Remember Years

When you study history, you have many years to remember. How can you memorize 4-digit years? Here are some options.

Try a flashcard first

The first option for finding a year mnemonic is: don’t. Make a flashcard, and see if the year sticks in your mind. Often, it will snap into place after a few reviews.

You should only use a year mnemonic after you’ve tried to remember it with flashcards, and the year keeps slipping your mind.

Learn 3-digit prompts as you need them

Before you keep reading, make sure you know the basic number code. We’ll use that code to build our codes for years.

Years are (usually) 3- or 4-digit numbers. You can build words for most of them easily enough. For instance, take 753 B.C., the Founding of Rome. 753 could be a clam.

I have a list of mnemonics for 000 to 999. However, memorizing a thousand year mnemonics might not be the best use of your time. You could use that list to learn prompts as you need them..

Here are some example prompts for major years.

YearMnemonic
100tissue
200Ness
300moss
400Ross
500lasso
150towels
250nails
350moles
450reels
550lilies
600jazz
700kiss
800fuzzy
900bass
650gels
750coils
850files
950bowls

But, I’m not sure this is the best way to learn years.

Group all years in the same century

If you were studying 20th century literature, you could store all your dates in the same room. For 1954, you’d only need to store the 54, not the 19.

Transform the 2-digit prompts into 3-digit promets

This may be the quickest. For instance, for 753, you take the 53 (lime), and change it so that you know it’s not only 53, but 753. Using the chart below, you would color this lime khaki (tan) and drape it with huge chains.

A color and a change for each century

Once you learn these ten colors and changes, you can make up prompts for years as you need them. Each prompt is unique: a khaki lime with chains looks different from an ordinary lime. But each prompt is also easy to figure out. (You already know that lime means 53.)

CenturyColorTransformation
1turquoisethorny
2orangenachos
3mintmoldy
4redrotten
5yellowshining
6greenglued
7khakichains
8violetfire or flowers
9bluebroken
0silversilvered

You can drop the millennium. You’ll know if you mean 753 or 1753.

“Mint” is a very light green, so you can distinguish it from “green”, a dark green (but not too dark). You can also use “magenta” for 3, if you prefer.

Don’t only use color. It’s easy for colors to “vanish.” You don’t want to be unsure what color that lime is. By using a color and changing the shape of the prompt, you’ll remember the new prompt much better.

These colors and changes aren’t random. They use the sounds of the numbers. Since 1 is T or D, the color is turquoise, and the change is thorny. The only trick was 2, but at least orange has an N. And if you splatter your prompt with nachos, the cheese is a (slightly frightening) orange. So it works out.

Don’t forget to try a flashcard first

As you can see, these various methods can be a bit tedious. They can be quite effective, though — I have a collection of years which I can look up, and it’s pretty neat. But again, try the flashcard first. Look carefully at the year as you do those first “failing” reviews. The shapes of the actual numerals may begin to stick in your mind more readily.