Memorization vs. Rote Memorization

Professor Steven Dutch, who teaches Natural and Applied Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, must be pretty annoyed at hearing the same complaints from students over and over, because he’s posted an entire page of his Top Ten No Sympathy Lines (Plus a Few Extra). Students considering complaining may want to check it out for tips on what arguments to avoid.

In one of them, however, he makes some interesting points about memorization.

Memorization is not the antithesis of creativity; it is absolutely indispensable to creativity. Creative insights come at odd and unpredictable moments, not when you have all the references spread out on the table in front of you. You can’t possibly hope to have creative insights unless you have memorized all the relevant information. And you can’t hope to have really creative insights unless you have memorized a vast amount of information, because you have no way of knowing what might turn out to be useful.

Rote memorization is a choice. If you remember facts and concepts as part of an integrated whole that expands your intellectual horizons, it won’t be rote. If you merely remember things to get through the next exam, it will be rote, and a whole lot less interesting, too. But that is solely your choice.

The key to good memorization is frequent review. The more often you review something you’ve learned, the more you embed it in your long-term memory. I.e., the more you actually learn it. Not surprisingly, daily review is one of the good habits in Good Habits, Good Students.

One thought on “Memorization vs. Rote Memorization”

  1. And–following the quote above–Mr. Dutch continues.

    “It is absolutely astonishing how many people cannot picture memorization in any other terms than “rote memorization,” – even after reading the paragraph just above.”

    Right. Me too.

    Memorization, as a goal, is rote learning, by definition.

    We have all had plenty of teachers like Mr. Dutch, and–for me–all I remember from their classes is a waste of time and a distaste for them and whatever they were trying to teach.

    Our brains are–thankfully–equipped to forget most of what we see, hear, feel, and taste. If information is not relevant to a student, the information will be discarded.

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