The Disregard for Mnemonics


I’ve been using memory techniques for a while, and they have been truly helpful this year. I have found that for most of my college work is just memorization, even in math classes. I’ve grown a reputation around my classmates to being one of the smartest kids in the class, and most of them believe that I’m just naturally talented instead of using memory techniques.

Every so often when someone asks me how I do the things that I do, I give them a brief and non-complicated overview of the memory techniques that I use. Everytime I try to encourage my classmates to use these techniques, they never go through with it. I’m just wondering what other’s experiences are with trying to get others to use memory techniques, and why it seems that average person disregards mnemonics techniques?


I feel like people are not looking for methods, they are looking for a pill that makes them instantly remember everything.


I agree with Mayarra. They are looking for a no effort way of learning and remembering.
I have taught the most basic of all at the beginning of some classes: the link system.

Generally everyone thinks it’s great since they can remember a list of 20 items forward and backward, or I can call out an item and they can go forward and backward from there.

I also point out how it can be used as a component of their study to help get things into LTM more easily /quickly.

But later, almost none of them use even that. They go back to highlighting the text and cramming; probably because that’s what they have always done and it’s been good enough (they are satisficing).

(MM Scot of Glasgow) #4

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Respectfully, I already have a job.
Given that the question was about mnemonics I think it reasonable to answer the question and not try to diagnose people’s issues and give life lessons…thats what pubs are for :slight_smile:

(MM Scot of Glasgow) #6

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I believe there is no question that mnemonics would benefit education. I know that some think it not necessary anymore with the advent of the internet. “as long as you know where to find the information” seems to be the mantra.
However, even a very brief thought would show this to be false. Memory is required in order to learn. So, mnemonics of some sort will help with that. And most students use at least some, even if only an acrostic.
Don’t worry about drawbridges, it’s VERY difficult to get me to take offense.
If I come across terse, it’s because I’m often trying to respond from my phone and I’m pathetic at texting, so terse is good, although I may give the wrong impression.

(MM Scot of Glasgow) #8

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Kind Regards (genuine) from Glasgow. (on a phone)…


Hi guys

I’m also a student myself. I find mnemonics useful to memorize lists of complicated words, speeches for class presentations and important details. But I never use the techniques to remember the material itself unless I’m in a rush or don’t give a damn about the material, since I found that taking your time to understand the material is much more efficient than spending your time memorizing and having to constantly review it just to be able to spew the material like a parrot without truly understanding it.

I’ve tried both methods, and I found that when I truly understand a concept I don’t need to review it constantly and will remember it even weeks later.

So, in my opinion, memorization complements education but does not substitute it. Think about it this way: the best scholars in the world aren’t those who memorized the most books in their field. They’re the ones who have a deeper understanding of the subject and are able to come with meaningful insights on the spot. I could spend several years memorizing dozens of books about religion, atheism and evolution using the memory techniques, but that wouldn’t make me the next Richard Dawkins.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not downplaying mnemonics, I use them everyday to remember the chronological order of books I read, to-do lists, phone numbers, etc, but I really value knowledge and I seriously don’t think that memory = understanding. Please let me know what you think, or if you think I’m wrong or that I missed something, peace.


When I was in college I knew about all the memory systems and techniques, but had no support base of family or friends who were into learning, so my motivation for it was not very high at the time. That is why I’ve started the first memory club/society in my state, to encourage people to meetup weekly for mutual encouragement. When you come from a family of non-learners, who value TV over books, who value beer over brains, then it’s extremely difficult to find the people and motivation to encourage you to be a better learner. I’ve already had a few memory club meetups and it makes me so much more exited to learn and practice these techniques, when I have other people around me who are also into being a much better learner.


I also personally never memorize something I do not understand. But once I understand a concept, I memorize the concept just for long term use so I don’t forget it in the future. From my own personal experiences, I find that most people do not have trouble understanding “difficult” concepts, but they do not retain the knowledge to understand them in the future. This is especially apparent when they have to answer problems that rely on a previous knowledge base of concepts they have already learned in the past.

Another thing I notice about understanding is that sometimes you need to know a lot of previous knowledge just to understand a concept. You can learn this previous knowledge without mnemonics, but it’s usually not a efficient use of your time. With mnemonics, I can learn a whole semester’s worth of knowledge within less than a week.


ehcolston that sounds like quite the achievement! What subjects are you studying that you can learn so quickly using mnemonics?


