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Training and Safety Tip: Memory aids

It was an odd wallpaper choice. Every vertical surface of the dormitory was covered with Post-it notes.

Photo by Chris Rose.

Each one filled with FAR Part 91 this, and FAR Part 91 that, system notes, V-speeds, and instructor endorsements.

My CFI candidates were responsible for a lot of material, and this total immersion was one approach to stuffing all those facts and figures into their heads. In aviation there is much to learn, and quite a few things ya just gotta memorize. But what is the best way? Here are some ideas to try. Use the ones that work for you, and forget about the ones that don’t.


Mnemonics leverage the way the human mind encodes memory to increase retention and recall. There are various sorts, but three stand out in my mind. The first is the deployment of music. I bet you can still sing that A-B-C song. Somewhat related to this is the use of rhyming, and I am also sure you still know the rhythmic poem to remember how many days each month has. And lastly, although I think we have too many of these in aviation, acronyms—making a word or funky sentence out of the first letter of each item on a list—have value. A-TOMATO-FLAMES is as good a way as any to recall the equipment required for VFR flight.


Flashcards, either paper or digital, promote active recall in the brain—the pathway for retrieving memory. Basically, flashcard use helps seal neural pathways, which makes it easier to call up “stored” memories in the future. Additionally, seeing a term or an image, actively attempting to associate the relevant facts attached—and getting immediate feedback on “correct” associations—helps move information from short- to long-term memory. It really works.

Repeat writing

Just like the poor kid who had to write a disciplinary sentence on a chalkboard 100 times to “learn a lesson,” repeatedly writing items can embed the information into your brain. A distant cousin of this is reading out loud. To use this method, keep repeating information until you don’t have to look at your notes. One important caveat, though: This method works best if you translate the information you are trying to memorize into your own words first.

Of course, you can also just re-paper your walls in an aviation theme. Hey, it worked for my CFI candidates.

William E. Dubois
William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Training and Safety, Student, Flight School
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