Memorizing vs. Understanding: Knowing...

Memorizing vs. Understanding: Knowing the Distinctions between the Two

by Rochelle C. Pangilinan
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For all students, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed when there is a ton of schoolwork to complete and tons of exams to prepare for. Sometimes, when getting ready for a quiz, it’s more common to come up with practice tests to be reviewed prior to the big day.

Some examinations are designed in a way that students need to do a lot of memorization, especially those which are multiple choices or fill-in-the-blanks, while some, like essay exams or problem or case-based exams, are constructed where memorization is not necessary. Rather, it calls for more understanding of concepts. All of these exam types effective tools of learning, but let’s get in-depth into what advantages and drawbacks memorization vs. understanding offer.

What They Truly Mean?

First, let’s differentiate the two. Memorization is when you instill something in your memory, like the lines for a play, lyrics for a song, formula for a mathematical equation, or the verses of a poem. Memorizing something requires a lot of brain power as it’s not easy to remember something right off the top of your head. This is the reason why some students rely on techniques to help them memorize.

One of the more common tools for memorization is using mnemonics. You can apply this whether you’re memorizing Canadian Prime Ministers or Shakespeare’s works. For example, grammar rules dictate that when using multiple adjectives, one would need to follow a certain order: 1. Opinion; 2. Size; 3) Age; 4) Shape; 5) Color; 6) Origin; 7) Material; and 8) Purpose, and a mnemonic device you can use to memorize these is the acronym OSASCOMP.

On the other hand, understanding means having the sum of your knowledge about a topic or subject. It pertains more to using your comprehension abilities. For example, when reading a figurative language-laden poem, you aim for coming up with your interpretation rather than knowing that particular poem line by line.

Is One Better than the Other?

When it comes to memorization or understanding, it’s difficult to say whether one is better than the other since they are both effective ways to retain information and acquire knowledge of a particular subject or topic.

But simply memorizing something like important dates or figures in history doesn’t offer any gains for the students unless they know the impact of these dates or figures are. Sure, you or your friends can win points in Trivia Nights if you are able to pinpoint the exact date or location of the Battle of Waterloo, but can you explain why this event had such a great impression in World History? What significance does it offer modern society?

In addition, understanding something instead of memorizing it helps you to better apply that concept or theory. For example, you probably memorized the four Ps of marketing: Price, Product, Promotion, and Place, but if you have to market a new game app, for instance, would you know how to apply those four Ps? You can easily do it if you have a good grasp of the concept and not merely knowing what those four Ps stand for.

How You Can Make Both Work for You

As we’ve learned above, retaining information is, of course, useful in some aspects, as being able to comprehend something, but there are far more benefits that await you if you know how to make use of both because ultimately, they can go hand in hand. Furthermore, understanding information can lead to better memorization of that information.

Recalling something from your textbooks or from the notes you’ve jotted down in class reinforces your understanding of the information, and most of the time, one cannot exist without the other. For instance, in philosophy class, you can’t provide a real-life example or analogy of deontological ethics if you don’t have an idea of this theory that’s been presented. Of course, merely knowing the model does not automatically mean you understand it, that’s why it’s always ideal to think about it in a practical sense or a real-life setting.

To conclude, memorization and understanding are both necessary tools for learning, and you can’t dismiss one for the other.





What Are Mnemonics? (With Examples)

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