Memory Tricks Can Make Schoolwork Easier: Similiarities, the Link, and the Keyword Method

Study Tip #4

Outline on Memory Tricks
1. Using similarities to make associations.
2. The link method.
3. Guidelines to making associations.
4. A brief example of the keyword method.
5. The keyword method step by step.
6. An example of using the keyword method.
7. When to use the keyword method.

Use similarities to make associations.
You can remember any new piece of information if you can associate it to something that you already know. So when you want to remember new information, try to find something you already know that is similar to it.

You can use something similar about the words or the letters in the words or something in real life. Make yourself stop and think about that relationship. Your purpose is to recall the new item by thinking first of the familiar item that it resembles. You can also use opposites.
Here are three examples:

1. "Mrs. Harris goes to Paris." The rhyme makes the words similar.

2. "The capital city of the state of Maine is Augusta." Augusta resembles the month of August, a hot summer month. But that is opposite to cold wintry Maine. An easy association.

3. You can spell the word "piece" by thinking "a piece of pie." Two similar spellings.

The Link Method
Students often need to learn lists of items. So use the Link method to make a way to recall a whole series of facts that you might forget if you studied them separately.

The Link method takes items and converts them into mental pictures and links the picture of each item into a common picture with another item. It often uses ridiculous pictures. So when you see a picture of the first item, it is automatically in the same picture as the next item, and you recall both.

Here is an example of a list. It uses several study methods from another study tip. Suppose you want to recall (1) the spaced study method, (2) warming up your mind, (3) marking your book, and (4) self-testing.

First, spaced studying: Make a silly picture that reminds you of it. How about seeing yourself throw books all around the room? That spaces them.

Second, warming up your mind: Make a picture that reminds you of it, too. How about seeing a match held under a picture of a brain?

Third, now link the spaced books and the warmed-up brain. For example, make your image of throwing books focus on throwing one book at the brain and the lighted match.

Fourth, marking your book: Make a picture of marking your book that's linked to the match and the warmed up brain. That's easy. Picture the warm brain sticking out a hand that holds a pencil and that marks one of the spaced books.

Fifth, self-tests: Link a picture representing a self-test to the marked book. I can make a short mental movie of me seeing a multiple-choice test question and then sneaking an illegal look at my marked book to find the answer. (The fact that cheating is illegal and dangerous makes you remember the image.)

Guidelines to making associations:

  • Substitute one part of the first object for a part of the second object. To link fertilizer to petroleum, you could imagine a hand holding a gas can and pouring out fertilizer, not gas.
  • Make things out of proportion. Make little things big, big things little. For example, you can remember that the link method causes memory by imagining a person with a gigantic brain that is wrapped around with chain links.
  • Exaggerate the numbers involved or the sizes involved. For example, link lemons to vitamin C by imagining a lemon, cut open, with vast seas (C's) inside with with lots of letter C's swimming in them.
  • Put action in your associations. You can remember that saltwater is a cure for heat exhaustion by picturing yourself pouring a waterfall of salt water over a prone person and seeing the person stand up healthy.

(*Many of the ideas on links and associations come from The Memory Book, by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas. Paperback. Good.)


The keyword method is a way to memorize a new word and its definition by making a mental image of each one and then blending the two images into one picture. Here is an overview of using it to memorize French words: "le chien" means a dog. First, the sound of "chien" is like shin, the front and bottom part of our legs. Next, make a picture of your "shin" and put a dog biting your leg in the same picture. Presto! New word and definition are linked. Later if you want to recall either one, you think of your image and figure out what you want.

This is a very powerful technique. Researchers recommend it. Even people with bad memories can remember things with it.

The Keyword Method Step by Step
1. Understand what the new word means. Do it clearly and fully because your understanding is important. Use good ways of understanding, such as making visual images of the meaning, talking to yourself about what it means, and thinking how it feels.

2. Take the new word and choose a keyword that rhymes with it. Choose one that you can think of naturally. It is often enough to have it rhyme only partly with the new word. For example, you might take "melancholy" (which means depressed) and use "melon" as a keyword. Always choose rhymes, bad puns, similar sounds.

3. Make a vivid mental image of the keyword. (Don't make a mental image of the original word.) Here's how to make the image vivid: Put in color, shape, one or two details, sounds, physical feelings, movement, or any combination of the above.

4. Now turn to the definition and also make a vivid mental image of it.

5. Now make an interactive image out of the two images. The purpose is to make such an integrated image that when you think of one image you see the other.
Here's how to make an interactive image: Put the two images in the same unified picture. Make them relate to each other. For example, the things in one image could touch or hit the other. One image could be put inside the second, one on top of the other, or one a part of the other.

6. Now you test if your images will work. Start with the original word again. Practice thinking of the keyword next, then the keyword's image, then the interactive image, then picking out the image of the definition and translating the picture of the definition into the words of the definition. Continue until it's easy. At this stage you may notice problems. Improve your images if you need to.

7. Now make a backward test. Start with the definition. Practice thinking from the definition in words through the images back to the original word. Practice until it is easy.

An Example of Using the Keyword Method
Suppose you need to learn that "der Steg" (a German word) means a footpath.

1. Study both the German and English until you clearly understand the meaning of the words. Get the pronunciation correct. Don't skip this step.

2. Choose a keyword. For example, "steak" sounds close enough to "Steg".

3. Make a picture in your mind of some nice, red, raw, juicy, dinner steaks.

4. Make a picture of a footpath. You could think of one shaded by branches with two children walking along it.

5. Fuse the two images into one. For example, imagine that the children throw several steaks onto the dusty path.

6. Do forward practice. "Der Steg", the word "steak", picture of steak, picture of path, picture of children throwing steaks onto path.

7. Do backward practice.  The word "footpath", picture of path, picture of children throwing steaks onto path, focus on steak, word "steak", word "Steg".

When to Use the Keyword Method
When you need to learn new vocabulary words that you would find hard to remember naturally, think of the keyword method. It is good for learning foreign vocabulary and for scientific and technical words.