In today’s episode, Ryan and Bryan talk about some tips about creating mnemonics to help you memorize all the tons and tons of stuff out there.
Mnemonics is all about making a sentence with the first letter of all the things you’re trying to memorize. This isn’t true. You can make this kind of mnemonics for science facts.But this is not where mnemonics end.
Tips for creating mnemonics:
- The Modality of Mnemonics
Engage yourself in the modality of learning that works for you. (auditory, visual, kinesthetic)
- Auditory Mnemonic
Like a sentence you can say loud so it plugs into your auditory system.
Diatomic acids – Have No Fear Of Ice Cold Beer (Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Fluorine, Oxygen, Iodine, Chlorine, Bromine)
- Visual Mnemonic
Think of ways to engage visually with something memorable rather than just something auditory.
Example: Look at the periodic table and see how the diatomic gases form a kind of L-shape with the Halogen group and then with Oxygen and Nitrogen
- Kinesthetic Mnemonic
Ground your body in the physical reality into the physics of the MCAT or tie mental ideas to your own body to let you engage kinesthetically with that thing you’re trying to remember.
The right hand rule when thinking about magnetic fields – Think of your thumb as hitchhiking along with the current. Your fingers are the magnetic field. Palm push is the force vector coming out at a right angle from your hand. Hold your hand in front of you and connect those ideas kinesthetically in how your hand moves around to better remember it.
- The Actual Content of the Mnemonic
Make your own mnemonics that fit with your style.
Make it outrageous, naughty, or personal, or all three. We remember emotional connections and personal things.
Build a mnemonic out of your friends, family, personal events, favorite movie, something that’s more likely to stick with you than someone else’s mnemonic.
How much should you rely on mnemonics?
Find your own best approach. Don’t go to mnemonics as the first line of attack but as a second line of defense.
Share with your friends.
Making your own is the best but when it comes to mnemonics, the more the merrier. Share with friends, borrow them, and share them online to make sure you have all that analogy at your fingertips on test day.
Links and Other Resources:
Dr. Ryan Gray: The MCAT Podcast, session number 14.
A collaboration between the Medical School Headquarters and Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep), The MCAT Podcast is here to make sure you have the information you need to succeed on your MCAT test day. We all know that the MCAT is one of the biggest hurdles on your premed journey, and this podcast will give you the motivation and information you need to know to help you get the score you deserve so you can one day call yourself a physician.
Welcome back to The MCAT Podcast, it’s great to have you here. I am your host, Dr. Ryan Gray. If this is the first time listening to one of The MCAT Podcast podcasts, you should know that we have many other podcasts as well. You can check them all out at www.MedEdMedia.com. That’s www.MedEdMedia.com.
As we are recording this one here, or releasing this one, The Premed Years which is the longest running podcast that we have has been out almost four years now. So if you don’t listen to that one, I highly recommend you do.
Alright MCAT stuff, let’s talk about it. So we’ve been covering a lot of tips and tricks, and different ways to think about the test prep, and should you use tutoring, or a course, and what books you should get, and what about study groups? Today we’re going to dig a little bit more into content and talk about mnemonics. Let’s jump in and say hi to Bryan.
So Bryan, today we’re going to talk about mnemonics. Now making mnemonics is hard, spelling mnemonic is even harder I think, but I heard you are the expert mnemonic man.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah maybe not in spelling it, but obviously in my many years of working with MCAT students I have heard and helped create a bunch of mnemonics for students to help them memorize all the tons and tons of stuff that’s out there. So first and most importantly, let’s dispel one huge myth, myth about mnemonics.
Dr. Ryan Gray: It’s hard to pronounce, too.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah there you go. So the myth is that everybody thinks of a mnemonic as, ‘Oh you just like make a sentence with the first letter of all the things you’re trying to memorize, and then that’s what a mnemonic is.’ And you think back to elementary school learning the planets, and you had that sentence ‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas,’ and then we had to go and make Pluto not a planet anymore, so now the pizza doesn’t work and you’re like, ‘Wait okay so My Very Educated Mother- Mercury, Mars, Venus-‘ you know like and you kind of stumble over it if you don’t actually remember it.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Yeah.
