Is Memorization your “Hammer?”

“If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.”

~ Abraham Maslow


I’m sure you’ve probably heard this popular quote before, but you may not know who is thought to have originally said it.  In this form, it is often attributed to Abraham Maslow.  Yes, the same Abraham Maslow that created Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  I didn’t know who said it when I first thought of the idea for this blog post, but as soon as I looked it up and saw it was him, I knew it was very appropriate to share with future nurses 🙂

People often use this quote to describe a situation where a person has only one technique to deal with a problem.  And so they end up applying that single technique to every problem, even if it’s not useful or appropriate.  Sometimes it even makes the problem worse!  Unfortunately, I see this happen everyday with nursing students who try to memorize their way through nursing school.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think memorization is evil or wrong.  But if you find yourself using memorization to try and copy every detail from the textbook into your own head, then you need to stop and ask yourself ifmemorization is a good method to try and learn the topic you’re currently studying.  After all, it is only one study technique of many, and should only be used for specific types of nursing information.  For example:

– Memorization to learn blood flow through the heart?  Great

– Memorization to learn the symptoms of heart failure?  Awful

Too many nursing students try to use memorization as a shortcut for everything they need to learn in nursing school.  The problem is, you can’t memorize complex concepts!  You can only memorize simple facts.

Think of nursing information like a huge puzzle.  Even if you could memorize the picture that’s on every single, individual puzzle piece, it wouldn’t make sense to you because you’d be trying to memorize the images out of context.  You wouldn’t be able to figure out what the entire puzzle looks like when it’s put together unless you try to put the pieces together first.

Memorization is necessary to give yourself the building blocks needed to understand more complex concepts.  So you’ll probably find yourself using memorization as a study tool more often in earlier classes (especially for things like lab values and vocabulary)  than in your more advanced classes (like Med-Surg).  After all, you’ll never begin to understand the symptoms of heart failure unless you already know how the blood flows through the heart.  But there are definitely other study tools you need to also use, so make sure you branch out and try some others the next time you’re tempted to only memorize.

Are you guilty of using memorization as a hammer?  What new study techniques do you want to try?

4 thoughts on “Is Memorization your “Hammer?””

  1. Clara

    I understand that memorization may not be the most effective way to study. But I don’t necessarily think either that memorization is a bad method of study for example to learn the symptoms of heart failure. Ones you understand the concepts of each symptom than memorization can play a perfect role. Thanks.

    1. Hi Clara, Thanks for your comment! That’s really my point though. that you have to understand the CONCEPT of each symptom in order to understand it and retain it for the long-term. And that’s different from the type of rote memorization that I think is (generally) “bad.” When you simply try to memorize a list of symptoms without taking the time to understand the concepts first, then those symptoms will get fuzzy in your memory as time passes, and will be easily confused with other disorders and symptoms. But you’re right, even rote memorization can play a positive role in studying…just in very limited situations, such as memorizing lab values.

  2. Liz

    You definitely put things into prospective. Especially when you add the article regarding the best way to study to this one…

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