How to Create CPNE® Mnemonics to Recall Critical Elements


Studying mnemonics always renders testers successful!

When it comes to the CPNE®® there is a lot of information to know so it helps to use some memory tricks to make the learning process more manageable. A mnemonic is a memory aid that creates association between elements on a list. For the CPNE®®, your “lists” you need to know are the critical elements that are outlined for you in your EC study guide. These critical elements could be regarding your lab simulation stations, your assessments, managements, or even care plans.

To best use mnemonics, it is helpful to know the history behind them. [The word mnemonic comes from a Greek word mnemonikos which means “of memory” and was in relation to the Greek Goddess of memory Mnemosyne in Greek mythology.] Mnemonics help to encode difficult to remember information in an easier manner because our brains are complex and work in code to interpret stimuli. Stimuli can be images, colors, sounds, touch, taste, smells, emotions, and language.

Did you know that we have two different types of memory? We have a natural memory that is inborn and used for everyday living and then we have an artificial memory that is trained through learning and a practice of a variety of mnemonic techniques. You must decide what works best for you. Do you need organization and order? Do you need visual association? Do you like things that rhyme?

Let’s take a look at some of the different types of mnemonics.

First Letter Mnemonics or Acronyms and Acrostics

It is important to find mnemonics that work for you and memorize them. The most obvious way to get mnemonics is to make up your own. If you invent them, it may be easier for you to remember them. A common mnemonic for remembering your critical elements consists of an easily remembered word, phrase, or rhyme whose first letters are associated with your critical elements. The first letters from each word forms a key word, or name, or sentence.

Here’s an example for a Skin Assessment during the CPNE®®.


Or cold

Hurt (numbness or pain)
Unusual color
Two areas
Stay dry



You can group critical elements together according to common characteristics. For example, all managements require an assessment then an action followed by a reassessment. Therefore, you may want to come up with a mnemonic for the assessment and then the management. Take respiratory assessment, for example. The mnemonic is UBREATHE. The mnemonic for respiratory management is UBREATHE EASIER which included the assessment UBREATHE with the management EASIER.


Upright position
Breathing Pattern
Rhythm and rate
Explain procedure get equipment (stethoscope and pillow)
Assess deep breathing and Accessory muscles
Timing-breathing pattern (tell them to breathe slow and deep)
Hear- posteriorly on skin in four locations
Evaluate O2 (if assigned)

Emesis basin
Assess breathing
Suction (if assigned)
Incentive or DB&C
Evaluate again

Visual Association

When you are memorizing a list of words that are your critical elements for your exam, you can also link the words by using images. Take the same respiratory assessment above, can you picture a person breathing? What about the letter “U” breathing. When you think of the face of a person breathing, can you visualize a big nose with the nostrils flaring? What about bluish gray discoloration around lips to show respiratory distress? This visualization is not only catchy to remember your mnemonic but it is also the same thing you are looking for in your patient for this assessment. Your imagination is what you use to create mnemonics that are powerful for you. The more you imagine and visualize the situation, the more effectively the mnemonics will stick in your mind. Get creative, use humor, make your image three dimensional, exaggerated, and colorful.

Here are a few picture mnemonics that we’ve made for you…

Fast P Car Mnemonic Frog Eyes Mnemonic Hot Hurts Mnemonic Pirate Ship MnemonicU Breath MnemonicMnemonics

Creating your own CPNE®® Mnemonics

1. Make it simple. If you are trying to memorize the critical elements for an abdominal assessment, for example, the first thing you should do is focus on key words that will remind you to perform the correct actions. For example: maintain patient privacy, ask patient if he or she is experiencing any pain, ask patient if he or she needs to void, assist patient to the appropriate position. These four steps can be condensed into four simple words: privacy, pee, pain, position. Those four words can be turned into a mnemonic such as: Please Press Patient’s Pelvis to remind you of the four ‘p’ words you need to do for this assessment.

2. Make it relevant. If you need to remember specific steps, let’s say for the neurological assessment, for example, the best way to do that is to make a mnemonic that pertains to the neurological system specifically. The steps to the neurological assessment are: level of consciousness, pupil dilation, movement and sensation. You could use mnemonic like “Let’s Provide Multiple Synapses.” Mnemonics make it a lot easier to remember the critical elements and steps you are to perform. If you can tie the mnemonic for the CPNE®® into the system for which it is intended, you are one step closer to possessing a very useful tool.

3. Make it personal. A CPNE®® workshop can provide many useful mnemonics to help with the critical elements of the CPNE®®. However, you do not need to use a mnemonic for every assessment, management, and lab station if you don’t feel it is necessary. Use only what you feel you personally need. If you already know how to perform a particular task, and you are sure that your way is the correct way according to the parameters set forth in the CPNE®® study guide, then creating and memorizing a mnemonic may be wasted time for you. Go with what you know, but create mnemonics for the rest.

4. Make it memorable. After you create your mnemonics, the next step is to write them down and memorize them. One small index card per mnemonic works great and makes it easy to study on the go. You can tuck them in your purse or pocket and pull them out when you have a few minutes. You can study while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, walking on the treadmill in the gym, or anywhere else you have a couple of minutes to look them over. One of the keys to memorization is repetition, and studying for a few minutes over and over again can increase your retention.

Remember that mnemonics increase your ability to recall information. There are drawbacks to mnemonics as well. They do not help you understand the material so you are still responsible for learning what you are doing and why you are doing it. Mnemonics can be time consuming to learn if you are forcing yourself to learn someone else’s mnemonics that don’t work with how your brain thinks so take time to see if a mnemonic makes sense to you, and if you can visualize it.

Lastly, under stress you may forget the mnemonic and be unable to recall the information you need to master the critical elements. It is imperative that you practice writing the mnemonics, acting out the assessments or managements, and practice documenting according to the mnemonic so that during a stressful situation when your memorization may not be helpful, your body will automatically take over from muscle memory.

Learning the CPNE®® critical elements can be challenging, but mastering these skills will ensure your success during your exam and make you a better nurse in the long run. Knowing some good, solid mnemonics will give you an edge as you strive to memorize and implement all of the critical elements involved in the exam. If you need help creating those mnemonics, ask for it. Seek out other students, nursing forums, or a CPNE®® workshop to help you along the way. It is just one more way to boost your confidence and assist you as you prepare to conquer the CPNE®®.


Want more CPNE®® mnemonics?

We want to give you 25 of our top CPNE®® mnemonics FREE to help you memorize your critical elements. Just click the link below and we’ll instantly email them to you.

Click here: Send me my mnemonics!

As always, good luck on your CPNE®® studies from all your friends at ATL Clinical Workshop!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field