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Nursing Mnemonics: Tips & Resources for Succeeding in Nursing School

Recognize the phrase “Please excuse my dear aunt sally”? Or does “Roy G. Biv” ring a bell? While most of us may not personally know Aunt Sally or Roy, you may recall that both of these phrases were taught to us in school at some point. Whether it was to remember the mathematical order of operations or the color sequences in the rainbow, a lot of these whacky phrases were taught to us years ago. So why do we still remember them now?

Well, they’re called mnemonics. Mnemonics have been used since 447 BC1 and, since then, have been taught in schools to cover various topics for students of all ages. Mnemonics help us remember information for the long term. While mnemonics are first (unknowingly) introduced to us in grade school, they prove to be especially helpful to students in nursing school and for other up-and-coming healthcare professionals.

Nursing Mnemonics Explained

Nursing mnemonics are handy memory tools for nurses and student nurses. Mnemonics assist nurses in recalling important information such as specific medications, drug facts, medical processes, symptoms for illnesses, or even medical techniques.

Mnemonics for nurses are designed to be memorable and typically range anywhere from an abbreviation, acronym, rhyme, sound, video, story, or picture. Picture mnemonics are one example of a research-proven study aid for memory retention and recall.

Memory Science and How it Will Help In Nursing School (and on the NCLEX)

Memory science isn’t as complex as you might think. While you can shuffle through plenty of nursing study cards, mnemonics can be used as an effective study tool for quizzes or exams like the NCLEX.

Memories are formed through a three-step process2: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding processes how the information is received and understood, storage is how the memory is stored, and retrieval is how the information is recalled when needed. The thing is, storing information varies from short-term or long-term memory depending on how the information is processed.

Rereading your nursing notes or cheat sheet before an exam might be your go-to study method, but it’s not always an effective way of retaining information long-term. While repetition may aid in preparation for an assessment or course, repetition only permits information to be stashed in your short-term memory.

Nursing mnemonics, however, will make information stand out for long-term use, allowing concepts to be recalled throughout your time as a nursing student and as a practicing nurse. There are three memory phenomena, in particular, that may help you recall material for the NCLEX or any other exam you’re studying for.

  • Picture-superiority effect: You’re more likely to remember an image than a word.
  • Von Restorff effect: You’ll remember if something stands out as unique or different.
  • Dual coding theory: When text and images are paired together, they activate different pathways in the brain and form one powerful memory.

Picture mnemonics for nursing students improve the learning process through these phenomena so you can master and memorize subjects for nursing school.

10 Acronyms Used By Nurses to Remember Steps of Various Assessments

There are tons of mnemonic acronyms for nursing school out there! Here are a handful of acronyms that are commonly used by nurses.

SAMPLE is an acronym to remember questions to assess a patient and stands for: 

  • Symptoms
  • Allergy
  • Medicine
  • Past medical history
  • Last oral intake
  • Events leading up to the injury or illness

To remember the steps to treating a fracture, think of PRICE:

  • Pressure
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

To recall the signs of a stroke, think FAST:

  • Face
  • Arms
  • Speech
  • Time

CATS (no, not the musical) can help you remember hypocalcemia symptoms:

  • Convulsions
  • Arrhythmias
  • Tetany
  • Spasms and Stridor

Remember BATTED to determine if a patient can care for themselves: 

  • Bathing
  • Ambulation
  • Toileting
  • Transfers
  • Eating
  • Dressing

To determine a patient’s level of consciousness, use the AVPU scale:

  • Alert
  • Verbal stimuli response
  • Pain response
  • Unresponsive

For emergency assessment, sing your ABCs! ABCDE stands for:

  • Airway
  • Breathing
  • Circulation
  • Disability
  • Exposure

TDCI is an acronym for These Drugs Can Interact:

  • Theophylline
  • Dilantin
  • Coumadin
  • Ilosone

You can LEAN on these drugs for emergency care:

  • Lidocaine
  • Epinephrine
  • Atropine Sulfate
  • Narcan

And last, but not least, ADPIE is a vital acronym to remember. ADPIE helps nurses recall the five steps of the nursing process. A good way to remember ADPIE is to think of “a delicious pie”. Pair this acronym with a mental picture of your favorite slice of pie to utilize dual coding. 

ADPIE stands for:

  • Assessment 
  • Diagnosis 
  • Planning 
  • Implementation 
  • Evaluation 

Review ADPIE (the nursing process) for the 2022 NCLEX.

Using Nursing Mnemonics to Pass the NCLEX the first time

If you’re studying for the 2022 NCLEX exam, mnemonics can help you pass the NCLEX on your first attempt. Use some of the acronyms listed above, or sign up for Picmonic for RNs to use as a study tool to help you pass!

For an additional prep resource, read our top three tips on how to tackle your NCLEX exam questions.  

Examples of Nursing Mnemonics: Top 10 Nursing Picmonics

If you’re on the hunt for helpful nursing mnemonics, Picmonic has created wacky characters, creative visuals, and captivating stories to cover thousands of nursing topics ranging anywhere from autonomy, physiology, medical-surgical nursing, and more. 

Experience the power of visual memory through our Top 10 Nursing Picmonics today.

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