Hooked on Mnemonics…Sort of


ytdydtdtdIn my informal studies, I’ve adopted the use of memory aids, mnemonic techniques to aid my recall of learned material, say, in a particular order of listed items, or supplementing the memorization of the main points of a text.

I’m currently using first-letter mnemonics, like the use of acronyms, like PEMDAS, to lay out the standard order of operations in mathematics, or Roy G. Biv for remembering the colors of the visible light spectrum, and for visual mnemonics, there’s this cute little one for memorizing the four ‘figures’ of standard form syllogisms in classical logic:

The Four Syllogistic Figures: Hey, Bowties Are Cool.

The Four Syllogistic Figures: Hey, Bowties Are Cool.

I did this one myself on my laptop’s Pages app in only a few minutes. Similar images are used in popular logic texts, like Copi’s Introduction to Logic, and the shirt-collar and bowtie shapes make an easy impression, though it’s important to remember the outer placement of the predicate terms (P’s)and subject terms (S’s)in the 2nd and 3rd figures relative to the M’s, the middle term in standard form syllogisms.

I’m new to the full use of mnemonics in study, that is, using them to best effect as standard tools, though there’s just no substitute in learning for ordinary memorization and comprehension of the material. The bowtie mnemonic depends on the student using it to come from a culture where shirt collars, and sometimes bowties are commonly worn as normal dress, but in that context, it’s useful and effective.

Different techniques for using these have different purposes, and as you may suspect, different strengths and limitations. The use of first-letter mnemonics works best when they are used as memory cues, not in learning new material.

I found out early on, though, that coming up with good, evocative, and meaningful mnemonics takes work — at least at first until you get the hang of it and know well the context of the material you’re studying.

If the material is new, and much of it is, of course, it’s often best to use brute force recitation, repetition, and review of the material, and to use mnemonics mostly as assistance to that, not a substitute.

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