We are taught from a young age to develop our memorization skills - do you remember singing your times tables without really understanding what it actually meant? In fact, much of our schooling life was built on the strength of our memories - we swallow information whole, regurgitate them for our exams and ‘return everything to the teacher’ immediately after.

Today, memory as a skill has largely been derided in favour of other higher-order thinking skills including comprehension, application, analysis and evaluation. This is also the primary reason behind the inclusion of HOTS (also known as KBAT in BM) type questions in our exams. But is memorisation truly as bad as it’s made out to be?

Learning requires both remembering and understanding

An easier way to understand the difference between memory and understanding is to think of it this way: memory answers questions that begin with “Who”, “What” and “When” while understanding answers questions that begin with “How” and “Why”.

Here’s another way to see this; an actor memorises lines, but can only bring a role to life by understanding their characters. From this viewpoint, it is clear then that the learning process (and by extension, the development of knowledge) combines both memory and understanding.

In the following points, we share a few effective techniques to help you improve both these important components of learning.

Techniques to improve memory

Mnemonics << Protip, if you're attending our SPM Seminar, Cikgu Rasidah Biology is the best at this.

Mnemonics are memory devices that help learners recall larger pieces of information, especially in the form of lists like characteristics, steps, stages, parts, phases, etc. Based on a study by Gerald R. Miller in 1967, students who regularly used mnemonic devices increased test scores up to 77%!

Many types of mnemonics exist and the most popular of the lot include music (we know the letters of the roman alphabet by heart thanks to the ABC song) and names (i.e. Roy G Biv for the colours of the rainbow, or Toa Kah Soh for deriving Tangent, Kos and Sine in Math). Our very own Cikgu Rasidah provides excellent mnemonics for Biology - you should check out her Seminar at our SPM Seminar.

Spaced Repetitions

Repeating something to yourself in order to remember it is a natural memory strategy that almost everyone uses from time to time. However, you are most likely to remember something later if you repeat it using a technique known as spaced repetitions.

The simplest method of applying spaced repetition is to prioritise your efforts in remembering topics according to how well you know them; you repeat unfamiliar topics more frequently to yourself as compared to topics you’re already familiar with.

So if you have a stack of flashcards or notes to work through, notes at the top of your pile will be moved lower down the pile for later review as you get better at answering them. This leaves you with more time to review and repeat notes that you’re more unfamiliar with.

Techniques to improve understanding

Active Listening

Active listening is a communication skill that you can use to improve your ability to understand and comprehend verbal information. During active listening, our minds focus on the information just received and process it accordingly; this is when truly amazing learning experiences take shape. This also explains why active listening is not just listening to what is being said, but also absorbing it. It involves focusing on the subject matter, processing it, and comprehending the concepts.

Give the following three activities a go and see if you can apply active listening effectively:

    • Watch one of our learning videos together with your friends.
    • Each one of you should take notes from the video by paying close attention to the lecture.
    • At the end of the video, compare and discuss the similarities and differences between the notes that you’ve taken with each of your friends.


Used as a learning and teaching technique, concept mapping visually illustrates the relationships between concepts and ideas. Often represented in circles or boxes, concepts are linked by words and phrases that explain the connection between the ideas, helping students organize and structure their thoughts to further understand information and discover new relationships. We use concept-mapping extensively in our notes for Sejarah Tingkatan 4 and Tingkatan 5.

So there you have it, tricks to help improve your memory AND facilitate your understanding of any given subject. Now go on ahead and learn, learn, learn!