Mnemonic Examples: Everything You Need to Know (And How to Use Them)

Mnemonic Devices: Everything You Need to Know (And How to Use Them)Instantly memorizing what you need to know is the ultimate dream for many people.

But for many, their inability to remember anything is the ultimate nightmare.

One reason people struggle is that there are so many terms. It can be confusing.

But the facts are that anyone can use mnemonic strategies to learn faster and remember more. You just have to find the approach that works best for you.

Here’s what this post will cover:

What Is A Mnemonic Device?
Mnemonic Device Examples
– Personally Created Flashcards
– Acronyms
– The Memory Palace Technique
– Associative Imagery, Linking, and Pegwords
– Story Method
– Major System and Dominic System
– 00-99 PAO
– Mind Maps
Mnemonic Techniques and Strategies for Remembering Things

So if you’re ready to dive in, let’s get started with…

What Is A Mnemonic Device?

The best mnemonic device definition we can start with is this:

Anything that helps you remember better is a mnemonic.

Even the dictionary says that a mnemonic device is anything: “assisting or intended to assist the memory.”

3 blank polaroids against a floral background, a reminder that mnemonic devices can assist memory.

For that reason, it’s a highly adaptable term that works as an umbrella to cover a wide range of activities including:

  • Personally created flashcards
  • Acronyms
  • Memory Palaces (sometimes called a Mind Palace, the Method of Loci, Journey Method, or Roman Room)
  • Associative imagery, linking, and pegwords
  • Story method
  • Major System or Dominic System
  • 00-99 PAO
  • Mind Maps
  • … and more

Given this adaptability, it’s little wonder there’s so much confusion over the term.

But here’s what I’d like you to notice:

None of these are really “devices.” They are processes.

As memory expert David Berglass made clear in A Question of Memory, memory is not a unitary mechanism or a “thing.” It is a behavior.

And that is how you use mnemonics. You understand them as processes and then you sprinkle them into your life so they become part of your behavior.

Let me make that more concrete:

When I gave a TEDx presentation, I not only memorized my talk — on that day, I memorized all the names of the people I met. I used a wide variety of techniques (see how to memorize a speech) and chose the specific mnemonic devices I used based on the circumstances.

With practice, using mnemonics happens almost on autopilot!

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Mnemonic Device Examples

Let’s dig a little deeper using our list of mnemonic examples above.

Personally Created Flashcards

My friend and language learning expert Gabriel Wyner inspired me to give these a try after reading his book, Fluent Forever.

Basically, instead of downloading software put together by a stranger, get some paper and colored pens. (Obviously, you also have all the information you want to memorize organized too.)

Next, use the paper and colors to help you create images. These images should remind you of the target information you want to recall.

Flashcards with Chinese characters on them.

Flashcards as mnemonic devices for Chinese characters

Now, there’s a whole lot more going on in this example, so please keep it in mind. I’ll go deeper into it later in this post.

For now, if you’re worried about having a bunch of cards flying all over the place, don’t be. You can wrap them up in a Memory Palace drawing just like this:

A stack of flashcards wrapped in a Memory Palace drawing.

I used simple and elegant combinations of mnemonic devices to pass level III in Mandarin last year

Next, let’s look at how abbreviations can help.

Acronyms

Have you ever asked… what is it called when you use letters to remember words? As usual, there’s no one answer, but the first method is called an acronym.

3 letter blocks spelling out the acronym "AMA" - an example of an abbreviation.

For example, when I teach memory improvement in a live setting, I usually talk about how following the rules will set you F.R.E.E.

“Free” is a word that helps me remember the meta-rules students need to make learning with memory techniques easy and fun:

Frequent practice in a state of…
Relaxation and a spirit of…
Experimentation so that you can be…
Entertained

Just follow those rules as you use mnemonics and you will truly be free to memorize as much as you want.

The best part?

You can lay out acronyms inside of a Memory Palace.

The Memory Palace Technique

The Memory Palace is an ancient technique. It essentially involves using space as a mnemonic device.

You do this by thinking about a familiar location. Then, you chart out a logical journey that does not take energy from your memory. If you have to memorize the journey, it is not a good Memory Palace, so pick something else.

For example, I visited a bookstore in Zamalek, a part of Cairo, Egypt. To keep it simple, I used only the parts of the bookstore I remembered.

To help my brain reduce the cognitive load even further, I made a quick drawing of the space:

A Memory Palace based on a bookstore Anthony visited in Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.

