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Helping High School Students Remember Facts

Is memorization a key to success, or is there something more?

If you're in high school now, you know first-hand the amount of material that you need to remember. In Algebra class you need to remember formulas; in Spanish class you need to remember vocabulary; in History class you need to remember dates, important events, and historical figures; in Biology class you need to remember classifications and functions of organisms; and so on.

Every class has concepts, facts, terminology and constructs that you are expected to remember (and apply to problem sets) in order to succeed in that class. Most quizzes, mid-terms and finals are assessments of how well you were able to memorize these concepts, facts, terminology and constructs, and remember and recall those facts at test time.

Memorizing Versus Remembering

There's an ongoing debate about the two concepts of memorizing and remembering, and the debate revolves around the fact that people (in general) seem to think they mean the same thing. The academics who disagree will argue you can cram for a mid-term or final, memorizing facts and terminology, but since the information is retained in short-term memory, you won't necessarily remember it. In other words, the information is never transferred to long-term memory, so that it can be retrieved months or years in the future.

The reason cramming for a final seems to be effective is because you can rely on your short-term memory if you take your exam within a few days of your intensive cramming sessions. Obviously, as a student, it would be better to know that the information you take away from a class is remembered, and not just simply memorized for the purposes of a mid-term or final. For the most part that is what you'll take away from any debate about memorizing versus remembering - it's better to learn with the goal of remembering, instead of just memorizing for the short-term.

You may even have been exposed to techniques that claim to help you remember. This includes techniques such as: building connections; cementing linkages; interconnecting facts with events, pictures or sound; sing-song repetition; mnemonics ("A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream" is a common one for remembering how to spell the word "arithmetic"); contextual repetition; and identifying relationships and relevancy with previously learned material.

Many of the techniques listed above result in the student actually building more detailed and richer memories about the subject they are studying. The techniques mentioned all work for some of the people, most of the time. It becomes the student's responsibility to take control of their own learning process - to try different techniques to find the one (or several) that work best in their particular situation.

Some of the best students actually do this without realizing what they are doing; they might have some difficulty explaining to someone else why what they are doing is working so well for them.

Helping High School Students Remember Facts, Part 2

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