If you’re looking for the perfect cranial nerves mnemonic, you’re about to get the best online.
See, most other mnemonic examples involve weird sentences that are difficult to memorize. You know the kind I mean:
Onward, Onward, Onward Two Travelers And Foxes Very Greedily Verified Ascending Happily
How is that a medical mnemonic?
To be fair, a long sentence like that can help, but it includes a very big problem.
This strategy assumes you already know the names of each cranial nerve. If you don’t, then all the long sentences in the world won’t help you on a functional anatomy or histology exam.
So here’s the very good news:
There are much better memory aids that will help you remember the cranial nerves, especially for test preparation.
And I’m talking about thorough memorization, such as name and function. And these mnemonic strategies will help you recall the cranial nerves order.
On this page you’ll learn these ways in detail, and I’ll give you a bunch of mnemonic examples for the cranial nerves.
Then I’ll show you how to place them in a Memory Palace so you can get them all into long term memory quickly.
That’s an optional tool that will help ensure this important information gets into long-term memory so you can ace your exams.
The Ultimate Easy-To-Remember Mnemonic For The Cranial Nerves
When using mnemonics, here’s the first key step that will make a huge difference:
Observe how the word is built and then find a visual and dynamic association that sounds similar.
For example, when you have to memorize the olfactory nerve, you can associate it immediately with “old.” Just make sure that you then think of a specific old person, perhaps someone like the actor Gary Oldman.
You can master this form of association quickly. I mastered it myself over a weekend by learning the pegword method.
Here are some more complete mnemonic examples for the cranial nerves to show you how this ancient memory technique works in detail.
Olfactory Nerve – Sensory
The olfactory nerve processes information related to smell. It is the first cranial nerve, and to remember it, your association should ideally start with ‘O’ or ‘Ol.”
“Old Macdonald Had A Farm” is a fairly well-known song, so imagine an old farmer working in a factory is a pretty easy way to remember this term. Or again, you can use an actor like Gary Oldman. In fact, you can place him on a farm and imagine him as a farmer.
Plus, since farms and factories are already associated with smell, just thinking about these aspects gives you multi-sensory visualization exercise that makes the name and meaning of this nerve so much easier to remember.
That way, if you do use a cranial nerves acronym, you can remember with ease what the first “O” means.
Pro tip: Make sure to use the brain itself as a mnemonic device. Specifically, use the brain as a Memory Palace. You’ll find more details on how this technique works later in this article. But briefly, this memory trick for remembering the cranial nerves involves placing your cranial nerve mnemonic on the exact area of the brain where the nerve is found.
Optic Nerve – Sensory
The optic nerve carries visual information from the outside world into the brain.
Although not as clean as a name like “Oliver,” Oscar Peterson’s initials are OP. So are Om Puri and Otto Preminger. Or you could think of the Oregon Police.
Let’s say you go with Oscar Peterson. Maybe he’s playing a piano with keys made from ticks… And when he sees his piano keys in this condition, he freaks out and runs to the Oregon Police.
Yikes! That crazy image really is memorable!
Pro tip: Both the olfactory nerve and the optical nerve are pretty obviously “sensory” nerves.
However, if you’re struggling to remember that, you can add a Sensei to each, ideally a specific one. Sensei Miyagi from The Karate Kid movies would work well.
Oculomotor nerve – Motor
This third cranial nerve is responsible for three main motor functions:
- It supplies nerves to the pupil and lens (innervation)
- To the upper eyelid
- To the eye muscles responsible for visual tracking and fixing the gaze on objects in the visual field
To remember this, it will oculo- comes from the Latin word oculus, which means eye. This word form shows up again, for example, with the occipital lobe of the brain.
Now, you’re probably familiar with the VR technology called Oculus, so it’s fun and easy to use one of their headsets as an association.
You could perhaps imagine yourself occasionally wearing such a headset while using a pool cue in a game. Perhaps you’ve bet the motor of your favorite motorcycle.
Oculus + (pool) cue + motor = Oculomotor nerve.
To remember the parts it affects, you could imagine your pupils, eyelids and lenses fixating in different ways as you move the pool cue.
Trochlear nerve – Motor
This nerve relates to the superior oblique muscle of the eye, supplying motor function.
To remember the word itself, I think about Terminator fighting The Rock while watching Shakespeare’s King Lear.
To remember that the trochlear nerve is specifically a motor nerve, you might want to incorporate a motor into the association.
For example, the Rock could be trying to steal a motor from the Terminator. Then the superior oblique muscle of the Terminator’s eye starts to move.
Trigeminal nerve – Mixed
This nerve is the largest and most complicated of the twelve cranial nerves. It’s so complicated because it helps you feel your face and other parts of your head. It’s also involved with the mucous membranes.
Using the memory technique we’ve been discussing so far, Trinity from The Matrix on a tricycle immediately comes to mind. She’s jumping it over the Gemini constellation.
To remember its function, you could have the individual stars of the constellation controlling the muscles in Trinity’s face.
Power tip: Tri means three and gem refers to twins. This nerve gets this name because each of the two trigeminal nerves has three endings.
This nerve is “mixed” because, although mostly responsible for sensation, a small part of its nerves help with the motor movements involved in chewing. To remember this, you could imagine Trinity chewing the stars and feeling great about doing so.
Abducens nerve – Motor
Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln doing something with a few cents? This shouldn’t be hard. He’s on the American penny, after all.
What does it do? It helps abduct the lateral rectus muscle, like when you bring your pupil to look at your nose.