A Memory Palace drawn on an index card to maximize its value as a mnemonic device

Notice I’ve actually drawn the Memory Palace on an index card (or flashcard). I do this because it makes it easy to store many of them for quick reference if I ever need them.

I also write down the number of stations and name them. I find this helps me “set and forget” the Memory Palace and ensure I’ve gotten it right the first time.

I believe scientists call this kind of activity a means of harnessing the levels of processing effect.

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Associative Imagery, Linking, and Pegwords

Inside of these Memory Palaces, place a list of mnemonics you create. These will be a kind of mnemonic that are multi-sensory.

A red autumn leaf clipped on a wire with clothespins, an example of an associative image.

For example, think back to that first image I shared above with the flashcards for Chinese. Those colorful drawings help me remember the sound and the meaning of the Mandarin words.

But those mental images aren’t just on the flashcards! They’re also mentally situated on stations in the Memory Palaces I use.

(Some people call these stations “loci.” It’s basically the same thing, but “Magnetic Station” is my preferred term because recent advancements make them much more powerful than the ancient teachings suggest.)

To make such imagery, you will want to complete a number of exercises.

For example, go through the alphabet and think of an image for each letter. The pegword method is a great way to explore this technique further.

Alphabet tiles from a Scrabble game laid out against a starry background.

If you’re really serious about mastering the Memory Palace technique, you can explore having an image on each and every station.

For example, when I memorize cards, I always have images on the stations to help me “trigger” the row of cards I’ll be placing and later recalling on a Magnetic Station.

Basically, what I’m talking about is multiple levels of linking all at once. Some people talk about the linking method in a very weak way, that amounts to just “this links to that.” I don’t find that approach is strong enough.

What most of us need is for our association imagery to combine:

  • Sound and meaning links at the granular level of the alphabet
  • Multi-sensory links that are concrete and specific, not vague and abstract
  • Tied tightly to space so that we are working from the foundations of the strongest level of memory: spatial memory

Furthermore, the real trick with these associative images is that they must:

  1. Actually associate in a way that triggers what you want to memorize (for example, the barber symbol I used on the card above triggers the ‘ba’ sound).
  2. Help you get back the meaning of the content (where relevant).
  3. Have a Memory Palace so you can mentally “find” the imagery. Some people don’t need the Memory Palace, but in my experience, they are few and far between.

And when you think about what mnemonic device means more holistically, each card is a kind of station in a Memory Palace.

Story Method

Using a story (with or without a Memory Palace) is not much different than using, links pegs or associations. The only difference is that with the story method you’re adding the extra step of creating a narrative.

For example, let’s say you want to memorize a list of names at an event:

Haley
Allan
Sharon
Andrew
Edward
Angela
Sam

If you were using pegs, you would look at “h” when seeing Haley and associate her with something like Halley’s comet or a hat. Allan could be associated with an Allen key.

You can also spontaneously produce associations or have stock characters. For example, every Sharon could be Sharon Osbourne.

A comet streaks across a darkened sky. Using Halley's comet to remember the name Haley is a way to help you remember names.

The story method, on the other hand, requires us to add a narrative to the association, such as:

Halley’s comet is crashing into an Allan key in the hands of Sharon who finds it burning hot and hands it to Andrew.

The story method can possibly be used without a Memory Palace. However, stories have parts. And those parts exist somewhere in your brain which means they are inherently spatially located.

I think you’ll find it a lot less mentally taxing to lay out any narrative elements you use in a Memory Palace.

Another way to approach the story method is to use a movie or novel plot you know well.

For example, let’s say you have mentally reduced The Matrix series down to three scenes: the hotel, the desert of the real, and Neo’s cabin on Morpheus’ ship.

For the first piece of information you want to remember, you would use the first room and perhaps Trinity doing her flying kick. Then you would move on to the next location for the next piece of information.

This example shows how stories are always spatial in nature from another angle… after all, if they don’t take place somewhere… how can they be stories?

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong to this application. It basically comes down to your level of skill, the context, and the nature of the information.

I personally would not add a story step while memorizing names in a live setting — and tend to create my associations on the fly rather than draw upon stock images. But if a stock image makes sense, I’ll certainly use it.

Major System and Dominic System

When it comes to associative imagery, the alphabet is a great tool. But it can also be mixed with numbers.

The Major System (often called the Major Method) helps you associate a consonant with each digit from 0-9. This mnemonic device has been in use since the Katapayadi of ancient India.

A more common approach that has been in use since the 1700s looks like this:

A common approach to the Major Method, using numbers paired with letters.

