There is a fundamental contrast between the stated goals of most systems of education and the direction those systems are leading the students towards.
No schooling system likes to admit that a significant aspect of its program is nothing more than rote memorization. Teachers will talk about how they want to give their students a better understanding of information. They will virtually never talk about how much their systems value memorization without regard for understanding.
Memorizing information and understanding information are intimately connected with one another but they both are very distinct from one another. Memorization is relatively easy. Sure, some students struggle with it but that struggling is almost always due to a few strategies that they’ve never learned. Scientists have been studying memorization for decades now and the required steps to memorize information can be broken down into a relatively simple procedure.
Understanding is a much more complicated problem. Even describing what the average person considers understanding is almost impossible. In most cases understanding is more of a feeling than a measurable goal. Heck, I can remember moments of epiphany while studying subjects that I’ve studied for weeks when suddenly, the information sinks in instinctively. That’s what I like to think of understanding as.
You might also think of understanding information as the ability to go beyond answering questions about something into creatively thinking about that information.
Understanding is absolutely fundamental to day to day life. It’s what’s usually promoted through the words of educators but this is not what is expected of a successful student in school. Students can get amazing grades without a bit of understanding of the subjects they’re learning.
The people designing standardized tests for a school environment are in a tough spot. Standardized tests are meant to be a way to measure the progress of certain classrooms, schools, and strategies. That measurement process is much easier said than done. Even in situations with a similar curriculum, it’s tough to find the common space between different classrooms. Some classrooms will emphasize certain points more than others. That will give all students a rather broad spectrum of knowledge.
Then, of course, all standardized tests need to be graded objectively. If a test asks a question that requires creativity from the student then the teacher will also need to judge that creativity creatively (in interpreting the response.) Since both sides of a creative question require creativity, it’s impossible to tell whether the test is rating the creativity of the student or the creativity of the teacher. Two teachers would rate the same answer differently. One might say, “the answer was off-track” while the other might say, “the answer was off a hair but it was pretty much right.” This problem makes it impossible to judge creativity objectively (particularly when getting many teachers and students involved.)
Since creative questions are out of the question for objective standardized testing, virtually all questions end up becoming questions answerable through brute force memorization. Sure, some creativity could answer some of the questions but they could just as easily be answered by a person who memorized the facts involved.
Since understanding can’t be measured objectively and memorization can, most of testing involves memorization.
But not all of schooling involves standardized testing… Right?
To some extent, school does include factors beyond standardized testing. The problem is that teachers are regularly judged by their ability to train students for standardized testing. It’s a constant push underlying every lesson that a teacher is required to give. It may not be everything but it is a constant consideration in a teacher’s decision making. Teachers generally don’t run their classrooms differently than a standardized system anyway though.
Teachers are looking to be objective in their testing for similar reasons to standardized tests and more. Of course, teachers don’t want to unfairly grade their students. For that reason, very few teachers ask only creative questions in their testing.
Creative questions are also a whole lot more intensive for the teacher to grade. A multiple choice question takes them a second to mark right or wrong. A complex question with unlimited potential answers will take them time. Considering they regularly have classrooms with dozens of students, this is time they don’t like to waste.
There are exceptions to this focus in individual classrooms but more often than not, memorization is sufficient to get good grades in a classroom.
While schools will constantly push the idea of “understanding,” focusing on understanding can be one of the least productive things a student can do when looking to improve their grades. Understanding is not predictable. It can require a significant investment of time despite offering no certainty of results. And… of course… considering how many questions are completely dependent on memorization to solve, it’s usually an inefficient use of time.
Memorization is a much more attractive option. Memorization, as discussed earlier, has been studied for decades (mostly because it can be studied.) There are explicit strategies that can help a student improve their grades in virtually no time at all. When compared to understanding, memorization is a sure thing. (Make sure to follow along with this blog and check out the archives for more details on how to make memorization work.) With that in mind, memorization will regularly also increase a student’s understanding of a subject despite it not being the focus of the session.
For some specifics on mastering memorization you might be interested in reading 9 Reasons Your Memory Sucks and 6 Memory Strategies You Need In Your Study Toolbox.
Don’t waste your time trying to get an abstract understanding of the information you’re trying to learn for class. You don’t need to understand information to be able to pass a test on that information. And, sure, you’ll need to understand something if you plan on working day after day with that information, working with that information day after day will eventually let you understand that information anyway.
