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Remembering Facts: Help for College and University Students

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

If you're currently enrolled at a junior college, university or other institution of higher learning, you are well aware of the amount of material you are expected to digest and remember. Mathematics and Statistics majors need to remember formulas and terminology; French and German majors need to remember syntax and vocabulary; History majors need to remember important events, historical figures and border-changing battles; Biology and Chemistry majors need to remember elements, classifications and functions of organisms; and so on.

Every academic course of study has facts, concepts, terminology and constructs you are expected to remember (and apply to problem sets) in order to succeed and earn a diploma. Most mid-terms and finals are objective appraisals of how well you were able to memorize facts, concepts, terminology and constructs, and recall those facts at test time.

Remembering Versus Memorizing

Browse the internet and you'll encounter a spirited debate among academics over the concepts of memorizing and remembering. The debate separates those who think they are essentially the same thing from those who treat them as completely different actions. The latter will argue you can pull a couple of all-nighters, cramming for a mid-term or final, memorizing concepts, facts and terminology, but since the information is stored in short-term memory, you most likely won't remember it. In other words, the information never gets transferred by your brain to long-term memory, so that it could be retrieved months or years into the future.

The reason cramming for a final usually works is because a student can count on their short-term memory if they take their exam within a couple of days of their cramming sessions. Wouldn't it 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? By and large, that is what you'll take away from a debate about remembering versus memorizing - it's better to learn with the goal of remembering, instead of just memorizing for the short-term.

In your own experience, you may have tried techniques, expounded by learning experts, to help you remember. This may have included techniques such as: contextual repetition; interconnecting facts with events, pictures or sound; sing-song repetition; building connections; cementing linkages; mnemonics ("A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream" is a classic from elementary school to help you remember how to spell the word "arithmetic"); and identifying relevancy with previously learned material.

Many of the techniques mentioned result in the student building richer and more detailed memories and images about the subjects they are studying. The techniques will all work - for some of the people, most of the time. A college or university student bears the ultimate responsibility to take control of their own learning process - trying different techniques to find the one (or several) that work best for their particular situation.

The best students may actually be doing this without realizing what they are doing. They may even have some difficulty explaining to another struggling student why what they are doing is working out so well for them.

Remembering Facts: Help for College and University Students, Part 2 © 2011