I would like to point out that there is no education without memory: Memory is a necessity for understanding, whereas understanding is not a necessity for memory.
However, I don’t think any educator would seriously suggest memorizing things you don’t understand, but you certainly can’t understand anything you haven’t memorized. And with the memory part, mnemonics will certainly help.


What I’m trying to say is that memory techniques might help some people and complement their learning, since everyone learns differently, but that’s really not an universal thing. Sure, you need to retain the knowledge before understanding it, but in my experience our natural working memory works just as well for this than memory palaces, because when you create an image and store it using the method of loci you’re not trying to directly uncover the meaning behind the thing you’ve memorized, you’re just creating a funny, obscene image that reminds you of that thing, therefore creating another ‘‘layer’’ that makes understanding the thing harder (atleast for me).

I don’t know about you guys, but I find that my time and brain-power is more well spent if I try to dumb down the concepts and explain them with my own words, therefore truly understanding them, as opposed to just memorizing them straight from the book. I do use method of loci for important details though, that can’t be linked in any meaningful way to the original idea or concept, whenever 2 things have similar names or when I just don’t care about the material and know that I’ll be able to forget it a few days later without losing sleep at night, but I have friends that don’t use mnemonics and do just as well or even better than myself while spending the same amount of time studying.

Sadly, educational systems today don’t seem to care much wether you’ve LEARNED things, and as long as you get the answers right in the tests you’re good. If you treat studying as a tool for landing a good job and making decent money in the future, then sure, memory palaces would be a really awesome tool for you, but when it comes to learning I feel that you’re better off just using your working memory (for the most part) and making logical connections with things you’ve previously learned.

I still hold firm to my belief that memory palaces can aid education, since they make abstract things and hard details easier to review, but these 2 things can also be mutually exclusive. Think of how many people succeeded in their academic fields without ever being big into mnemonic systems.

Of course everything that I said is only based on my personal experience and opinions, and I’d love to know how you guys incorporate memory palaces into your day to day studying and life.
I hope I managed to express what I wanted to say, hope you have a good day and also, happy studying!


Mnemon, the subject I was referring to was Algebra. Next semester I will be doing pre-calculus, and I plan on absorbing the majority of the concepts over the break


ehcolston, when you have some spare time, would you post a brief description of how you used mnemonic systems and techniques to learn algebra significantly faster? I failed out of college due to my inability to pass algebra, and was not motivated to practice mnemonics at the time. I always forgot the formulas and procedures during test time.


Hello. Some say that it is not useful to memorize things that they don’t understand.
I have a very good experience with the opposite. I have to read long books and understand them (and later uses them in research and teaching).
When I begin reading the book, I try to memorize the table of contents, especially those with many layers: part, chapter, subchapter, subsection, etc., even if I am not sure what is the content, or much less really understand what it is about.
While reading and studying, i review many times this table of contents, and it makes much easier to grasp the ideas of the book, and to really understand in order the content of the book.
I am not even interested in really memorizing verbatim the table of contents. But it is very useful because it organized the information in the brain. We do not understand anything that is not in the brain. If we understand and we forget, then we “understood”, but don’t understand anymore.
Second, I have done something similar while teaching. We (the students and me) memorized using loci the content of the class at the beginning, and then everyday we would add a bit more of information. The results were mixed, because some students will not enter into the game, but I think it helped them to have a general view of the content of the subject.


I would suggest that you do understand what you are memorizing. That is, you understand what the table of contents (toc) means, even though you do not know the content of each of the sections yet.

I agree being familiar with the toc will aid understanding later. That’s why standard advice when approaching a new text is to:
Read the toc
Flip through the book to get a feel for how the book is laid out.
Check if there is a glossary and other organizational aids.

Then when reading a chapter:
Look at the toc for the chapter
Next read any chapter summary
Then skim through the chapter noting photos and other content and organizational aids.
Then, turn each sub heading into a question and be on the lookout to answer those questions (and related ones that come to mind) as you actually read the chapter.


Yes, of course some understanding is needed. Just memorization of words without any meaning is not so useful.


Okay Mnemon, I’ll grant your request :).

Most of the time in mathematics you need only to memorize the basic list of rules of how to solve a problem. For example, most example problems in workbooks or online websites will have notes in the margins explaining how to solve the problem. To memorize these rules, you can just rewrite them into an ordered list in your own words and just memorize them. Occasionally review and the information will stay there for a while.

Memorizing formulas is a bit tricker. To memorize formulas, I used this website’s method to help transform formulas into images. I also used this method to help memorize problems that would always give me trouble.