Memorization is a key component of our every day lives. From our first day at school to the end of our lives, we constantly feed our minds with a steady stream of information. The mind’s ability to store information is truly astounding. Just like every other data storage device, the mind requires proper encoding so that it can reference the information later.

Usually our brains do a pretty good job of taking care of this without help. However, if we try to store away massive amounts of information at once, sometimes it needs a little help. That is where memorization aids come in handy. There are several different types of memorization aids. Most popular memorization aids can be categorized as mnemonics.

Mnemonics are aids that work off of the mind’s ability to create associations to pieces of data that help it retrieve the information. These associations can be achieved through using any of the senses, but the most common is through verbal interaction with the data. There are several different ways to achieve this.

When most people think back to their days of education, usually the first memorization aid that comes to mind is the acronym. This device takes the first letter of each important term and creates a more memorable word in its place. Acronyms are often used in such classes as math and science to remember order of operations and other important practices. One common acronym from chemistry helps students remember that oxidation is loss of electrons and reduction is a gain in electrons—OIL RIG. What does an oil rig have to do with chemistry? Other than the fact that it’s a handy acronym for the mind, nothing! Studies have shown that the mind remembers absurd things much more easily than something that seems normal, so many common acronyms are absurd and humorous.

Another popular memorization method is to create rhymes with the information to be memorized. Orators from early times often told epic tales by using rhyming stanzas to spur their memories. Again, this method uses verbal constructs to build associations in the brain. The more associations the mind has made to a certain piece of data, the more likely a person is to remember that information when it is recalled. Though rhymes and acronyms are the two most common methods for memorization, there are a few more that merit attention.

One less-common method is called the “method of loci.” As the name suggests, this device has to do with using locations as tools to trigger associations with data to be remembered. A person can imagine a pathway that is familiar to them (such as a walk around a favorite park) and mark locations or landmarks along the way. These associations tend to be stable, as one half of the data is already familiar to the person.
One last method for memorization is chunking. Interestingly enough, when the United States’ telephone system was developed, it was found that people tended to remember numbers best in “chunks” of three, three and four. That is why the area code is three numbers in a group, the next three digits are grouped together, as are the last four. The general rule is that a person can remember seven (plus or minus two) digits in short-term memory. However, this technique can also be used to store long-term information, though arbitrary lists of numbers are very difficult to commit to permanent memory.

Each of these techniques have been proven to work well in creating associations and “footholds,” so to speak, for the mind to aid it in recall. Usually, one method or the other will work better for certain people, as everyone learns in his or her own fashion. Fortunately, there are many memory aids to choose from, and each may be modified to suit a person’s own preferences.

photo by Richard0