Tricks Used to Remember Important Facts

Most students have difficulties with remembering the vast quantities of information that they are given in class. Some facts and figures, because of their complicated language roots (in Greek and Latin), or use of complex equations, seem to be almost impossible to remember. Although you can try writing or saying the facts over and over, scribble notes on the palms of your hands, or make tape recordings and listen to them as you fall asleep at night, memory is an acquired talent that is not easily mastered. For hundreds of years, scholars, students, craftsmen, and even sailors, have used simple language tricks to help them remember what they had to know. These memory tricks are called "mnemonics," [pronounced: Ni-mon'-iks] a difficult word to say, originally derived from the Greek word for "mindful."

Canada has ten provinces, but how does one remember their names and positions across the continent from east to west? Can you remember the sentence, "Please never, never, never question our mother's singing and baking." (Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, & British Columbia). Similarly, the names of the planets in the solar system can be compared to a ridiculous, but easily remembered, sentence: "Me Very Excited, Me Just Sat Upon New Paint." (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, & Pluto). Alternatively, "Man Very Early Made Jars Stand Up Nearly Perpendicularly," could be used.

Several different mnemonics have been used for musical notation. The notes on a scale are usually remembered by memorizing the sentence: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge." (EGBDF). Notes in the bass clef can be remembered by the phrase, "Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always." (GBDFA). To help a musician tune the guitar, the following phrase is useful: "Everybody Gets Drunk At Elections." (EBGDAE).

One of the most difficult to remember chemical reactions is the "redox" reaction, which involves a transfer of electrons. By remembering the single word, "OILRIG," a student will never forget that "Oxidation is Losing, Reduction is Gaining." In biology, with its infinite assortment of technical terms, students can remember the classification scheme which is used for all living organisms: "Kings Play Chess Or Find Gold Sovereigns." (Kingdom. Phylum, Class, Order, Family Genus, Species). Medical students, and neurobiologists, too, must "put to memory" the 12 cranial nerves, in the correct sequence. The cranial nerves have the difficult, technical names; Olfactory, Optic, Oculomotor, Trochlear, Trigeminal, Abducens, Facial, Auditory, Glossopharyngeal, Vagus, Spinal, & Hypoglossal," but almost everybody can remember the interesting sentence, "On Old Olympus Treeless Tops, A Fat-Assed German Vends Some Hops." One of the most widely known mnemonics is the simple "Roy G. Biv," which helps everybody to remember the colors of the rainbow: "Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet."

Sailors, who must navigate their ships through dangerous waters, can never make a mistake about the relationship of their vessel to the red and black channel markers. A simple rhyme, "Red on the Right, Returning," helps the captain keep red markers on the right side of his ship as he "returns" to port. Also, boats are required to have red and green lights on their sides, but which light is on which side? Because most sailors know a little about wines, they can always remember that "Port is a cheap Red wine which is often Left in the glass."

It makes little difference how many years you've been a student, or how long you've been out of school, tricks to improve the memory, like all memories, usually stay with you for a lifetime. To spell "arithmetic," think of the strange expression, "A Rat In The House Must Eat The Ice Cream." Generally, it seems that more interesting phrases are easier to remember and consequently, those difficult facts and figures will be easier to recall when you really need them.

Quick questions

1. "Mnemonic" means

    a) a trick.
    b) a Greek island.
    c) mindful.
    d) plastic tubing.

2. "Indigo" is

    a) a town in Washington
    b) a color of the rainbow
    c) a squid
    d) a dark ink.

3. On a ship, the "red light" is on the

    a) right.
    b) left.
    c) bow.
    d) stern.

4. The first cranial nerve is the

    a) Optic
    b) Abducens
    c) Olfactory
    d) Spinal.

5. The highest level of biological classification is

    a) Phylum.
    b) Kingdom.
    c) Class.
    d) Zone.

6. There are

    a) 2
    b) 4
    c) 5
    d) 8 notes on the musical scale.

7. Can you think of a mnemonic to remember

      how to spell the word, "mnemonic?"


1. (c)   2. (b)   3. (b)
    4. (c)   5. (b)   6. (c)