Trying to memorize formulas or equations?  You can use , as I’ve mentioned previously, but you’ll need to modify your methods a bit to take into account numbers and symbols.  Perhaps the best way to make the method clear is to give you a few examples.

Let’s look at the quadratic formula first.

Going from left to right, I turn the formula into a story or scene with each number and symbol represented in the story.

  • X is an x-ray man; I can see right through his skin to his skeleton.
  • He walks across a narrow bridge made of two planks–that’s the equals sign–and comes upon a log lying on the grass (the minus sign).
  • On the end of the log there sits a pregnant woman, facing away from him (that’s the letter “b”.  It reminds me of a stick-figure drawing of a seated pregnant woman, her belly being the round part of the “b”.)
  • She’s crying as she looks over the grave of her husband (the “plus/minus” symbol looks like a cross on top of a grave).
  • There is a long twisted tree in the distance–that’s the square root symbol.
  • Under the tree is another pregnant woman, but this one is smiling and pleased at the swan sitting on her knees (the b with the 2 exponent as the swan, since 2 has a swan-like shape).
  • The swan hops off her knees and onto a fallen tree branch–the minus sign.
  • It picks up a large knife (the number 4 sort of looks like a vertical knife resting on it’s handle)
  • And cuts up an apple (“a”) and a carrot (“c”) and then throws them into the lake down the slope from the tree.  I see the long bar between the numerator and the denominator of the formula as the lake shore.
  • The sliced apple lands on the back of a big black swan swimming in the lake (2a)

I try to picture this as clearly as possible using my senses and emotions.  I clearly imagine the location, the clouds above, the smell of the grass, the twisted square-root shape of the ancient oak, and the mournful tears of the pregnant dark-haired woman contemplating her husband’s fresh grave.  I can taste the apple the swan is cutting up and feel the cool wooden handle of the knife.  I hear the kerplunk of the carrot falling into the water and feel the soft feathers where the apple rests on the black swan’s back.  The more clearly I imagine the scene–as if I were actually there–the easier it will be to recall.

Yes, going through this process takes time, but if you fully imagine it you will find it unforgettable!  Unforgettable means less study for you.  It actually saves time!  The same process works for memorizing any formula or equation.

Need some more examples?  How about this monster?


[hidepost]Let’s begin with “citrate” at the top center of the circle…

  • An orange (the citrate) is riding a motorcycle around a long circular track (the circle).
  • He tries to take a drink from his water bottle but throws it away, as if it tastes bad (H2O spinning off).
  • Where the water bottle touched his mouth a big acorn-shaped cyst grows (cis-Aconitate. Aconitate reminds me of acorn; cis reminds me of cyst).
  • A bystander on the side of the track throws his water bottle back at him (H20 in)
  • And it hits him right in the eye-socket leaving a d-shaped bruise (D-isocitrate. Isocitrate looks like it begins with i-socit, or “eye socket”).
  • Suddenly, he’s dive-bombed by an angry gnat (NAD) carrying a cross (+).
  • The gnat throws the cross at him, screaming triumphantly, and flies away with his long luxurious Hair (NADH) waving in the breeze.  He pins up his hair with a big, plus-shaped hair pain (H+)

Are you getting the idea?  As I’m going through this process, from time to time I’ll review the story from the beginning, and make sure I can clearly picture everything.

If I have a hard time recalling some key detail, I’ll add to it to make it more memorable.  For example, if I can’t recall that second step, where the orange throws away the water bottle, I might imagine the bottle hitting someone near the track, bursting like a water balloon, and the orange laughing maniacally.  Now it will stick in my better.

You can use a similar method for memorizing organic chemistry structures.  Benzene, for example, can be pictured as

  • six coal-miners (C) sitting in a circle.
  • Pairs of coal miners hold hands–that’s the double bond,
  • and are connected to the other pairs by a rope tied to their belts–that’s the single bond.
  • Each coal miner has a small football goal post mounted on top of his miner’s helmet–that’s the H.

You can also come up with a single symbol to represent benzene, how about a round diving bell. That can then be combined with other symbols to make more complex organic compounds.

Toluene, for example, is a benzene molecule connected to a methane molecule.  Methane makes me think of pigs because pig dung is used to produce methane for energy.  To memorize the toluene components I might imagine a toll-booth (toluene) with a diving bell stopped in front of it to pay the toll.  The diving bell is being pulled by a pig.  Weird?  Yes.  Memorable?  Definitely.

Try this method out.  I used it all through grad school and it enabled me to memorize long, complex formulas, lists, processes, and even entire course outlines!  Just like anything else, it’s a skill that takes practice, but even a novice will save time with this method.  It just requires so much less review to get it to stick in your .

Remember, make the mnemonic story as detailed as possible.  It’s counter-intuitive, but more details make it easier to recall!  Make sure to add in emotion and as many different senses as possible.  You’ll amaze your professors and classmates.[/hidepost]

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