Jeremy Côté


What’s Worth Remembering

In almost every class I’ve ever taken, I’ve had to remember some kind of information. Whether it was dates for history, facts for science, or passages from books for English, memorization has been part of my student experience.

Recently though, I’ve started to question what exactly should be required to know for tests, particularly in the sciences.

The most common answer I get to the question of why we must memorize information is that it’s “important”. Therefore, we should need to remember it, so the logic goes. This was particularly surprising in mathematics, where we had to memorize various formulas in order to answer questions on the test.

This is where my first problem comes. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s absolutely no value in memorizing formulas for mathematics or any other science course. Honestly, there’s no reason, and it just makes students stressed even more.

For example, I had a mathematics test in which I got to a question that I knew how to answer, but I couldn’t even work on it properly because my mind could not recall if the formula involved addition or multiplication. Because of that little error, I couldn’t even get my full marks.

This is annoying, to say the least. To put salt in the wound, we got all of our formulas that we used throughout the semester for our final exam! So what was the point of withholding them from us during the semester?

After all, let’s go back to the question of what we should be getting tested on? In my eyes, it shouldn’t be how great of a memory we have. Instead, it should be about the process that we go through, not knowing the formulas1. It would be a more accurate reflection of who can actually work with mathematics, which should be the point of the test.

I find this is dealt with well in the physics community. When I write a physics exam, I have basically any formula I would need, provided to me. There’s no testing on the formulas, because honestly who cares? I hate the idea of someone getting good marks because they remember more formulas than I do. It’s an absurd quantification of achievement in a subject. That’s why physics tests focus on the actual work, which is solving the problem.

In the end, that’s what matters more.

  1. While this may seem like a bit of a contradiction to this post, it’s not. At one point, the amount of formulas can get a bit unwieldy, and expecting anyone to remember them is a bit unrealistic.