20 Memory Techniques

You may not find all 20 of these memory techniques useful, but read through each section and try using the ones that fit your learning style. Not all these ideas will work for everyone, but you should find something new here!

  1. Learn from the general to the specific.
    When you receive a reading assignment, skim it to get an overall idea of the subject matter. Then reread it for the specifics.
  2. Make it meaningful and relevant to you.
    What do you want from the information? How does this information relate to your goals? The answers to these questions will make it relevant to you.
  3. Create associations.
    Try to link each new piece of information with something you already know. (This will also help you when writing term papers.)

Use your body
  1. Learn it actively.
    Reinforce the words with action. Stand up, sit up straight, pace back and forth, and/or gesture with your hands to get your body involved when you study.
  2. Relax.
    It's easier to learn when you're not stressed and tense. Take a short break. Get a cool drink, or go for a walk. Play some music which makes you happy. When you feel more relaxed, try another study session.
  3. Be artistic.
    Draw pictures, charts, or cartoons to connect facts. The act of creating the picture will help fix the information in your mind, and you may find it easier to remember the picture and what it depicts than the original words.
  4. Recite and repeat.
    Audible repetition uses both your your physical and auditory senses, which accelerate your learning ability. Hearing the information as you recite in your own words increases your ability to remember.
  5. Write it down.
    Writing, or typing, is active learning. Writing requires you to be logical and reveals missing information. Try re-reading your notes out loud—you might think of something new to add, or find gaps which need to be filled.

Use your brain
  1. Keep distractions down.
    Find a space free of distractions. Multi-tasking is great for some things, but not when you're trying to remember complex information!
  2. Overlearn.
    Dissect the information, add to it, and go over it until it becomes second nature. When you think you've got it, read your notes one more time then put them away for a few days.
  3. Escape the short-term memory trap.
    Short-term memory lasts only a short time, whether it's a few minutes or several hours. Make sure everything you've learned is in long-term memory by reviewing until you have overlearned; put your notes away for a few days, then test yourself—do you really remember it? If not, re-learn it, put the notes away, and re-test until you're sure the information is there.
  4. Use daylight.
    Try studying difficult subjects during the daylight hours when your concentration is more effective.
  5. Distribute the learning.
    Schedule time to study into manageable increments, between one- and two-hour sessions. Reward yourself with regular breaks... unless you are engrossed in an idea and cannot think of anything else. In that case, don't stop the momentum—keep going!
  6. Be aware of attitudes.
    Your attitude about a subject or topic may be different from your instructor. That's all right; simply acknowledge them. You don't need to feel the same way, or even agree with your instructor (as long as you can justify your opinion!). Your awareness can deflate an attitude that is blocking your memory.
  7. Choose what not to remember.
    Be selective. Decide what is essential, and apply memory techniques to those ideas. If you have time, learn more, but make sure you cover the key facts and topics first.
  8. Combine memory techniques.
    Memory techniques work better in combination. Consolidate two or three of the techniques and experiment with them. In the end, it doesn't matter how you remember the information, just that you remember it!

  1. Remember something else.
    Brainstorming is a technique used to promote recall. Try remembering something similar—or something discussed at the same time—and the answer you need will probably appear.
  2. Notice when you do remember.
    Everyone learns and remembers differently. Pay attention to the styles that work for you. Equally, just because your friend swears by re-writing her notes at 2am with her favorite music blasting does not mean that it will have the same positive effect for you.
  3. Use it before you lose it.
    Practice using information regularly - read it, write it, speak it, listen to it, or apply it. The more you use information, the greater the recall.
    Try having a discussion/debate with some of your friends, tutor another student or join a study group.
  4. Remember that you never forget.
    Properly stored information is never lost, though you might have problems recalling it. As an aid, use positive statements like "Let me find where I stored it" rather than "I can't remember anything!" It might be there, on the tip of your tongue.
Adapted from "Becoming a Master Student, 10th Edition," Dave Ellis, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Easy Memory Skills

These techniques may look overwhelming at first (there are so many of them!) but as you read through you will probably find that you already use some of them.

You don't have to master each one, or even pick one to use overall. You can take a pick-and-mix attitude—some of these will work better in some classes than others—and your classmates may also have suggestions.

Why not have some fun? Get together and see how many silly rhymes or sentences you can make up for one class... it's amazing how well it works!

Rhymes and songs

Once the rhyme is learned, you'll never forget!

Everyone remembers the year Colombus discovered America and the order of the alphabet through the rhyme and the song (and "Sesame Street" probably has a lot to answer for).

There are many others, or you can make up your own!

A combination of letters which helps you easily remember a sequence of words

For example:

ROY G. BIV (colors of the visible spectrum)
Red | Orange | Yellow | Green | Blue | Indigo | Violet

PEMDAS (sequence in solving or evaluating math equations)
Parenthesis | Exponents | Multiplication | Division | Addition | Subtraction

IPMAT (stages of cell division)
Interphase | Prophase | Metaphase | Anaphase | Telephase

An invented sentence or poem with a first letter cue

For example:

"Every Good Boy Deserves Fun"
reminds you of the G-clef notes on sheet music: EGBDF

"Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain"
gives you the colors of the visible spectrum: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

"Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally"
gives you the sequence to solve or evaluate math equations: Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction

Keeping similar ideas together

So instead of trying to remember 9 random items, you might only need to remember 3 main groups with 3 items in each group.

