You might already use mnemonic techniques in your life. If you have five things to get at the grocery store: sugar, tea, apples, rice and soup, you might create and visualize STARS remember your list. In classrooms, mnemonics is a memory enhancing instructional strategy that involves teaching students to
link new information that is taught to information they already know.

Detail of elementary school art class

Mnemonic devices are patterns of letters, sounds, or associated ideas that aid people in remembering information. Keyword, pegword, and letter strategies were the mnemonic devices used in the studies included in this meta-analysis.

These mnemonic techniques use acoustically linked proxy words to connect two pieces of information. For example, students were given the keyword “rainy day” and told to think of a frog sitting in the rain to remember that the scientific classification for common frogs is ranidae.

The following are some examples:

SPORE – To help me understand stories that I read

  • Setting
  • Problem
  • Order of action
  • Resolution
  • End

BRAVE – To overcome nervousness when taking a test

  • Breathe deeply
  • Relax
  • Attitude is everything
  • Visualize yourself in your favorite place
  • End is in sight

At the Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism website, they cited the PIRATE strategy as an effective test taking strategy:

The following is taken from the TARGET: Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching.


The test-taking strategy known as PIRATES can be used to improve the test test-taking skills of children and youth with autism.


PIRATES was originally developed to teach test-taking skills to children and youth with learning disabilities and those at risk for learning problems at the Center for Research and Learning.

The Test-Taking Strategy Instructor’s Manual is used to provide the test- taking instruction. The manual contains scripted lessons organized into eight instructional stages (i.e., pretest, describe, model, verbal practice, controlled practice, advanced practice, posttest, generalization). Each instructional stage includes a description of lesson goals and materials needed for the lessons (e.g., cue cards, score sheets, progress charts). The manual also includes scoring instructions, evaluation guidelines, and instructional suggestions for teachers. The instructional materials were developed to be used with secondary students with disabilities who read on at least the fourth-grade level.

STEPS: The steps of the strategy are:

  1. Pretest. A pretest to determine student knowledge level is administered.
  2. Describing the strategy. The components of the strategy, its purpose, benefits and expectations are identified.
  3. Modeling. The students are shown how the strategy can be used with a sample test.
  4. Verbal practice. The students learn the mnemonics and what they stand for. In addition, they engage in rapid-fire practice to memorize the steps.
  5. Controlled practice. The students practice taking test using the strategy under controlled conditions. Feedback is provided.
  6. Advanced practice. The students use the strategy on a test that they had previously taken. 7. Posttest. The students are administered posttests on the strategy.
  7. Generalization. Students use the strategy with actual tests.


Brief Example

Three seventh grade students with high functioning AU participated in group instruction to improve their test taking skills. Their resource room teacher taught the PIRATES strategy over four 50-minute weekly sessions. Students then participated in controlled practice until they scored 90% on one controlled test. Then they were administered recently completed tests until they achieved 85% accuracy. Following this stage the students took a posttest and then used the strategy in their general education and resource room classes. All of the students’ test grades improved over a nine-week period.

Tips for Modifications

The instructional procedures are subject to change according to the dynamics of the group and participants’ skill levels. For instance, if the group needs more practice, the teacher can provide additional instruction in small groups. Generalization improves if students are given prompts and supports to use the writing strategy across academic subjects.


PIRATES uses the strategic instruction model developed by the Center for Research on Learning. This generic test-taking strategy can help students improve their grades across course subjects.

By Lisa Rogers

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