Acrostics, Acronyms, Analogies & Mnemonics

These 4 methods are often confused, but I don’t actually think this is an issue as long as the method is right for you. But for the purposes of these study materials we will go through the differences and specifics of each. All four of these methods condense information into something that is memorable, which could be; letters, poems, text or images (in the case of visual analogies). The key is to ensure the condensing method you use is one that can be easily recalled. Therefore, try a variety of methods and see which one(s) work best for you. You could also look online as many people post ones that work for them. 


An acrostic is an invented sequence of letters that helps you remember a poem or other text. The first letter gives you the clue to the information you need to remember or recall. The best way to explain this is to show you some examples.

Example 1 – to memorise the planets:

Sometimes its noodles, sometimes its nacho's but you get the picture.

More appropriately for pensions then:

Just remember, you are just taking the first letter of the word and making a rhyme or poem out of it.


An acronym is an invented combination of letters, which is pronounced as single word. Each letter is a cue or suggestion to the item you need to remember. In pensions there are many, and many have become their own versions of the same acronym e.g.  CETV, SIP or SIPP etc - look here for a fuller list of most of them:

Acronyms can often be confused with initialism in which words are shortened to their starting letters – for example DVD or FBI. But as I said before it doesn’t really matter what you call it as long as it works for you!


Analogies are comparisons between unlike things that have some particular things in common. Examples would include: 

  • the human eye is like a camera
  • a heart is like a pump
  • sound waves are like the circular ripples that spread from a stone dropped in water

Analogies often begin with such phrases as: “It’s just like…” “It’s the same as…” “Think of it as…”  Analogies enhance and enliven descriptions, express thoughts and ideas more clearly and precisely and help connect new concepts to things that are already familiar.

  • A trustee board is like a board of directors..
  • A pensions fund is like a savings account..

I realise it is a little more difficult in the financial services sector to develop appropriate analogies, but its not impossible. 


Mnemonics are techniques for remembering information that is otherwise quite difficult to recall. A very simple example is the ‘30 days hath September’ rhyme for remembering the number of days in each calendar month.  

A lot of the information we need to remember and recall is in the form of printed or written words. This can often be difficult to encode and remember when compared to other stimuli such as; images, colours, sounds, touch, emotions and language. The three fundamental principles that underlie mnemonics are: 

  • imagination
  • association
  • location

If you can use and apply a combination of these three principles you can create a powerful study system. So, lets have a look at each of these three elements in greater detail.


This is what you use to create and strengthen the associations needed to create effective mnemonics that are potent for you. The more strongly you imagine and visualise a situation, the more effectively it will stick in your mind for later recall. The imagery you use in your mnemonics can be as vivid as you like, as long as it helps you to remember. 


This is the method by which you link a thing to be remembered to a way of remembering it. You can create associations by: 

  • Placing things on top of each other.
  • Crashing things together.
  • Merging images together.
  • Wrapping them around each other.
  • Rotating them around each other or having them dancing together.
  • Linking them using the same colour, smell, shape, or feeling.
  • Location

This gives you two things; a coherent context into which you can place information so that it hangs together, as well as a way of separating one mnemonic from another. For example setting one mnemonic in a particular town can separate it from a similar mnemonic set in a city. You can build the atmosphere of these places into your mnemonics to strengthen the feeling and clarity of each location.

The Memory Palace

It seems to be appropriate here to discuss a 'new' concept in learning (even though the memory palace is a device that has been used since the time of the ancient Greeks), to help encode their memories for easy retrieval. This was a time before smart devices; if you wanted information at your fingertips you had to put that information in your head. You’d do it through a process the modern memory athletes call elaborative encoding.

The general idea with most memory techniques is to change whatever boring thing is being inputted into your memory into something that is so colourful, so exciting, and so different from anything you’ve seen before that you can’t possibly forget it

The memory palace technique is about changing your memories into images placed in a familiar mental location. The idea is that you can mentally walk through your Palace looking at your memories to recall them.

They can be big or small, indoors or outdoors, real or imaginary, so long as there’s some semblance of order that links one locus to the next, and so long as they are intimately familiar

The idea is to give your memories something to hang on to. We are pretty terrible at remembering things, especially when these memories float freely in our head. But our spatial memory is actually pretty decent and when we give our memories some needed structure, we provide that missing order and context. Creating a multi-sensory experience in your head is the other part of the trick.

Now, it’s very important to try to remember this image multisensorily.

The more associative hooks a new piece of information has, the more securely it gets embedded into the network of things you already know, and the more likely it is to remain in memory

Try to animate your image so that you watch it move. Try to think of what it might smell like or feel like and make it as vivid as possible. This is you processing your image. 

Let’s look at a specific example to illustrate why this works.

Say your memory palace is your home. Take a moment to conjure images and memories of that place. We are going to stick to the outside of the house. 

Mentally walk from the road to your front door, try to remember as many details as possible.

Let’s imagine that your partner has asked you to pick up some dog food from the supermarket on your way home.  Now put the dog food, exactly how it looked in the supermarket outside of your front door.

Got it?

Okay, now lets try to turn the dog food into something more memorable. 

How about a large dog, a Great Dane, sitting on your front porch, not like a Great Dane would, but like a person would. Let’s make them exaggeratedly chewing, but we’ll make it bubble gum instead of bone. Now the Great Dane is periodically blowing gigantic bubbles, so big that you’re worried they might pop. Maybe think about what that bubble gum would smell like or the strange smell of a mixture of bubble gum and dog. What would the dog’s skin feel like? What would it feel like to have to pick bubble gum off of the dog’s face?

Four hours from now when you leave work to head home you’ll remember you had to pick something up from the supermarket. 

When you take a trip to your memory palace, walk up the road to your home and gaze at your front door. What do you think you are more likely to remember? 

The dog food that you see all the time or the gum chewing Great Dane we created?

A professional memory athlete will put objects in multiple places within their palaces and have more than one palace in their repertoire. Some will even design their own fictional palaces in great detail, designed specifically as a place to hang memories.

The Memory Palace is a great way to recall a variety of things, but you will still hit a hard ceiling, and that ceiling conflicts with the Herculean amount of numbers some memory competitors can remember.