For example, if you're trying to remember the main characters in Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings, you could try just remembering the list:

Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee, Pippin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Gandalf, Boromir, Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn

... but it's much easier to remember in groups:

  • 4 hobbits - Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee, Pippin Took, Meriadoc Brandybuck
  • 2 humans - Boromir, Aragorn
  • 3 "other" - Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas

Advanced Memory Techniques

These techniques require a bit more work, and some practice, before you will fully see the effects but they are proven methods and worth trying. You probably won't master these the first time around, but keep trying and you will reap the benefits!


Most effective for storing lists of unlinked information (the Journey method is most effective for storing lists of related items).

Select any location that you have spent a lot of time in and know well.

Imagine yourself walking through the location, seeing clearly defined places (the door, sofa, refrigerator, shelf, etc.). Imagine yourself putting objects that you need to remember into each of these places by walking through this location. The technique works by associating familiar images with those objects. To recall information, simply take a tour around the room in your mind, visualising the known objects and their associated images.

For example:

You need to remember George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon.

To do this, you could imagine opening the the door of your room and seeing a dollar bill stuck in the door frame; when you open the door Jefferson is reclining on the sofa and Nixon is eating out of the refrigerator.

(You can expand this technique for sub-topics. Use a door off the main room—create one if there isn't one in real life—to add more information about a related topic.)


Similar to Room, but using a familiar route (moving location) rather than a room (static location).

The journey method is based on using landmarks on a journey that you know well. It could be your journey to school, the route you use to get to the front door when you get up in the morning, the route to visit your parents, or a tour around a holiday destination. It could even be a journey around the levels of a computer game.

Start by writing down the major landmarks on your route. Think of these as "stops." You can then associate these "stops" with information or objects.

For example:

If you wanted to remember the following shopping list: coffee, carrots, bread, kitchen roll, fish, pork chops, soup, fruit, toilet paper you might fix the items to your journey to the grocery store. The images could appear as:
  1. Front door - spilt coffee grains on the doormat
  2. Car - carrots lying on the front seat
  3. End of the road - an arch of French bread over the road
  4. Past garage - with sign wrapped in kitchen roll
  5. Under railway bridge - from which haddock and cod are dangling by their tails
  6. Past church - in front of which a pig is doing karate, breaking boards
  7. Under office block - with a soup slick underneath: my car tyres send up jets of tomato soup as I drive through it
  8. Past car park - with apples and oranges tumbling from the top level
  9. Grocery store car park - a toilet parked in the space next to my car
(Thanks to MindTools for this example.)

This is an extremely effective method of remembering long lists of information. With a sufficiently long journey you could, for example, remember elements on the periodic table, lists of Kings and Presidents, geographical information, or the order of cards in a shuffled pack of cards.

The system is also extremely flexible. Because each list is associated with a different journey, you can memorize many lists at the same time without getting them confused.

To remember many items, just use a longer journey with more landmarks.
To remember a short list, only use part of the route!

Key words

For foreign language vocabulary

Select a key word in English that sounds or looks like the new word.

Then imagine a picture which involves the new word with both the English key word and the foreign word.

For example:

Consider the Spanish word cabina which means phone booth.
For the English keyword, you might think of "cab in a ..." You could then invent an image of a cab trying to fit in a phone booth.

When you see the word cabina on the test, you should be able to recall the image of the cab and you should be able to retrieve the definition phone booth.


For lists, ordered or unordered

Create a story where each word or idea you have to remember triggers the next idea you need to remember.

For example:

If you had to remember the words Napoleon, ear, door and Germany, you could invent a story of Napoleon with his ear to a door listening to people speak in German.

Number / Rhyme

To remember lists in a certain order

This is a "peg" system, where you "peg" information to a sequence of cues - in this case, the numbers 1-10.

At a simple level it can be used to remember things such as a list of English Kings or of American Presidents in their precise order. At a more advanced level it can be used to code lists of experiments to be recalled in a science exam.

You start with a number/rhyme sequence. Each number is linked or "pegged" to a rhyming word with a simple image attached to it.

The most common sequence is below, but you can make up your own:
  1. Bun
  2. Shoe
  3. Tree
  4. Door
  5. Hive
  6. Bricks
  7. Heaven
  8. Skate
  9. Line
  10. Hen
When you want to remember either a set number of facts, or a list of information in a certain order, link the rhyming images to pictures representing the things to be remembered.

For example, a list of ten Greek philosophers could be remembered as:
  1. Parmenides
    a BUN topped with melting yellow PARMEsan cheese
  2. Heraclitus
    a SHOE worn by HERACLes glowing with a bright LIghT
  3. Empedocles
    a TREE from which the M-shaped McDonalds arches hang hooking up a bicycle PEDal
  4. Democritus
    think of going through a DOOR to vote in a DEMOCRaTic election
  5. Protagoras
    a bee HIVE being positively punched through (GORed?) by an atomic PROTon
  6. Socrates
    BRICKS falling onto a SOCk (with a foot inside!) from a CRATe
  7. Plato
    a plate with angel's wings flapping around a white cloud
  8. Aristotle
    a friend called hARRY clutching a bOTTLE of wine possessively slipping on a SKATE
  9. Zeno
    a LINE of ZEN buddhists meditating
  10. Epicurus
    a HEN's egg being mixed into an EPIleptic's CURe
(Thanks to MindTools for this example.)

This is an excellent method of ensuring that all the information is remembered—because gaps will be immediately apparent from the missing numbers.

As you can see, there are many tools and strategies which you can use to make learning both easier and more efficient.

There are many other tools out there—don't be afraid to try a few until you find the ones which work best for you!