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Dear Mitch,

There's only a week to go before the SAT! YIKES!!!

A couple of weeks ago when some lady wrote in about her grandson who had thousands of cards with words to study for the test, you mentioned the word "mnemonics", which I already knew about. You once wrote about how there are all kinds of books with mnemonics for the test, even picture books to help, but you said that soon you would tell how to make up your own mnemonics for words that you can't find in a book or for words where their word trick isn't working for you. I think you also said that mnemonics that kids make up for themselves are the ones they remember the best.

So now it's the final week, so could you explain it now, because I don't get how to make them up by myself (for most of them, and a few do come to me pretty easy).

Thank you very much,



Dear Franklin,


And since each minute is probably more valuable to you from now until the test than you can ever remember it being, I'm going to try to keep my response as short as I can while managing to squeeze in as many SAT vocabulary words as I can. So, here is my short, LACONIC, PITHY, and SUCCINCT response:


With just days to go, I am LOATH to be DEROGATORY about any particular method of studying words, because I would ABHOR the idea of DEFLATING some reader's confidence in what might be his or her current approach, and which may, when followed METICULOUSLY, prove FRUITFUL for ADHERENTS to similar REGIMES. Still, I would be REMISS if I didn't CURTAIL this TANGENT to devote appropriate space to the answer I feel your question deserves. This time, however, without DEPRECATING or EVISCERATING other 'methods', as I did recently, I will present my thoughts in an UNADULTERATED form. (Criticizing other well-known methods and their PROPONENTS has previously made me into a PARIAH of sorts -- though, fortunately, the field of education is REPLETE with BENEVOLENT folks who have a PROPENSITY to forgive with welcome ALACRITY. NOW:

The use of mnemonics will keep you in good STEAD for the upcoming exam, even if you do have to make choices and use this system in LIEU of one that you have been ZEALOUSLY practicing. Be COGNIZANT of the fact that a system that works a little may be one that is DETRIMENTAL to anyone with a LEVIATHAN of word-cards that needs to be moving toward a more LILLIPUTIAN state -- if you'll allow me the literary ALLUSION.

Immediately, ALTER your method to one that is worthy of being set upon an ALTAR.

Enough LOQUACIOUSNESS, FRIVOLITY and WAN LEVITY; it's LAME. Here is my more LIMPID approach:

Mnemonics are word tricks to help your memory find what it has buried; it is a way to access knowledge that you 'kind of know', but do not yet know as a PUNDIT would, you may be more AKIN to a NOVICE in LITERARY ENDEAVORS.

And so you begin to practice the technique of creating your own by making ones up for people's names to either help you remember them or pretend that you need to do so.

EXAMPLE: Look through a magazine. Spot a photo of a man. Imagine you meet him at a party and he introduces himself as 'BOB'. Worried you might not recall his name later when you need to be nice because you accidently crashed into his car in the driveway, you spend a moment watching his head as he shakes your hand, and you say to yourself, "Look at how his head bobs up and down... Bob's head bobs..." It does not matter if it is true; what matters is that you can envision it to be the case, so that the next time you come in CONTACT with him in the parking lot, you can see his head bobbing up and down in your imagination, and hopefully it is not from the impact of the crash.

Look at a woman's picture in the magazine. Tell yourself her name is "Stacey". As you imagine shaking her hand and introducing yourself, reflect on how she manages to STAY still while you shake hands, she STAYS to SEE you while you introduce yourself. The next time you see her, note to yourself how STACEY STAYS-to-SEE.

Oh, look, there's MIKE! Shake hands with MIKE and imagine MIKE grabbing the MICrophone from you or anyone else, as he's a real ham. MIKE loves to talk into a MICROPHONE. Imagine how he'd look doing that, and I bet the next time you see him you will require less than a second to see him grabbing some imaginary microphone to jump up on stage and begin his routine. Oh, that MIKE!

Now, one example from the world of SAT words:


The word LACONIC was one of the most popular of all SAT vocabulary words for several years in a row, and my guess is it is soon to make a comeback. It means BRIEF, as in a short speech. A laconic speaker does not repeat himself in the course of a speech.

Here goes:

About two or three decades ago, many – if not most -- of the bestselling books on the New York Times Book Review's list were "diet books". That means they were written by people who had discovered some new way for others to eat whatever they wanted, and consume such food by the truckload, and lose whatever number of pounds they desired. (Pardon me for being FLIPPANT, but that's how I sort of recall the trend.)


Most of the books had a gimmick in them, so that the writer could easily get himself on talk shows, etc., to discuss his bizarre idea. One book said you could eat all you want whenever you want, as long as you ate every meal standing on your head and wearing no clothing. Well, that limited the length of meals a person was willing to enjoy in a crowded restaurant or cafeteria. It also made digestion such a challenge that you felt better eating nothing. If memory serves me, the diet worked. Though, sadly, it also caused a number of arrests.

Also: A very high percentage of these diets seemed to originate in California. Specifically, Los Angeles, which most people refer to as L.A.

One such diet said that a person could eat all the ice cream he or she desired, as long as each scoop was placed on a miniature cone. (I guess the presumption was that such tiny cones were hard to find in stores, so the consumption of ice cream became inconvenient.)


In LA-the-CONES-were-BRIEF.


Indeed, la-conic = brief.

Try it.

(The mnemonic, not the diet.)

Hope this helps,