Strangely enough, people who visit Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery have taken to rubbing its nose, making it shiny and gold – like a cent. What better way to remember the abducens nerve, especially since rubbing is a motor activity.
Facial Nerve – Mixed
In this case, facial rhymes with the word “glacial.” Using the rhyme mnemonic strategy, you can imagine someone getting a “glacial facial.”
Since facials usually involve a “mix” of ingredients, this can help you remember that this nerve is mixed.
Vestibulocochlear nerve – Sensory
At first glance, this word looks complex. But if you can easily break it down into:
This makes it much easier to manage and to attribute it with powerful mnemonic associations. I would have a vest attacking Ferris Bueller. Since roosters are often imitated by humans saying
“cockadoodle doo,” adding a rooster to the association should trigger cochlear.
Since hearing is involved, you can imagine that rooster screaming in defiance of Ferris’ horrible sense of taste for clothing.
Pro tip: Although this is a somewhat abstract reference, you can still use sensory learning. If you don’t know the reference to this movie, you can imagine what it would feel like to wear such a vest. Imagine the experience both in terms of texture and embarrassment to increase the memorability.
Glossopharyngeal nerve – Mixed
The glossopharyngeal nerve is all about your gag reflex. So it’s pretty easy to imagine lip gloss falling into your mouth and causing you to gag.
Throw in a Pharaoh gagging on an eal and you’ll have this cranial nerve memorized. To remember that it’s mixed, you can imagine that the lip gloss… it had eel DNA in it the entire time.
Vagus nerve – Mixed
In this case, you want to find someone or something that starts with ‘v.’ How about Vin Diesel? It’s not hard to imagine him looking vague.
There are all kinds of ways to remember that this nerve is mixed. For example, it includes both afferent and efferent fibers. You could imagine Vin Diesel weaving these together.
Accessory nerve – Motor
This nerve controls the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles.
Taking a name that sounds like “access” and giving that person an all-access pass will help you remember it. How about Axel Rose, who is associated with backstage passes?
To add facts about the sternocleidomastoid, you can add associations like Howard Stern. By now you should be starting to get the idea. The alphabet is a tremendous helper when you want to find associations.
Hypoglossal nerve – Motor
Lip gloss is back! This time with a hypodermic needle injecting a nerve agent into it.
It’s a weird image, right?
Yes, and that’s what makes it easy to remember this term.
Again, to remember that it’s a motor nerve, you can add a motor to the image. It could be a motor that is helping the hypodermic needle operate, for example.
How to Remember the Order of the Cranial Nerves
Now that you’ve discovered ways to memorize each of these terms, let’s talk about remembering them in order.
What we’ve just done is to essentially use a pegword method. I’ve looked at the alphabet and the basic sound of each cranial nerve. To memorize cranial nerves in order, you want to attach a number.
There are a few ways to do this.
The first is to use the brain itself as a Memory Palace and add a number to each association.
If you find this too cramped, you might want to explore:
- Linking method
- Major System
- Number rhymes
- A traditional Memory Palace
My preference is the traditional Memory Palace because of how it lets you get the information into long term memory quickly. If you’re worried that you won’t have enough, here’s how to find many Memory Palaces.
The Memory Palace Technique For Memorizing Cranial Nerves
You may have noticed that I placed the brain in a room in all of the mnemonic examples above. That was to lay the ground word for a very simple concept. Let’s look at that room again:
There’s no cookie-cutter way to approach this strategy, but in general terms, try this:
Take any room and imagine a column on the wall. Split that column into six segments running from the ceiling to the floor.
Then create another column for 7-12.
Creating Associations In Memory Palaces
If you give an image to each number using the Major System, then you have “hooks” in space. You can add your associations to that space with ease.
For some people, this won’t be enough space.
I myself would want one room for each cranial nerve so I could use the walls in that room to memorize more facts relating to each nerve.
Here’s a Memory Palace example from one of my students:
As you can see, I’ve placed two of our example mnemonics for the cranial nerves inside.
To use this technique, you want to have at least 12 rooms. Then add one nerve to each room:
- Room one: Olfactory nerve
- Room two: Optic nerve
- Room three: Oculomotor nerve
- Room four: Trochlear nerve
- Room five: Trigeminal nerve
- Room six: Abducens nerve
- Room seven: Facial nerve
- Room eight: Vestibulocochlear nerve
- Room nine: Glossopharyngeal nerve
- Room ten: Vagus nerve
- Room eleven: Accessory nerve
- Room twelve: Hypoglossal nerve
Once you’ve got the information encoded in your Memory Palace, you’ll want to use Recall Rehearsal. I teach this process in video four of my free course. Grab it here:
Is This A Superior Method To The Cranial Nerves Acronym?
Frankly, it depends.
If memorizing long and strange sentences that make almost zero sense works for you, that’s fantastic.
For most of us, it’s barely a fix. Certainly not a solution.
That said, every skill requires your focus, attention, time and energy.
But here’s the very good news:
Learning to use memory techniques like association and the Memory Palace techniques takes most serious students 2-3 afternoons.
After that, you can use the technique for the rest of your life. And since the world is filled with countless buildings, you’ll never run out of space.
Everything comes down to preparation and practice. When you do that, you can memorize anything. And you’ll be a better medical professional as a result.
Thank you for reading this post. Let me know in the comments if you think these techniques will help you out.
And if you need more pointers and examples, check out how to memorize anatomy next.