How to Remember Dates for a Test - Memorization

Numbers inside silhouette profile of person's head
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Dates are often difficult to remember because they seem so random and obscure unless we can relate them to something specific.

For instance, the American Civil War started in 1861, but unless you have a strong interest in the specific timeline of the war, there is nothing special about the starting date that separates that date from any other. What makes 1861 stand apart from 1863 or 1851? Sometimes it can be as simple as leaving off the first two digits. If you are studying a particular time period, you already know what century in which the events take place. Even though it might not seem like it, breaking it down to just two numbers can make memorization much easier. You can associate those numbers with something like the number of a favorite athlete. If that doesn’t work, there are a few other tricks.

When trying to memorize a date, students can really benefit from a mnemonic system (memory technique) to help them recall the right numbers in the right order.

For memorizing dates it might be helpful to borrow a practice from the London Cockneys.

A Cockney is an inhabitant of the East End of London, England. Cockneys have an old tradition of using rhyming slang as a secret language, of sorts. The tradition originated centuries ago, and it was used by London's thieves, traders, entertainers, and other members from the lower strata of society.

In Cockney slang, Can you believe it? becomes Can you Adam and Eve it?

More examples:

  • Whistle and flute = suit
  • White mice = ice
  • Tom Hanks = thanks
  • Trouble and strife = wife

Remembering Dates

We can use the same method to remember dates. Simply think of a term that rhymes with your date. Make sure your rhyme is a little silly and that it paints a strong picture in your head.

You can leave off the century, so that 1861, the starting date for the Civil War, becomes 61.


  • 61 = Sticky gun

Imagine a Civil War soldier struggling with a gun that has been covered with honey. It may sound silly, but it works!

More Examples:

1773 was the date of the Boston Tea Party. To remember this, you could think:

  • 73 = Heavenly tea

You can just picture protesters sipping lovely cups of tea right before tossing them in the water.

1783 marks the end of the Revolutionary War.

  • 83 = Ladies' bee

For this image, think of several women sitting on a quilt and celebrating by stitching a red, white and blue quilt.

The most important element of this method is to come up with a great, amusing image. The funnier it is, the more memorable it will be. If possible, come up with a little story to connect all your mental images.

If you have trouble coming up with a rhyme or have a lot of connected information to remember, you could set the information to a song. If you are musically inclined, you could make up your own song. More often it is easier to replace the words to a song you already know well.