A more recent innovation is the Dominic System. It has some key differences, so make sure to study both.

00-99 PAO

PAO stands for Person, Action, Object. Basically, you’re taking the Major System and using it to help you make words from numbers.

Here are some examples from mine:

01 – Sad (tragedy mask)
02 – Sun (from the movie Sunshine)
31 – Mad Magazine mascot (often dressed as a maid)

A giant fireball sun, much like the one in the Movie Sunshine, one of Anthony's PAO examples.

Notice that I’ve put some concrete indicators in parentheses. This is because “sad” is not very evocative. It’s just a concept.

But when I think of a tragedy mask, it still links to the concept of sadness. To make it even more specific, I think of the tragedy mask worn by William Shatner in Oedipus Rex.

Mind Maps

Tony Buzan is one of the greatest innovators of mind mapping, but he says in Mind Map Mastery that he abandoned this technique for improving memory back in the 70s.

He focused more on using keywords that help with creativity, problem-solving, and planning.

I feel that the conclusion to remove their use as a memorization tool was premature. If you would like to learn how to combine mind maps with Memory Palaces, for example, here’s a simple way to also add in the Major System for incredible results:

As you can see, it’s fun to mix keywords with the Major Method on paper in a way that turns the mind map into a simple Memory Palace.

And this is really just the beginning when it comes to learning how to remember things.

It’s not just that there are a TON of mnemonic devices to choose from. It’s that we get to delight in how they can be mixed and matched in so many ways.

Mnemonic Techniques and Strategies for Remembering Things

Now, you might be wondering… how do you apply all of these techniques strategically?

Good question!

The answer is that you need to explore on your own, ideally based on a clearly defined learning goal.

Wooden carved chess pieces on a chess board.

That said, here are some suggestions.

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Mnemonic Strategy #1: How to Memorize Numbers

For learning numbers, you’ll want to have either the Major System or the Dominic System. Nothing will be lost if you develop skills with both. In fact, that is highly recommended.

You can even consider learning another version called The Shadow if you’re really ambitious. My friend and fellow memory expert Braden Adams talks about this technique here.

Mnemonic Strategy #2: How to Learn a Language

For learning languages, a solid Memory Palace Network is advised.

This means having one Memory Palace per most letters of the alphabet. (Skip x, y, z, etc. if you can’t come up with solutions. Just gather as many together as you can.)

If you have a Major System prepared, you can use this to help with memorizing words, such as using your image for 90 when you encounter a “bas” sound, etc.

A man sits with his arm around a Ronald McDonald statue. A mnemonic strategy to remember the name "Ron" might include using this character to help you remember.

Pop culture references are everywhere. Use them as part of your mnemonic strategy.

Mnemonic Strategy #3: How to Memorize Names

For memorizing names, some people like to have prepared associations ready to go. For example, if they meet a Ron, they’ll use Ronald McDonald.

However, the world has evolved a lot and we’re increasingly in contact with people who have diverse names. For that, you’ll want to make sure your peg system is very robust.

Mnemonic Strategy #4: How to Memorize Music

For memorizing music, the Major System will be a must.

Here’s how to memorize a song — the post is very detailed and shows you how to turn your instrument into a Memory Palace to combine with the number system you choose.

Mnemonic Strategy #5: How to Memorize a Speech

For memorizing a speech, you can use acronyms or a Memory Palace. I’ve done a combination of both over the years, and sometimes will place acronyms in a Memory Palace.

A photo of Anthony with a guitar at his desk, including his F.R.E.E. mnemonic device.

Memory Palace using an acronym as a mnemonic device

For memorizing playing cards, most people take a Major System and develop it into a 00-99 PAO.

For example, in my system, the Ace of Spades is 11. Using the Major, the image is a toad. To make it more specific, I use the Warner Brothers toad. Each card has an image like this and then I lay them out in a particular Memory Palace I prefer for memorizing cards.

Mnemonic Strategy #6: How to Memorize Numbers, Equations & Software Code

If you’re a programmer or coder, you probably have a lot of complex information you’d love to remember quickly.

Just develop these mnemonic tools:

  • Alphabet list
  • Number association system (like the Major)
  • Symbol System

Once you have associations for all the letters, numbers and symbols, remembering commands will be much easier.

This Is Just The Beginning

Guess what? there are even more mnemonic strategies you can learn. Treat conquering each one like its own mission. Then practice consistently. You will succeed.

Please don’t think all of this is too difficult or complex. Frankly, the problem with the memory world is that so many teachers out there dumb it all down.

