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A mnemonic (SAMPA /n@manIc/) is a memory aid. Mnemonics are often verbal, sometimes in verse form, and are often used to remember lists. Mnemonics rely on not only repetition to remember facts, but also on creating associations between easy-to-remember constructs and lists of data. The word "mnemonic" echoes the figure Mnemosyne who personified "Memory" in Greek mythology.

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Examples of simple mnemonics

  • The personal name Roy G. Biv helps us to remember the order of the colors in the spectrum. In England "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" is popular.

  • The acronym HOMES is also a mnemonic aid that can be used to remember the name of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).

  • The famous mnemonic for approximating the digits of pi: "May I have a large container of coffee?" Counting the letters in each word yields the sequence 3,1,4,1,5,9,2,6. A longer version is: "How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!"

More complex mnemonic techniques

A mnemonic technique is one of many memory aids that is used to create associations between facts that make it easier to remember these facts. Popular mnemonic techniques include mind mapping and peg lists. These techniques make use of the power of the visual cortex to simplify the complexity of memories. Thus simpler memories can be stored more efficiently. For example, a number can be remembered as a picture. This will make it easier to retrieve it from memory. Mnemonic techniques should be used in conjunction with active recall to actually be beneficial. For example it is not enough to look at a mind map. One needs to actively reconstruct it in one's memory.

Other methods for remembering arbitrary numbers or number sequences use numerological (lit. number+word) systems like the abjad, where each numeral is represented by a consonant sound.

An example of a widely-used system for memorising numbers as words is the major system.

Number Rhyme system

This is an example of a "Peg list". It is useful for remembering ordered lists, especially for people with strong auditory learning styles. The numbered list below is static. Note the rhyme of the digit and the word. The items you wish to remember should be associated with each word. A similar system utilizing a combination of this and the above "abjad" system can easily yield numbers through 100 or higher (ex. 76 lash, 77 lilly)

  1. bun
  2. glue
  3. tea
  4. door
  5. hive
  6. bricks
  7. heaven
  8. slate
  9. line
  10. pen

Egg and Spear or Number Shape system

This is another peg system, much like the above but more suitable for those with visual learning styles.

  1. Candle, spear
  2. Swan
  3. Bosom
  4. Sail
  5. Hook
  6. Club
  7. Cliff
  8. Sand clock
  9. Flag
  10. Egg

Other mnemonic systems

History of mnemonics

The Ars memoriae (art of memory) practised in the Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance periods relied on the capacity of the brain for recalling spatial detail. The principle was to initially memorise some large building, the more architectural elaboration of rooms, passages and niches it had the better - the so-called `Memory Palace'. Mnemonic images could be placed about this palace to link to items that you wanted to remember, ususally in symbolic form, with the images as striking as possible to enable recollection. To recall something, the practitioner mentally moved around the palace, reviewing the images in order. This was an essential technique of rhetoricians and preachers.

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