The Evidence

Recent research about the use of art of memory techniques in the classroom has revealed significant findings. There have been several studies in the United States (Scruggs et al) and Japan (Higbee and Kunihira 1985) that have highlighted the value of mnemonics for increasing the speed of learning and improving retention, including for students with learning difficulties.


A systematic review of 20 studies exploring the effects of mnemonic interventions in schools (Wolgemuth and Cobb 2008) displays compelling evidence of the benefits of mnemonics. The majority of these studies were conducted in secondary schools with students who were identified as having a learning difficulty. A total of 669 students were included in this review.


The results of the systematic review found that students who used mnemonic techniques performed significantly better than students who did not. The p-value of the statistical analysis across all 20 studies was less than 0.05 (A p-value of less than 0.05 is an indication that the results are statistically significant.) More importantly, however, the analysis of Effect Size was an impressive 1.38. The report states that: 'This mean effect size would be considered more than “very large", according to Cohen’s (1988) rubric.'

A summary of Wolgemuth and Cobb’s results is represented in the chart below, showing students who used mnemonic techniques achieved nearly double the score of students who used traditional techniques.

Further research demonstrated that students, including secondary and college level, remembered two to three times more factual information and were able to retrieve the information over delayed recall periods and all stated they enjoyed using the memory techniques (Bakken 2011). The benefit of using mnemonics when teaching Russian (Atkinson 1975) and Spanish (Raugh 1975) vocabulary to college students has been trialed with impressive results.


A common problem, however, in many classroom trials was that not enough time was dedicated to teaching the students the techniques properly before final testing. Levin (1993) argues that teachers were the number one factor in mnemonic failure, followed by researcher failure. Adequate preparation is fundamental to the successful application of memory techniques in learning.


Atkinson, R.C., and Raugh, M.R. (1975).  An application of the mnemonic keyword method to the acquisition of a Russian vocabulary.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 104, 126-133.


Bakken, J. P., & Simpson, C. G. (2011). Mnemonic Strategies : Success for the Young-Adult Learner. The Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, 7(December), 79–86.


Higbee, K. L., & Kunihira, S. (1985). Cross-cultural applications of Yodai mnemonics in education. Educational Psychologist, 20(2), 57–64.


Levin, J. R. (1993). Mnemonic Strategies and Classroom Learning: A Twenty-Year Report Card. The Elementary School Journal, 94, 235-244.


Raugh, M. R., & Atkinson, R. C. (1975). A Mnemonic Method for Learning a Second-Language Vocabulary. Journal of Educational Psychology, 67(1), 1–16.


Wolgemuth, J. R., Cobb, R. B., & Alwell, M. (2008). The Effects of Mnemonic Interventions on Academic Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities: A Systematic Review. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 23(1), 1-10.

Art of Memory Coaching

Brisbane, Australia

© 2016 Greg Wills and Art Malak.