Math Mnemonics: Strategies, Devices & Memory Tricks

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  • 0:00 Memory Strategies
  • 0:50 Keywords & Peg Words
  • 1:47 Acronyms
  • 3:09 Songs, Poems, & Rhymes
  • 4:02 Word Associations
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Matthew Bergstresser

Matthew has a Master of Arts degree in Physics Education. He has taught high school chemistry and physics for 14 years.

Math is a subject that requires lots of equations and detailed processes to solve problems. We will go through the different types of mnemonics devices, strategies, and memory tricks that will help students remember formulas and processes.

Memory Strategies

Have you ever wondered how students can memorize all the lyrics to a song but have trouble memorizing a basic math equation or process to solve a problem? It may be due to the lack of effective techniques to help them memorize math content. Our goal as educators is to help the student learn, hopefully in a way that is fun and doesn't seem like learning. Let's go through some of the different tricks and devices that will help students remember various formulas and processes.

It's much more efficient to memorize things using memory tricks than just powering through and memorizing something by writing it one hundred times. Teach the students the memory trick or mnemonic device as you are teaching the content, and practice using it with them in various examples. You'll find that these tricks will stick with the students.

Keywords and Peg Words

A keyword is a special word that's an anchor to the content being learned. For instance, when memorizing the three's times table, we could start with:

3 × 2 is two tricycles with three wheels each. Tricycle is the key word.

3 × 3 is the first, second, and third place winners in three separate categories. First, second, and third place winners are the keywords.

It can also help to have the students get involved and come up with their own keywords. They can even draw the keywords for extra effect.

Peg words are words that rhyme with the word that needs to be memorized. An effective technique when using this strategy is to hold up a flash card with a sketch on it representing the content to be memorized while saying the peg words. For example, two × 4 eight a lion, which represents 2 × 4 = 8. Without initially explaining what peg words are about, this strategy can be more confusing than helpful for students.


Acronyms are words that are spelled using the first letters of words that comprise a sentence. A famous acronym is ''PEMDAS'' which stands for ''please excuse my dear aunt Sally.'' This is the order of operations for solving multi-step math problems.

  1. Parenthesis
  2. Exponents
  3. Multiplication
  4. Division
  5. Addition
  6. Subtraction

Another acronym is ''SOH CAH TOA,'' which represents the three trigonometric functions: sine = opposite/hypotenuse, cosine = adjacent/hypotenuse, and tangent = opposite/adjacent.

''DRY MIX'' is an acronym that can be used to help students memorize where the dependent variables and independent variables are plotted on an x-y coordinate plane. ''D'' is for the dependent variable, ''Y'' reminds students where to plot them (on the y-axis), ''M'' represents the ''manipulated'' or independent variable, and the ''X'' tells the students where to plot it (on the x-axis).

In ''GUESS,'' the letters represent the order of the problem solving steps: given (extract the given), unknown (identify the unknown or what you are being asked to determine), equations (gather the appropriate equations required to solve the problem), substitute (substitute the given values in for the variables in the equations), and solve.

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