Visual Mnemonics: Six Keys to a Good Visual Prompt

You can imagine "visual mnemonics" to help you remember tricky information. But _how_ you imagine can make all the difference.

When you first start imagining memory prompts, you may find that they start to fade. Why? Imagination is like any other skill: you need to get certain things right, and you probably need to practice. Take a look at this six-point checklist.

A visual mnemonic should be:

Unique Shape
The key to the rest. We remember unique shapes, like faces. Every mnemonic you imagine should have a unique shape.
Our brains are designed for real-world objects, not 2-D cartoons.
Imagine crisp details. Don’t just think “chair” — you need to /see/ this thing. Recliner, stool, office chair — what does it actually look like?
The bigger the better, because you see more detail.
Make your mnemonics well-lit. Darkness blurs detail. (All shadows look alike.)
Colors are interesting, and help make the image unique.

If your memory prompts succeed on all these points, there’s a good chance they’ll stay crisp in your memory. (As long as you review, of cours.)

Reusing mnemonics but keeping them unique

Some information is repetitive. Like months, numbers, letters of the alphabet, and battles.

You can reuse the same mnemonics for this, just as you reuse words. But you have to be careful to make them unique.

When you reuse mnemonics, they must always combine to make something unique.

You might use sword for battle many times. But each time, the sword should stab something different, for each battle, or else you’ll get mixed up. The mnemonic works because the total shape of the sword and whatever it’s stabbing is unique.

3 Replies to “Visual Mnemonics: Six Keys to a Good Visual Prompt”

  1. I remember the fact, but forget the visual mnemonic
    I memorize Bible verses, spanish words/phrases and also some computer science
    definitions/facts. I’ve got a question concerning the technique of visual mnemonics.

    I’ve noticed that after a few repetitions of a fact, I’m starting to forget the visual mnemonic. Especially when it is complicated, like in the case of Bible verses. The visualization in such a situation is a chunk of pictures rather than a whole complete “motion picture”. But I still remember the fact. Only the visualization somehow blurs.

    Do I have to memorize the visualization and repeat it thoroughly or can I just recall the content and skip the visualization? Or maybe my visualization is not as precise as it should be?

    Wojtek /pronounced voyteck 🙂 /

    1. Hi, Wojtek!

      Thanks for the
      Hi, Wojtek!

      Thanks for the note! Sounds like we have similar interests. 🙂

      In my opinion, if you remember the fact, you can forget any mnemonics. The connection has been made. Ideally, we’d _always_ forget the mnemonics, because we wouldn’t need them any more.

      For Bible verses, I’ve found that rhythm and other _oral_ techniques are much more helpful than visual mnemonics. You might like my [articles on memorizing the Bible](/category/topics/bible). I’m also working on a much more detailed book about remembering the Bible, which will come out this fall.

      On the other hand, maybe visual mnemonics work really well for you. I’d love to hear how you memorize verses.

      Thanks again,

      1. Memorizing bible verses
        My reason to memorize Bible verses is different. I memorize small Bible portions, not the whole chapters. The longest verse I’ve memorized is Flp 4,4-7. Many are just a single sentence.

        That means I cannot generally use rhyme and rhythm. Or at least from what I understand, I can’t. Besides I don’t quite grasp the whole idea of it. I can blame it on my geekiness :). And I memorize verses in Polish language, which might be less comfortable in that area. My native language has (I think) a far greater flexibility in word order. A typical compound sentence can be formulated in many ways and mean basically the same, except some emphasis or style. And it has inflection (, a lot more complicated and diverse than Spanish. Especially the last two facts made me decide to memorize the verses literally. If I wanted to memorize just the sense, I ended repeating the verse completely different each time, with synonyms instead of the actual words, which seemed like gradually floating away from the original sense. Besides I used to forget whole clauses in sentences. They sounded correct, but some information was missing.

        I’m still in experiments phase (only a few verses so far). I haven’t found my optimal technique. I’m open to suggestions.

        My technique is based on technique of memorizing ordered lists that I’ve found in one of the books by Tony Buzan. I imagine short stories, made of the most important words, including even auxiliary verbs/words (imagine that a ‘will’ in future tense might fit in almost every place of the sentence or even be a suffix to a word – that is true for some of polish auxiliary verbs or other types of grammar helper words) and conjunctions (some conjunctions do have a few meanings, and it’s good to know the exact one).

        Auxiliary verbs and other not-meaningful words are a pain, but I tried to associate them with some actions, like gestures.

        After the verse I memorize location of the verse. To memorize numbers, I use mnemonic major system, which I’ve found also in one on Tony Buzan’s books (

        Now the drawbacks. It takes me a lot of time to remember a single verse. I’m not sure I can say that visualization really works for me. That may be because of my lack of training in that field. I always hated memorizing poetry and avoided it as much as I could (I loved learning new English words, though). But it may also be because of technique and also of the assumption that I must know the exact sounding of the verse.

        From what I’ve learned so far, I must make the key words of the story somewhat more connected to each other. My first story was not continuous, it was rather a bunch of short animations representing words. And such a story has a tendency to fall apart.

        You’ve mentioned somewhere being able to memorize as much as 4 verses a day. I must repeat a verse for a few days, before I put it in Anki deck to be able to repeat it in geometrical pattern. This means something closer to memorizing 4 verses a month :). If I had more time, I think I could memorize 4 verses a week. But I also have this Spanish thing.


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