Memorizing School-Game Trivia


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Memory Inventory

Mark only the ideas you agree with.  Then read the commentary that follows.

☐   1.  Intelligent people have better memories.
☐   2.  Memorizing requires effort and discipline.
☐   3.  Memorizing is a logical, step-by-step process.
☐   4.  Grownups have better memory techniques than children.
☐  5.  Memorizing must be conscious and purposeful.
☐   6.  Students are not graded on their memory skills.
☐   7.  The more time spent, the more remembered.
☐   8.   Remembering something requires saying it over and over.
☐   9.  Memorizing should be vigorous and aggressive, not laid back and random.
☐ 10.  Some subjects are harder to memorize than others.


If you took my little “test” on how good you are at the school game (February 6, 2013), you know the test-maker (me) thinks none of those ten ideas is true.  In the school game, you wouldn’t check any, and you would get a good grade.  That’s how the game is played. Your views are beside the point.

The truth is, though,  that acting as if those statements in the inventory above are true will only interfere with your efforts.

Once you remember how good you are at it already, memorizing can actually be fun.  Here are some reminders.

1.  A typical human brain stores billions of bits of information – effortlessly.  The bits of extra data a flashy memory entertainer can display are insignificant compared to what all your brain – any brain – contains.

Everyone’s memory bank is about the same size.

You’ve already stored tremendous masses of data – without breaking a sweat.  If you smoothed out all the wrinkles in your wetware, you would have a three-foot-square grid, infinitely better than the smartest microchip.  You are smart, far too smart to be floored by the trivia you are asked to store while in school, most of which will be useless once you leave school, most of which you will have forgotten anyway.


You are also brilliant at retrieving anything of value that you’ve stored in your nervous system.  Just think what all was involved in your reading of the previous sentence.  (Reading researchers still can’t quite figure it out.)  Think what’s involved in picking up a pencil, blinking your eye.

What doubts we might have about our retaining and recalling stuff more than likely were acquired in the unnatural learning situations commonly found in schools.  Use your natural learning skills and you will be able to learn any school subject the way you’ve learned everything else in life.

Even people who are “intelligent” don’t have better memories.  

2.  Where would you be if you had had to “memorize” the more than 150,000 words stored up in your brain?  Did you sit down with lists, break a sweat, have nightmares about it?  You didn’t get up at 5 a. m. to study and lose valuable sleep poring over mountains of data.  Whatever you were doing, those methods were far superior to the puritan methods commonly pushed in schools.

Memorizing is a natural biological process – if not interfered with.

No one knows how you go about it, but the non-conscious part of your mind does know and does it routinely, – unless you or some well-meaning teachers gum up the works.    We do know some ways to set the stage for natural learning.

You can have a good time doing schoolwork and actually feel refreshed after a couple of hours at your desk.

3.  We have no certainty of what goes on during learning or memorizing, but whatever it is, learning and memorizing  seems to be anything but logical and systematic.  It doesn’t care if school keeps or not.

The process appears to start anywhere at all, go off on tangents, move back and forth between parts and the whole picture.  At some point, it sends a completed printout to our conscious minds so that we can describe in words or music or pictures or sculpture what we already know.

Our conscious mind performs valuable services.  It’s our automatic talking machine.  We can use it to deliberately set motion the non-conscious processes that figure things out.  We can write down the results.

4.  Kids have complete confidence in their wetware and don’t interfere with the excellent learning machinery they were born with.  Most adults, unless they’ve remembered how it’s really done, try to do it all with their conscious minds. Kids learn automatically.  What they learn is guided by their spirits, so they probably don’t know consciously how they pull it off.  They just do it, like breathing.

What grownups who have figured it out can do is set the process in motion –  and then relax and let it happen.

5.  Your non-conscious mind will let your conscious mind know what it ought to be doing.  And that is NOT a very orderly process.  There may be periods of intense scrutiny with abrupt changes of direction, crazy word games, going of on a side path, circling, resting, doing the dishes, sleeping on it.

If you trust your wetware, the way a child does, you will always do the right thing

 Believe it or not – and you will believe it once you catch on – all this messiness is the most efficient way to learn.  And learning  is a much better word for what you are up to than the word memorizing is.

6.  Oh, yes, schools do indeed reward good memory with higher grades.

 In fact, memory is the one thing that is graded. 

 Grading for most courses is based on tests.  Even short-answer tests and essays reward remembering and recalling data.  Even teachers who value understanding and growth and change don’t know how discover it.  So they resort to checking for quantities of stored data.

The greatest concern most students have is whether they will be able to remember data for a test.
The better you get at it – mostly the vocabulary of the subject –  the better your grades.  Of course, this knack has very little use off campus.  Hence, the phenomenal success of trivia games.

Remembering is the essence of the school game.  

Once you know that, it’s easy to develop the skill.  In later posts, I’ll describe some of the tricks of the trade, techniques that are easy to apply.

7.  Studying itself is no guarantee that you will remember.

 How you use your time is much more relevant. 

 If you use your study time intelligently, you can cut time spent in half – or less.  In later posts I’ll describe some ways to set up pleasant and productive study time.

Keep in mind, memory is a by-product of learning.

Understanding how we learn and remember will reduce considerably the slave labor of grinding away at books.  You will spend less and less time trying to remember, yet you will be able to recall anything you want.

8.  Rote memory, repeating something over and over,  is the poorest way to commit something to memory.

It doesn’t take long to turn what you are repeating into meaningless gibberish, and the mind simply won’t play that game.  Right?

If you are asked to store trivia, there are pleasant, intelligent ways of doing it – but not as a mantra.  

9.  We cannot bully our minds.  

If you try to brow-beat your conscious mind into doing the learning (remembering), your spirit will not allow it.   All parts of the brain must be in harmony, if you want it to work.  Sitting up straight, beating our breast and frowning will shut the whole thing down.

I remember a colleague wondered why her quiet 8:00 section scored higher on her tests than her energetic 11:00 of the same course.  It’s likely students in  the early class were closer to their natural learning state than were the more intense students.

When the mind has room to play, it in its optimum learning mode.  Not surprisingly, the setting resembles a sandbox.

10.  Getting the hang of chemistry is no different from getting the hang of driving or mixing cocktails or sorting the mail.

 There are no difficult subjects, only areas of experience more distant from our daily environment than the “easy” subjects.

If one plays around with a new subject the way a child does with new experiences, in due time the code will come into focus, and the new field will be just as easy as anything else.

The key is to know how your brain works, to relax and to allow it to do its job.

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