Is Memorization a Necessary Precondition of Understanding? | Iris Reading
Is Memorization a Necessary Precondition of Understanding?

Is Memorization a Necessary Precondition of Understanding?

Is Memorization a Necessary Precondition of Understanding?

Memorization and understanding are both essential in knowledge acquisition. You must not always memorize information before you understand it. However, memorization is necessary in many instances because memorized information is often the foundation for understanding.

In 2012, Michael Cove, a UK Secretary of State for Education, gave a speech on education policy and said, “memorization is a precondition of understanding.” Since then, there have been several debates about the role of memorization and understanding in learning.

This article will settle the arguments once and for all. In this article, we’ll tell you:

  • What memorization and understanding are
  • Which should come before the other
  • The difference between memorization and understanding
  • When you should use memorization
  • Helpful strategies for memorization and understanding

Let’s get started!

Difference between memorization and understanding

Memorization is the process of committing content to memory. On the other hand, understanding is the process of comprehending the content, such that you appreciate the fundamental idea governing it and can see how the different parts of the content relate to one another and other information outside the content.

Memorization and understanding are somehow related as they both involve knowledge acquisition. However, there are stark differences between them.

The main differences between memorization and understanding are: 

1. Memorization does not lead to insights, while understanding leads to insights

Memorization is simply committing content (as is) to memory without effort at synthesizing the information. However, understanding involves synthesizing the information to find the logic in it and make connections between the different parts of the content.

2. Memorization makes information available for recall only, while understanding makes information available for real-world application

When you memorize, you’ll recall the information precisely as you memorized it, but you’ll be unable to apply it in real-world situations. However, when you understand concepts, you’ll be able to connect them with other concepts and generate creative ideas for real-world application.

For example, if you memorize a medical procedure, you’ll be able to regurgitate it and pass a medical exam. But it will not make you a good doctor.

3. Memorization is short-term, but understanding is long-term

In memorization, information is stored in the working memory, but in understanding, the information is stored in the long-term memory. Thus, when you memorize, you’ll remember the information for only a short term (like days or weeks). But when you understand concepts, you’ll remember them for years.

When should you use memorization?

Memorization is suitable for committing facts, figures, or lists to memory, especially when you need to recall the information shortly afterward.

This is because how you’ll use such information (facts, figures, lists, etc.) is mainly limited to restating them as you memorize them. However, when you need to apply information in some ways to find solutions (whether on a test or in real-life scenarios), memorization is not suitable.

Memorization is also unsuitable when you need to remember the information for a long time.

Memorization is often the foundation of learning and understanding. For example, students who have not memorized their multiplication tables may have difficulty solving some maths problems.  

However, it is often essential to understand a piece of information before memorizing it. After establishing the logic in a text (what it is, how the part relates, etc.), it is easier to commit it to memory.

For example, after understanding the periodic table (the grouping of elements, etc.), developing a mnemonic or using some other memorization strategy to commit it to memory is easier.

Strategies for memorization

There are many memorization strategies to help you commit information to memory faster. These include:

  • Rote repetition
  • Association/ Linking
  • Visualization
  • Mnemonic devices
  • Memory Palaces

Rote repetition

Rote repetition is the process of memorizing information by bringing it back to your mind repeatedly.

Repetition works because it is one way to move information from short-term memory to long-term memory. The more you repeat a piece of information, the stronger the connections between concerned neurons in the brain, and you’ll remember the information for longer.

The best example of rote repetition is how children learn the alphabet. They recite the alphabet repeatedly without trying to understand it, and it sticks.

Association/ Linking

Association is the process of memorizing information by linking it to something already familiar to you. Association works because it activates strong neural connections already existing in your brain.

To use association, link the information you need to memorize with something you already know and easily remember. That way, when you need to recall the information, you start with what you linked it to and work back to it.

For example, it will be challenging to memorize two arbitrary dates. However, if you can link the dates to specific events in your life (like your birthday and the day you graduated from college), they stop being arbitrary, and you can easily remember them later. 


Visualization is creating images in your mind and relating them to the information you want to memorize.

You probably have heard the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. It applies to the brain also, as it is easier to remember an image than a group of words.

When using visualization to memorize information, the more vivid (or crazy) your mental picture, the easier it will be to recall the information later. For example, if you create a mental image of a lion chasing a mouse and one of a mouse chasing a lion, you are less likely to forget the latter.

