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August 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Memorization is Important for Academic Achievement

Siusana Kweldju has been a full professor at State University of Malang since 2002. She was a Fulbrighter for her research on presidential rhetoric at Ohio State University, USA in 2011, and was a language specialist at  SEAMEO-RELC Singapore from 2013 to 2016.



As a content course instructor of linguistics in a teachers’ college that trains non-native teachers of English, I find that most students today fail in their tests. They do not sufficiently show their effortfulness in learning important theory they need to know, and how to competently use the theoretical concepts in their critical thinking and solving problems. One main reason I discover is that they do not deeply learn and memorize the learning materials they need to understand. It seems that most students do not keep up with regular study.



Memorizing is so important before the age of smart phone and before constructive learning conception was first introduced. For daily life outside school we could easily remember phone numbers, bus schedules, birthdays and recipees. In daily life inside school, we could easily memorize proverbs and idiomatic expressions, physics, chemistry, places in the world map, and even mathematics. It is true that critical thinking and reasoning are important in all mathematics, but even the study of math also needs strong memory skills for some areas and topics, such as for memorizing formulas, simple arithmatic and equations. Although students need to know where equations come from and how to use them, memorizing equations is also important. Mathematical fluency is attainable, according to Sparks (2006), when students can remember formulas and understand the reasoning behind them. In fact, human memory system works much more reliably, quickly and with much less effort than thinking system (Willingham, 2009).  Memorizing with understanding is different with rote memorizing. Thus, memorization, understanding, critical thinking and problem solving occur repeatedly throughout our learning.

In the digital age today, however, there is a campaign to quit memorizing and students should start to focus on their higher order thinking skills. The questions are how we understand remembering and memorizing, and what to memorize. Concerning the latter, it is the basic parts of a concept and foundational facts that should be memorized; otherwise, knowledge is unobtainable (Garii, 2002, p. 10). In fact, all learning should include remembering, and remembering is part of cognitive behavior and becomes fundamental to education. A good study cannot be separated from concentration and memory retention. Without any diligent effort of adequate and repetitive learning to remember and memorize, learning can be superficial and forgetting will take place immediately after learning. Good memorizing needs understanding, and memorizing also makes students understand their material through going over and over what they need to remember. The theme of critical thinking campaign seems to suggest that only students today are trained to dedicate themselves to thinking, while students in the past were only trained to memorize without thinking. Digital age has changed students’ attitudes toward learning. Teachers do not give students tests, instead papers to write, and reading that students need to present.

Educators should still know that thinking critically and solving problems will not take place when one is not equipped with sufficient knowledge and theory. They should still remember that nothing is more practical than a good theory.  Klemm (2011) provides a reminder that too many educators dismiss the importance of memorization, assuming falsely that kids can think with an empty head.



In short, real learning does not normally occur in one-time events.  Therefore, students should know that memorization is not a bad practice for their learning and achievement. To make memorization possible they need to improve their academic self-regulation in repetitive learning as one of the main conditions of memorization, although they might think that such task is tedious. Repetitious learning and spaced learning over time are necessary to activate and strengthen neural connections to successfully retain learning items in memory.  Spaced learning or spaced repetition is a technique to periodically refresh or review information to optimize long-term knowledge acquisition (Thalheimer, 2006).



Garii, B., (2002, April), That “aha” experience: Meta-cognition and student understanding of learning and knowledge. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Klemm, W.R. (2011). Is Memorization Bad for Learning? Accessible at

Sparks, J. C. (2006). The handbook of essential mathematics. In D.G. Gregory and V.R. Miller (Eds.), The handbook of Essential Mathematics: Formulas, Processes and Tables, plus Application in Personal Finance. The Airforce Research Laboratory, pp 1-100.

Thalheimer, W. (2006, February) Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says. Retrieved December 1, 2019, from

Willingham, D.T. (2009). Why Don’t Students like School? San Fransisco, Jose Bass.


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Tagged  Voices 
  • The Irreplaceable Teachers’ Roles
    Synthia Santoso, Indonesia

  • Memorization is Important for Academic Achievement
    Siusana Kweldju, Indonesia

  • Humanizing Grammar Teaching in Indonesia
    Jovita Gianina, Indonesia;David Wijaya, Indonesia