MNEMONICS: The Memory Aid

MNEMONICS: The Memory Aid

Imagine a situation when you meet your old childhood friend & after a long chat when you go for exchanging your phone numbers, you don’t have anything to write it down, not even your cellphone. Wouldn’t it be good if you were just able to memorize it?

Learning the ‘Periodic Table’ was one of my worst nightmare, or so I thought. But soon enough Anatomy made me realize how wrong I was when I found myself memorizing the branches of all those arteries and nerves (seemed like a never-ending list!!!). I wished to have some super photographic memory or a hard disk sort of thing in my brain where I could just type in the data. But that was just not possible.

Often it is said that “We use only 10% of our brain; imagine what we could accomplish with 100%”. Though this might be a gross understatement, but increasing brain powers, especially boosting the working memory, has been a fascinating area of research.

Well, those are the talks of future. But at present we do have some techniques to boost our memory. One of them is MNEMONICS.

The word Mnemonic is related to Mnemosyne (“remembrance”), the name of the Goddess of Memory in Greek mythology. By definition, it means “Anything which is intended to assist memory, which helps retain the information for longer time”. It can be anything ranging from simple alphabets, rhymes, or pictures to the more complex procedures involving imagination.

Types of Mnemonics:

  1. The simplest one is to just take the first alphabet of each word and string it together. It’s called ACRONYM. Like 5F’s – risk factor for cholelithiasis; or ABC for resuscitation steps; or the acronym itself maybe meaningful word (FAST for stroke symptoms) or noun (APGAR score) or sentence (PVT TIM HALL for essential amino acids) or formula (LR6SO4R3 for nerve supply of ocular muscles). But mostly when we make them we end up with alphabets not making any meaningful word. So, one option is to rearrange them into something meaningful. But the main problem here is that we often forget the expansion of the acronym like in PVT TIM HALL is it arginine or aspargine? So sometimes it can be extended, like ‘PVT TIM HALL always ARGues, never TIRes’ (A is arginine & both T’s are never tyrosine). Another problem is that the word might be so common that we may altogether forget the acronym. So it’s always better to form some ridiculous, insensible word.
  2. The other method is to take the alphabets of the acronym and make a SENTENCE, especially when there are very few or no vowels to form a word. E.g. For carpal bones – SLTPTTCH is difficult to remember. But when a sentence is made ‘She Looks Too Pretty, Try To Catch Her’, it becomes easy.
  3. We can also make RHYMES or songs out of the Acronyms. E.g ‘On Old Olympus Towering Tops, A Finn And German Viewed Some Hops’ for the 12 cranial nerves in order. These are much easier to remember.
  4. ASSOCIATION: This involves linking it to either some song, picture or anything. Remember how we learned the 26 alphabets in perfect order – by linking it to a song/tune. And we used to, kind of, sing the tables in mathematics – we could forget the tables but not the tune!!! Another example is the Knuckle Mnemonic for the days in each month. Here the knuckles have a value of 31 and the depressions 30. Each is counted as a month.
  5. LOGIC: This may be divided into 2 types. The first one involves the actual logic/reason (which may strictly not count as a mnemonic). Like in tables 2*3 is same as 2 added 3 times. Yeah, that was not quite helpful. But once I saw a diagram which explained the aphasias with their characteristics (fluency, comprehension & repetition). It was so nicely explained that once you understand it you can never get the aphasias mixed up. The other type involves finding logic in how things appear. Like the table of 9 can be made by adding 1 to the first digit and subtracting 1 from the second each time.
  6. COMBINATION of the above: When the mnemonic for cranial nerves is coupled with the idealistic statement ‘Some Say Money Matter But My Brother Says Big Book Matters More’, it gives us the list of nerves which are Sensory, Motor & Both.
  7. Then finally there is the METHOD OF LOCI. The first time I heard of it was in a TV show. This technique was used for the Card Trick (remembering the order of cards in the deck). There was something called the MEMORY PALACE which is a place that you can imagine very clearly in your mind & walk through. It can be anything like your room, or the path you walk to school, or a circus carnival. Doesn’t matter, it can be anything. But it has to be big, detailed and vivid. And then you have to link every card with an item in your memory palace & visualize it like a live story. This is the oldest mnemonic strategy, dating back to 556 B.C. Simonides (Greek poet) could identify the corpses crushed beyond recognition by recalling their seating arrangement at the Banquet Hall dinner table. It is also the most widely used technique by most of the people whom we refer to as having fantastic memory. No doubt, it will require quite a lot of training & expertise.
  8. Last but not the least, PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: This does not require much elaboration. But whatever method you use, just keep practicing.

So, basically mnemonics make the dull, boring information interesting, so that our brain can grab it. Though we might not be able to memorize the value of Pi up to 68,000 decimal places, but at least we won’t have to carry a grocery list the next time we go shopping!!!


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