants enjoying a cold one during a hot summer picnic. The more rhymes you can fit in, the better. There’s a reason nursery rhymes are so easy to remember.

So what about common, everyday things like your ATM PIN? While four numbers isn’t particularly difficult to remember for some, I still prefer to have a mnemonic device in my back pocket just in case. Let’s say your PIN is 8279. You might conveniently have a previous association with these two numbers. Maybe you were born in ’82 and your brother in ’79. If not, come up with a little phrase to help you remember. For PINs, I recommend making it conversational, short, and to use loose rhyming. Hey isn’t an exact rhyme for eight, but no other number from 0-9 sounds as much like it. Clementine is an uncommon name where the Clemen sounds like seven and tine rhymes with nine. And to top it off, when you’re typing in your PIN, always think of a friend calling out to a tiny little orange.

So next time you find yourself cramming for a test, trying to remember your PIN, or memorizing the definition of a word, get ridiculous and come up with some mnemonic devices. And remember, don’t lay your tent over a latent volcano.