Make Your Choice - Learning or Memorizing

  • Dr. Sapna Sharma
  • 26 November 2019

Learning has somehow come to become synonymous with studying for exams. Our education system also challenges us on ‘studying’ and ‘memorizing’ to reproduce for a 3 hours examination. One who can do that reasonably well is labeled as ‘successful’. This method may be helping us to clear our exams and obtain a degree, but it does not take us long to obtain and grow in a profession.

Every year thousands of students graduate from various courses and universities. However, comparatively a very small proportion of students manage to get the desired employment and opportunities for growth. How can this be explained?

Many technical and HR professionals on the interview panels of various organizations are often quoted saying “Though there are many students with decent grades on paper, yet very few of them are actually employable”. What they mean is that very few of these students have learnt the practical application of their subjects and even fewer have groomed themselves for the professional world.

Education system in India lays stress on theoretical education and unfortunately many of our university and school courses are outdated. The sheer volume of the course curriculum discourages the institutes from extending the scope of that education for the students. They lay stress on preparing for and clearing the examinations set by the boards. This puts a lot of responsibility of learning on the students themselves.

How to learn?

Learning is the act of gaining knowledge and experience through study, reflection and practice. What we do at schools and colleges is study, then for some time we memorize the study material and reproduce it in the examination. However, as we can see that the method is so incomplete. The reflection part is mostly missing. And so is the putting of that knowledge into practice. Certain subjects like mathematics are boring for many students and for many it is outright frightening. I have come across many students who practically hate the subject. Most of these students say that they understand when it is taught but do not know how they make so many mistakes during the examination. When I sit with them, I realize they hardly put any time into reflective practice. Most of the practice that they do is all about repetitions. They have to solve a certain number of examples for the purpose of homework and they usually copy the methods used for one example and can fill pages just by doing that. And many others believe that once they have understood the subject, they can reproduce it like they do with language subjects.

A very important ingredient that goes missing in our education is “Reflection”. Reflection is a mental process which, applied to the act of learning, challenges students to use critical thinking to examine presented information, questioning its validity, and draw conclusions based on the resulting ideas. And reflection demands time. Our education system does not allow the time to be given to the students in the classroom. The race of the teacher is for completion of the prescribed course curriculum in a given time frame. And this leaves the onus of reflection on the students.

Why should a student work on Reflection in studying?

During student life, study is a burden for most of us. We go through the process of education mostly as a compulsion and thus the thought of going the extra mile to learn something is not very welcome. But then there is the difference between those who know and can apply and those who only clear exams and cannot apply. The motivation to reflect would come from which one we want to be?

We all desire and deserve success in whatever we do in life. When some other people who appeared to be like us get higher opportunities, better pay packages and grow faster, it hurts somewhere. Many a times we see people who were not so good at scoring in the school do very good in some particular field and we try to attribute it to sheer luck or favoritism. But the reality is different. These are the people who have looked at the same study material in different ways. These are the people who have tried to understand the basic principles of the things they were studying. And hence when it was time to apply the knowledge to real world they could deliver what was needed.

The real world requires “Applied knowledge”. None of the interview board expects a student to reproduce every theory and postulate that they have learnt, but they need people who can use the learned knowledge in the workplace. So how much is your study preparation practical? Does your memorized material disappear the moment you are out of the exam hall? If that is so, most of your education is not going to be of much help to you in future real word.

When I talk of the real world it is not just the job interviews but the survival in general. A student often wonders why he/she has to study so many subjects when they do not like them and most of the subjects would not seem to be relevant to their choice of career. And hence we go through most of the classes and studies like robots. Why study History is a mystery to most while Math seems like a monster to others.


I used to have this question about compulsory history and geography subjects in schools. But then much later in life when I was thinking about WHO AM I? The answer that first came to my mind was I am an Indian lady living in a particular city of India which is in Asia continent. And as I was thinking this I could see myself in relation to the entire world. I was not lost. I knew where I was geographically and in relation to other people of the world and in relation to the past. Then like a flash it struck me that just in case I had not learnt this about the world and this country and its past and the different type of people in the world I would perhaps not have the orientation of my own presence in this big world. Would it make a difference? Yes it would make a huge difference. I am a progressive woman. I need to have an orientation of where I am and what I am and where I have to go and how I go there. I am not an ignorant person in a small village with only the orientation of my home and my people. I need to know who I am all the time. This was the insight that changed my perspective about studying various subjects in school and I was thankful.
What remains with a person only that which he/she has studied with some reflection. It is not possible to ‘remember’ everything one has learned, but when one studies with reflection it becomes an integral part of that person. Though all may not score A on the report card, but a real knowledge acquired comes up to our help when a relevant situation requires it. We do not remember most of the theorems and principles and inventors and discoverers but we can apply the principles of science while going through life with everyday situations like changing a fuse wire, changing a flat tire, maintaining a garden, helping out in a medical emergency, etc. the better we learn our languages the better we learn to communicate. Subjects like civics make us aware of our rights that we put in use in so many ways and yet timely reminds us of our responsibilities that keeps society in check.

Aim to LEARN

We have to aim to LEARN and not just memorize and reproduce. We are putting the most important years of our lives into education and if we cannot make use of it when needed to live a real life, all these years are a waste. And learning does not come with mugging up notes and sitting in the classroom. Following are some ways to improve your learning:

1. Think about what you are learning.
2. Reflect upon it.
3. Ask questions to teachers and friends.
4. Ask question to yourself so that you are motivated to find answers
5. Write down your own understanding of the subject.
6. Make your own notes and questions.
7. Discuss about the subject with friends and other
8. Read general magazines and internet articles on the application of the subject you just learnt.
9. Be aware of your surroundings and be curious about how things work.
10. Try to see where are the applications of the things that you learn in theory.

Memorizing is for passing exams. LEARNING is for personal and professional growth. Make your choice.



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