But when someone finally shows how all of these mnemonic devices work together in unison, you wind up getting great successes like James Gerwing winning the 2019 Canadian Memory Championship — as a retiree!

I Love Using A Combination Of Mnemonic Strategies — How About You?

We’re incredibly lucky.

Although it can be confusing, the Internet has enabled dozens of memory competitors, memory athletes, and plain ol’ memory fanatics like me to create tons of free content for the world.

Even though it’s easy to get lost in the intricacies, remember: Memory is not a thing. It is a behavior.

Dive into each of the approaches you learned today.

Really dig deep into their nuances through practice.

Let me know if you found this guide helpful and comment below. If there’s a mnemonic device I missed, please share it so I can update this post. All of us will be eternally grateful.

And if you want to learn more about how to make the most of your new mnemonic strategies using a Memory Palace, pick up your free copy of the memory improvement kit today!

24 Responses to " Mnemonic Examples: Everything You Need to Know (And How to Use Them) "

  1. James says:

    I love this! This is an award winning podcast. Keep up the great work Anthony.

  2. Theodore says:

    Thank you Anthony, for this easy to understand knowledge, gathered all together in one place, and a mind map of the today known systems for learning new bits of anything!!
    Using your magnetic memory method I managed to make a PAO in Greek language (00-99) and after that to learn 126 digits of Pi “π” in 10 hours! It would be imposible for me to do it without your help!

  3. Andy says:

    Hi, I was wondering how to do mnemonics with programming languages? It feels like a plateau for me. Any help for this kind of mnemonic?

    • Thanks for this question, Andy.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “plateau,” but I haven’t seen anything in any programming language that could not be memorized so long as the learner has:

      1. A Memory Palace system

      2. A number association system

      3. An alphabet association system

      4. A symbol association system

      5. A Recall Rehearsal system

      What programming languages are you looking at learning?

      • Andy says:

        I don’t have time to study all of those as I’m learning python now. Is it okay if I learn one of each system and python? Because learning all of those systems will take a while. Can I go back and make mnemonics out of them?

        • Andy says:

          And what I mean by plateau I only know how to do mnemonics for Romanized languages. I haven’t learn other types of mnemonics.

          • There’s a common misconception that mnemonics have something to do with particular languages. They do not.

            All languages share multiple sounds and so long as you develop your systems, you can cross multiple languages. Have you seen the video I have on YouTube where I show an example of using German words to help memorize Mandarin words?

        • I suggest you avoid exaggerating how long it will take to learn these systems. Most people can get set up with all of them over the course of a weekend.

          After that, it’s just practice, which one assumes will be conducted for life, not just a while.

          I don’t know what you mean by “going back” to make mnemonics out of “them,” but as we practice, we often have opportunities to improve our previous images. There is no perfection in this art and it is assumed that things will change over time as we work to improve our skills.

      • Claudia says:

        Hello, thanks for the information.

        Do you have extra classes, or could you explain what you mean by
        symbol and alphabet associations?

        I would love to hear more about that.

        Have a nice day.

        • Thanks for your question, Claudia.

          Yes, you can register for the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass if you’re interested in detailed memory improvement training.

          Associations for letters are the easiest to gather. It is simply pre-preparing some ideas, one or more for each letter of the alphabet.

          You can have single or multi-association systems. For example, A can be an Apple (single system).

          Or you can have what is called a Person Action Object (PAO) system where A = Adam attack apple.

          The trick is to make these associations really vibrant and ideally based on actual references you know.

          For example, I’m not thinking about generic apples here or some fantasy Adam. I’m thinking about Adam Sandler attacking an Apple computer.

          This is the approach that makes these systems so powerful, fast and fun to use.

          Then, for symbols and numbers, you come up with equally vibrant associations. Most people can get all this covered in just a few short hours and then they’re good to go for life.

          Does this response help you out?

          • Andy Best says:

            I see thanks for your help!

            I had another question how would I memorize lines of code in programming? Like functions or programs?

            I’m watching mnemonic academy on YouTube they use mnemonic and memory palace to teach python but they don’t have a full course so I’m gonna be stuck after a couple chapters but with lines and number use the number system mentioned above?

            But what about functions and specific codes. In programming everything has to be verbatim or else the programs won’t work.

            Would your post on the link and story methods help me in remembering verbatim code? Using the story method specifically?

          • Thanks for the follow-up, Andy.