Imagine if you could study for less than 15 minutes a night while scoring higher grades than you’ve ever scored in your life. This is a reality that thousands of students are living through. Sure, the studying is tough but it’s short, habitual, and predictable. It doesn’t come with extra hours of cramming the night before a test. It doesn’t come with worrying whether or not you studied enough. It’s just using high efficiency study techniques instead of the usual low efficiency strategies most students are taught.
Do you want to know how to study in less than 15 minutes a night? Follow this blog and check out the archives. Also, if your kindle could use a new slew of study awesome-ness be sure to check out the ebooks in the sidebar.
A B&C Students Guide To Mercilessly Crushing A Students At Their Own Game (While Laughing Your Way Towards The Ivy-League)
Are you smart but getting meh grades?
The smartest students are often the ones the school system leaves behind. It’s easy to motivate a half-wit (or even almost-wit – like a horse with a carrot dangled in it’s face to get it running. Giddy-up horsey!
You would never fall for that, right? Then this is for you.
It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re getting a raw deal. That’s the smart thing to do.
Academics is a game – and its prizes are good. Really good! There is more to the story than that though. What do you have to do to get that prize? And that matters even more than the prize. Study 18 hours a day for straight-A’s and a high-paying job someday in the distant future? Ughhh… Not me. That’s for sure.
I scored near the top of my college Engineering class while studying less than 15 minutes a morning. And seriously, I don’t sound like a super genius, do I?
Hint: I had barely scraped a 1.0 GPA in high school and I wasn’t skipping and having fun with friends either – I was… dare I say… trying my best.
Big Tip: trying doesn’t matter unless you’re experimenting or already using an effective strategy. Trying without an effective strategies is a waste that can plop your grades in the stinker. First step – STOP TRYING with ineffective strategies.
You got that?
Look… I’m a bit crazy. I get it. I’ve read hundreds of books on grades, learning, and memory. I spent sleepless nights studying obscure academic journals. I swear, I even read the book “How To Read A Book” and didn’t have to drink alcohol to do it!
WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF!?
You wanna’ know why?
Don’t tell anyone but… I care. I was emotionally crippled by the school system. I had heartless, lazy, and downright mean teachers (and a couple good ones that couldn’t help.) It took years for me to untangle their mess…
And I went to college and beat them at their own wretched game. Top scores. Easy studying. Time to make friends and impress the ladies. (You know… the important stuff!)
But I know… I wasn’t alone and I know there are others facing similar and worse challenges than I did. And I may be out of the warzone now but I can’t in good conscience leave you behind without my arsenal.
That’s why a decade ago I founded Smart Student Secrets and got link backs from LifeHack, HuffPo, and good college professors with names I can’t pronounce from all over the world that see these strategies crushing every day. But forget about them… the emails I get from grateful students… that’s the stuff a good life is made of.
My newest book is, in my opinion, the best book ever written for students that want to absolutely crush the academic game.
It gets you to focus your energy on the most important aspects of grades – giving you leverage on the system.
It shows you the big painful studying, you’re not benefiting from – that you thankfully get to stop today and forever.
It takes the latest in academic research on memory and puts into your hands, the exact memorization strategies that a Purdue Professor proved can let someone memorize 2.35 things for every one they’re memorizing now.
And this isn’t about “working harder” – and it’s not about “working smarter” either. (I cringe every time I read that phrase.)
It’s about working only when it matters most and creating the habit of motivated and effective learning.
I guarantee this… You can skyrocket your grades with my book while studying less than you ever had to study before. If I’m wrong, send me an email and I’ll refund you – no questions asked.
Please give me the chance to change your life for the better – it’s on me to prove it. What you’re going to do is: click on the link here or below, click “Buy Now”, fill in the boxes, and you’ll get your copy of the book through an instant download.
Warning: Inflation is eating my butt right now. My accountant is saying the prices need to go up to keep up with server costs ASAP or this whole site is in danger. I’m writing this one last message as a last ditch effort to get this book to anyone that wants it. If you want it, do it now while the guarantee and price are still available. You will have it for when you’re ready to start.
Last chance! Don’t miss it at the lowest price and best guarantee I can do.