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Studying for NCLEX? Make it Easier with Mnemonics

Mnemonics are popular study aids to help trigger your memory of a group of things. It is similar to memorizing a phone number. Instead of memorizing each individual number - you remember a group of 3 numerals (area code), 3 numbers and a group of 4 numbers. This is called "chunking". When one thinks of a mnemonic, you usually think of a list of vertical letters that spell a word with words going off the stem horizontally.

For example: What you should quickly do with an acute myocardial infarction (MI/heart attack)?
M - morphine sulfate
O - oxygen
N - nitroglycerine
A - ASA (acetylsalicyclic acid)

In this instance, remembering the word "MONA" = MI, can help you remember all the nursing actions one should anticipate.

Mnemonics are not always words however. They can really be any words, pictures, diagrams, lyrics/songs, a rhyme, or something that forms a relationship to help you remember. Sometimes even the process of creating or thinking up a mnemonic can help you learn the underlying concept. My brain often likes to draw diagrams or models. Flowcharts or hierarchies can help me understand how things work together.

Personally, mnemonics to me have been helpful for some concepts but not all. I don't really learn well with tons of mnemonics, I just have a couple for things that are really hard for me to remember. Sometimes it seems like it is just as much work to learn the mnemonic as it would be just to memorize the information. That is why the actual process of trying to think of a drawing, picture, diagram, or acronym can actually be more useful than just using someone else's mnemonic.

Here are a few of my favorites...

The American Cancer Society uses "CAUTION" to describe cancer warning signs:

C - change in bowel or bladder habits
A - a sore that does not heal
U - unusual bleeding or discharge
T - thickening or lump
I - indigestion or difficulty swallowing
O - obvious change in size of a wart or mole
N - nagging cough or hoarseness

What are depressant drugs?
"Bats": Barbiturates, Alcohol, and Tranquilizers
You can draw a picture of a limp bat to help you remember this one...

S - Subjective
O - Objective
A - Assessment
P - Plan

There are even now some diagnoses that are acronyms/mnemonics. An example is "HELLP Syndrome" which stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelets or HELLP. HELLP syndrome is an life-threatening obstetric complication considered to be a complication of pre-eclampsia. The only treatment is delivery of the baby.

Typically the funnier a mnemonic is, the more it helps you remember. We actually made youtube videos for a couple of diagnoses in my nursing school which was hilarious and helped us remember.

Mnemonics can even be how you take notes. Most people think of notes as an outline where you try to scribble as fast as the teacher talks. However, you can take notes a couple of different ways that can help you remember the information, rather than writing down all the words.

  • If your teachers provide printed outlines: then draw pictures or diagrams of what they are talking about in the margin. This helps you use both sides of your brain and associate concepts.
  • You can fold 1/3 of your page vertically and make a crease. On the left side of the crease you can write a question that you think of while they are talking. This is called the cue column. Literally make the concept into a test question. On the right side of the crease - right the answers or key ideas. At the bottom of the page, summarize the whole idea or concept in your own sentence. Later when you look back through your notes to study, you can fold the paper and "hide" the answers from yourself. It is a lot easier to keep track of then notecards. This is called the Cornell System of notetaking. You can usually even find notepaper formatted this way to make it easy in office supply stores.

Well, hope some of these ideas helped your studying! Good luck and thanks for listening.