The Mind Mapping course is one of the best resources for learning to use visualization for memorization. The course teaches practical ways to create visual outlines of information for everything you do.

Mnemonic devices

Mnemonic devices are techniques that help you retain and recall information. Mnemonic devices work because they convey meaningful patterns to abstract information.

Mnemonic devices are some of the most widely used techniques for committing things to memory. Mnemonic devices can be songs, rhymes, acronyms, etc.

Two popular mnemonic devices (and how to use them) are:

Music mnemonics

It involves using the information you want to memorize to compose a jingle or a short song. A fun song is easier to remember than an otherwise abstract group of words. A typical example of a music mnemonic is the ABC song, which children use in learning the alphabet.

Acronym mnemonics

It involves using the first letters of a list you want to memorize to create a word.

For example, consider the great lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior). It may be challenging to remember their names, but with acronym mnemonics, you can use the first letters of the lakes to form the word HOMES, making it easier to remember them all.

Iris Reading’s Advanced comprehension and memory course has a module that teaches how to use memory palaces to  

Memory palaces

The memory palace strategy involves linking the information you want to memorize to places you are familiar with. It helps memorization because it combines the “association” strategy and visualization.

To use the memory palace technique, assign each piece of information you want to memorize to a part of your house. During recall, move around the house in your mind. As your mind goes to a particular place in the house, you’ll remember the information you assigned to that place.

Strategies for real understanding

While memorization plays a role in knowledge acquisition, understanding is more important to learning. Some strategies that aid understanding include

  • Active recall
  • Making connections
  • Making inferences
  • Summarizing
  • Discussing the information

Active recall

Active recall is self-testing. It is retrieving information from memory without referring to the material. To use active recall, create questions based on what you learn, and try to answer the questions.

Active recall works because it helps you identify areas of the material that you are struggling with. After self-testing, you can refer to the material to actively read and better understand the problem areas you identify.

Making connections

Making connections means making sense of what you are learning by relating it with prior knowledge.

Making connections aid understanding because the brain accesses prior knowledge about a subject or event to guide current understanding or action.

The different ways to make connections (see how new information fits with prior knowledge) are:

  • Test to text connection. Does the new information relate to anything you have read before?
  • Text to self-connection. Does the new information relate to something in your life?
  • Text to world connection. Does the new information remind you of anything in the world? 

Making inferences

Making inferences means drawing sound conclusions from a text after activating critical thinking skills to process the information.

Thus, inferring aids understanding because:

  • It makes you read between the lines. You need to determine a deeper meaning that may not be explicitly stated in the text. 
  • It makes you connect to prior knowledge. Since inferring involves drawing conclusions that are not explicitly stated, it requires going beyond the text and applying what you already know.
  • It makes you activate critical thinking skills. When inferring, you must analyze the text, combine ideas, relate to prior knowledge, and make interpretations.


Summarizing involves reducing a large amount of information to its main points. 

Summarizing aids understanding because it makes you determine the most critical ideas in a text. To summarize content, you have to sift through the content, ignore irrelevant information, extract the main points, and organize these into a summary that tells the whole story.

Discussing the information

Discussing or explaining a text to someone helps you understand it because it forces you to make sense of it.

To explain a text, you have to understand it because explaining a text requires determining the main points and organizing them meaningfully.

You must not always have a real person to discuss with. When alone, you can still use this strategy by discussing the information with an imaginary person.

Wrapping Up

Memorization is committing information to memory, while understanding is comprehending the information. 

Memorization is suitable when you’ll use the information you commit to memory the same way you memorized it or when you don’t need to remember it for long. But when you need to apply information in real-life situations or remember it for longer, you need real understanding.

Rote repetition, association, visualization, and memory palaces are strategies for memorization, while active recall, making connections, inferring, summarizing, and discussing are good strategies for understanding.

While anyone can employ these strategies, having an expert to guide you will flatten the learning curve and help you memorize and comprehend better and faster.

Expert guidance usually comes in the form of special courses. Iris Reading is one of the best experts in the memory field and has some of the best courses to help you memorize and comprehend information better and faster.

For example, the Advanced Comprehension and Memory course teaches helpful strategies (like link system, mnemonics, memory palaces, active recall, etc.) to comprehend what you read and remember it longer.

Register for the Advanced Comprehension and Memory course today!

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