Understanding is not memorizing

Sometimes, I wonder why memorization has such a bad rep. Everyone talks about critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but nobody really emphasizes a lot of importance on memorization.

But think about it – if doctors wouldn’t memorize the veins, nerves, and the location and function of all human organs, how could they treat us properly? They are able to help us without looking up information from the web all the time.

Rote memorization

Why do we think that memorization isn’t so important? Maybe it has something to do with us thinking that learning is painful. We may have gone through many quizzes or big exams where our memory failed us and we ended up with a bad result.

How do we usually learn? 99.99% of us start by repeating things over and over again. This could involve reading entire chapters of a book many times, or repeating a list of important terms to yourself again and again.

This simple repetition technique is what’s called “rote memorization.” The idea is that we can quickly remember something the more we repeat it. Rote memorization is mechanical and it is not meaningful, and it’s definitely not the most time-efficient way to learn.

It’s the old way of learning. Way back then, when knowledge about the brain wasn’t that much, rote memorization was probably a good option. Modern research has shown that you can learn more efficiently using other techniques rather than boring old memorization.

Memorizing is boring

The brain thrives when you add a sprinkle or more of fun things that you can see, smell, feel and hear. And when you are mindlessly repeating something to yourself, you’re basically shoving the same bland fact to your brain every time, and your brain would grow bored of that.

We’ve all gone through the struggle of trying to memorize a long list of important terms, dates, definitions, etc. Sometimes, the information “sticks” and we still remember those things until now. Other times, we forget them as soon as we’ve completed the exam for that chapter.

In the end, we didn’t really understand whatever it was that we memorized.

What’s a better way to learn?

I coach a lot of students and educators through the WakeUp Memory System, and for subjects that are known for being dry and difficult like Pharmacology. 

Here is how it works:

  1. Observe
  2. Connect (the word or number with a special image or memory)

Let’s look at an example. 

Imagine you want to memorize that August 26th is International Dogs Day.

August 26, could transform into August being the number 8. Eight sounds like ate. Then, the number 2 sounds like Boo. Do you know that famous dog, Boo, who was one of the cutest dogs on earth? He was a pomeranian, super fluffy and he was a celebrity. So, I think of BOo, with the number 2. Lastly, 6 sounds like sneakers. So I imagine a boo, getting a new pair of sneakers, actually, he will need to pairs of sneakers because it’s his day, international dog day. So together, Boo ate the new sneakers. 

I know…. This does not really make sense, and it sounds weird. 

But try to visualize it in your mind. We are all visual learners and images are so much more powerful than dry facts! Now you have the story of Boo, you can recall that international dog day is on August 26th.

When you do this, you engage several regions of the brain that are known to be involved in two specific tasks – visual memory and spatial navigation (including the right posterior hippocampal region that’s associated with the excellent memory of London taxi drivers).  

Yes, memory is a trainable skill

Want to master memorization without getting bored? 

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