            I’d have to look at specific functions and codes that you’re talking about, but it’s difficult for me to imagine anything you cannot memorize when you have all the systems combined. Probably the most challenging will be your symbol system, but even that should become second-hand in a very short period of time.

            You will likely want to have elements of the story method in your tool belt as well – but realize that this is never about one technique. The Magnetic Memory Method (as far as I can tell) is the one teaching that shows people have to combine them all into a nearly seamless single action.

            The requirement of developing this skill is simply to show up, study the techniques, prepare your systems and practice them.

            Then, the nature of the information won’t really matter. You’ll just enter your “mental tool belt” and with expert care select the best possible tools. If you need another tool halfway through, you’ll already have it and know exactly what it is and how to use it.

            This training is like a samurai art in that regard. Be all in and you will be prepared to execute the best possible move on demand.

            Does this way of looking at the memory arts help you out?

          • Andy says:

            Yes it does thank you, and functions meaning like for programs. So I should focus on one technique at first until it becomes an unconscious habit then go on to the next system after i make the system/method I’m working on a habit? And the functions I’m talking about are like input functions and their definitions. And how to place the function in order to make the program work but I will do the methods you said I think they will help after I master each one.

          • I want to avoid “should” statements. I also wouldn’t advise making the use of memory techniques an “unconscious habit.”

            It’s precisely the opposite:

            We want to be highly conscious of the information and the process. And only by training ourselves to do that can using the techniques become something like an “autopilot” skill. But autopilot does not mean unconscious – it means being aware precisely when you need the awareness and that only comes from consistent practice with your systems.

            Focusing on one at a time is not possible because the Memory Palace technique is a combination of several things. Instead, make sure you’ve formed them correctly and have built all the needed tools. See the “Masterplan” in the MMM Masterclass and complete the Exercises page. All in, you’re looking at a weekend at the most, and that’s if you drag your heels, which is simply not necessary.

            As for memorizing input functions and definitions, if it isn’t clear how to do that after completing the course, then there is an FAQ section for those who submit specific examples and explain where they’re still struggling.

            Typically, the struggle is not with the information. It’s with a lack of understanding of the techniques, a lack of the student communicating specifically enough about how they’re using the techniques, or some combination of both.

            But for those who want the skill, the knowledge is in abundance and all you have to do is think realistically about what it means to acquire the skills through study and practice.

            In sum, there are no “shoulds,” and a lot depends on how you learn to frame the techniques. You might think of the Memory Palace as one skill and that could make sense. Perhaps these techniques are something like programming – if your definitions aren’t spot on in ways that make sense to your operating system, the input cannot function. Since only you have access to your operating system, you have to try different memory training courses until you find the one you can work with and that you value enough to study deeply enough to complete and get the benefits from.

          • Andy says:

            Ah okay thanks you! I don’t have the course I only have the language course and the poetry course. I haven’t watched it in a couple years but I’m gonna go back in it. What do you think of using other people’s mnemonics?

          • Very cool. Reviewing courses is a good idea and in the MMM Masterclass there have been many updates to them, particularly the vocab course.

            Some people say they have benefitted from using the mnemonics of others. However, I have not yet seen significant accomplishments this way.

            Quite the contrary. The real skill works because of drawing upon information that is already in your mind. Using the mnemonics of others really only works in a substantial way when you know their references. And if you know their references, they are not “their” references at all, but the shared pop culture you could learn to draw upon in the first place.

            If you don’t know their references, then you are effectively doubling the work by memorizing one layer to memorize another.

            Adding extra layers of effort and work is not participating in the memory tradition and it certainly isn’t “Magnetic.”

            That said, if someone can make it play, power to them, though I would point out that merely by using the techniques from where you stand now will almost always automatically help you develop more tools. The more you learn with these techniques, the more you can learn, continually reducing the needed effort as you go, all of it simple and fun play with what amounts to “Mental Lego.”

            Does this way of looking at it make sense to you?

  4. Claudia says:

    Yes 😊
    I already registred to your masterclass.
    Learning to memorise cards.

    But I didnt come across these types of associations. Maybe because i am at the beginning?
    What exactly do you mean by symbols?

    • That’s great, Claudia.

      These associations are covered in a few places, namely the Exercises area and in the numbers course.

      Symbols include anything you would use in a mathematical formula, such as the addition sign. Or it can mean ampersand, tilde, etc.

      There are also sigils (like images on flags or stamped into wax), but there is typically no need to memorize these. If one wanted to do so, there are videos on the FAQ page of the MMM Masterclass with suggestions related to that kind of need.

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