GRE Issue Essay 101

“Students should memorize facts only after they have studied the ideas, trends, and concepts that help explain those facts. Students who have learned only facts have learned very little.”

Why is understanding a particular concept always given preference over mugging it up? This is because once you have understood a concept, it is unlikely that you will forget it that easily. On the other hand, something that has been memorized by cramming it up will last in your memory for a couple of days only. The education system stresses a lot on the explanation of concepts and teaching the ideas and trends that are behind the facts which have to be learnt. If understanding the basic concepts was not all that important, then there would be no requirement of teaching in schools. Students could be given a long list of facts and they could be told to just memorize them. However, this is not the case. This is because students will not be able to learn anything by merely memorizing the facts. They should study the concepts that explain the facts before they attempt to memorize those facts.

Acquiring knowledge and the application of that knowledge are two different aspects of learning. It is easy to acquire knowledge by reading and memorizing facts. This way you cannot become learned as you would be unaware about the concepts that have led to the establishment of these facts and you will not be able to apply the knowledge that you have acquired by memorizing. Moreover, you will not be able to analyze other related aspects on your own as you would have learnt very little by memorizing facts. For example, simply memorizing the speeds of light and sound are not as important as understanding the difference between these two speeds and how they are related to each other. Unless you are clear about this concept, you will not be able to either understand or explain the reason behind the lightening phenomenon wherein one sees the lightening first and hears the thunder later; whereas both these events have occurred simultaneously. Being able to explain this phenomenon would mean that you have actually learnt something rather than just being able to rattle out the figures related to the speeds of light and sound.

Children studying in kindergarten are taught the shapes and sounds of the alphabets before they are taught the spellings of common words. There is no school in the world which would advocate memorizing the spellings of words before understanding the phonetics related to the alphabets. Even if a child does memorize the spellings of words without understanding the phonetics involved, how long will he be able to retain those spellings? Even if he does remember those spellings for an unusually long time, will he be able to work out the spellings of more difficult words on his own? The answer to this question would be a definite ‘no’. This means that the child would have learnt almost nothing by memorizing the spellings without understanding the concepts of alphabets and phonetics. On the other hand, if he has understood the sounds and shapes of the alphabets, then he will have no difficulty either in memorizing the spellings of common words or in reading and writing difficult words later on in life. Hence, it is obvious that memorizing facts after studying the explanations to those facts will help the students to learn in a better way.

Understanding the system that sustains life and allows us to grow and develop in this technically savvy world is not very easy. However, you have to make all efforts to understand these concepts if you want to be well educated in life. It cannot be said that you have learnt something if you have merely memorized the facts as you are likely to forget these facts when you are no longer in touch with your studies. Therefore, the better option would be to gain an in-depth understanding of whatever is being taught and you are bound to retain the knowledge gained for the rest of your life.