Bryan Schnedeker: So those mnemonics certainly work, right? You can make- you can make mnemonics like that for science facts, right? And the one example I always use is the sentence King Philip Comes Over For Good Sex. That’s Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species to memorize the kind of Linnaean Tree of Life, although now we would have to add Domain to the beginning of that. And so those certainly work. The mistake though that people make is thinking that’s where mnemonics end, and the reality of course is that in anything in education, and mnemonics are no exception, you really have to engage yourself in the modality of learning that works for you; auditory, visual, kinesthetic. So I’ll give you an example of what I mean. So first something auditory. That would be like the one I just said, so something- like a sentence you can say out loud so it plugs into that auditory system. An example there might be to remember the diatomic gases. Right? The gases that are diatomic in the standard state. The mnemonic I use for that is Have No Fear Of Ice Cold Beer, and it’s kind of jingly and rhymes, it’s got a real auditory pop to it. So Have No Fear- hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine. Of Ice Cold Beer- ‘I’ for iodine, ‘CL’ for cold for chlorine, Beer, BR for bromine. Right a good auditory mnemonic in the classic sense. But you could also make a visual mnemonic, right? You could look at the Periodic Table and see how the diatomic gases form a kind of ‘L’ shape with the halogen group, and then with oxygen and nitrogen. So if you can kind of visually remember the mnemonic, then that will stick much better for somebody who’s more of a visual learner. So you want to think of ways to engage visually with something memorable rather than just something auditory. And then finally kinesthetic, this is the one people tend to most often forget about when learning MCAT science content. But if you can kind of ground yourself in your body, in the physical reality of kind of the physics on the MCAT, or even think of ways to tie mental ideas to your own body, that can let you engage kinesthetically with a particular thing you’re trying to remember. Now that all sounds a little funky and a little abstract, so what I mean by that is- the classic example I use of a kinesthetic series of ideas to connect an MCAT abstract concept to your body is the right hand rule when thinking about magnetic fields. Now obviously you can’t see me because you’re listening to a podcast, but I’m already kind of holding my right hand up and thinking about how do I ground the idea in your actual right hand? And so what I say is first think of hitchhiking with your thumb. Right, back in the sixties when it was safe to hitchhike people would stick their thumb out, ‘I’m going that way, going to San Francisco,’ right? So your thumb points in a given direction, ‘I’m hitchhiking that way.’ So when you hold your hand out to do the right hand rule to figure out the relationship between force electric field and magnetic field, you hold your hand in a rigid ‘L’ shape with your fingers being the top part of the ‘L’ and your thumb being the bottom part of the ‘L,’ and your thumb points in the direction you want to go. So that’s the velocity factor, right? The direction of the current, the direction that the charge is moving. Think of your thumb as hitchhiking along the current. Then you’ve got your fingers, right? So your fingers are the magnetic field. When you draw a field you draw all of these kind of loopy lines for a field, so multiple lines, multiple fingers, your fingers are the field. So you hold your hand out, you see your thumb there pointing in the direction you want to go, you see your fingers waggling back and forth in front of you, that’s the field. And then palm push, right? So you think of your palm as pushing against something, and that’s the force factor coming at it a right angle from your hand. So fingers, field, palm, push, thumb hitchhiking along with the current. If you kind of hold your hand out in front of you and just try to connect those ideas kinesthetically to your body and how your hand moves around, you’ll be much more likely to remember it than just trying to remember it as a drawing on a page or something abstract.
Making Mnemonics Personal
Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting. There’s- for making flashcards there’s a theory out there that says you shouldn’t just take somebody else’s flashcards, that you should make your own flashcards, and it’s really the creation of the flashcards that’s solidifying information in your head. Do you think people should try to make their own mnemonics that fit with their thinking, and their- just style?
Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely, and Ryan that’s the second half of the equation. So the first half was what I was talking about, the modality of the mnemonic; visual, auditory, kinesthetic. The second is the actual content of the mnemonic, and I usually say that you want mnemonics to be outrageous, naughty, or personal, or all three. Because our memory is not necessarily good at really abstract facts, we remember emotional connections. We remember personal things. So if you can build a mnemonic out of your friends, out of your family, personal events, your favorite movie, that’s something that’s going to be much more likely to stick with you than someone else’s mnemonic.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Naughty, outrageous, or personal.
Bryan Schnedeker: Or all three.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Or all three. Oh I’ve got an awesome- an awesome- I don’t know, what would you call that? Anyway, I have a cool thing that I’m going to make for that.
Bryan Schnedeker: Okay.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. Alright so how much should students rely on mnemonics?
Bryan Schnedeker: There- it depends on the student, right? You hear me say that an awful lot in this podcast because it’s always true, right? Everybody learns differently so everybody has to find their own best approach. I will say with my own tutoring students, I don’t usually go to mnemonics as the first line of attack because as a good science student you’re already quite good at memorizing things. But typically I like to go to them very quickly as a second line of defense. So if you’re doing your MCAT prep, and you’re studying, and then you take some practice, then you realize, ‘Oh I didn’t remember this at all.’ You go back and you review your notes, and it occurs to you- ‘look this is just not going to stick. I don’t- for whatever reason, this fact or these series of facts don’t slot in well into my brain, they don’t fit well in my brain. Well I’m going to just have to make a mnemonic, I’m going to have to transform this knowledge into something that does fit really well in my brain, and then I’ll remember it.’
Dr. Ryan Gray: I like it. One of the ones that still is in my head from medical school is Randy Travis Drinks Cold Beer, and that’s the mnemonic for the brachial plexus, and how all of that works.
Bryan Schnedeker: Yeah, there you go. One of my favorite medical ones is Same Dave, right? For sympathetic, afferent, motor, efferent, dorsal, afferent, ventral, efferent for the spinal column.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting. We might have to come up with an awesome list of mnemonics and maybe have students contribute to a mnemonics list for everybody. That might be a good project. Alright, any other words of wisdom for students making mnemonics or thinking about mnemonics?
Bryan Schnedeker: Absolutely share with your friends, right? Even though making your own is the best, the more you’ve got- the more the merrier when it comes to mnemonics. See how many more M’s we can cram in there. The more the merrier in mnemonics. Right? Share them with your friends, borrow them, check out online so that you can make sure you have all that knowledge at your fingertips on test day.
Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright there you have it, mnemonics. So get out there and start writing down mnemonics, think about them in a way that works for you. Don’t just go out and copy other people’s mnemonics, but really as Bryan talked about, really think about the way that your brain works and how you’re going to remember things. Because a mnemonic is useless on your study day, or your test day actually, and you can’t remember. You’re like, ‘Oh I know there was this mnemonic, I just can’t remember it,’ because then you’re S.O.L. as they say.
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