Getting Good Marks: How to Memorise Vocabulary

Paul Romani

How to Memorise Vocabulary

Unfortunately, the majority of tests – from elementary school all the way to university – are about memorisation.

Fortunately, using the following study strategy, it’s easy to memorise, and therefore relatively easy to get good marks!

As an example, let’s use French as a subject in which we have to memorise some vocabulary for a test.

STAGE 1 – Make a List

It’s easier to remember words that are in a list (i.e. reading down the page).
If you already have a book with the words in a list format, you can use this. If not, you need to a make a list.
Luckily, making the list is actually part of the study process. By writing the words down, you are helping your brain to remember the words: you’re practicing the spelling; you’re picturing the words in your mind.
Make sure you hand write both the vocabulary and its translation side by side. Handwritten lists are more effective than typed ones because, in a test, you’re likely to have to hand write the answers. Typing and handwriting are different skills, so you should make your memorisation process authentic to the test requirement.
If you’re making a list of foreign vocabulary, you’ll need to write the English equivalent.
However, if you’re making a list of technical words, you’ll need to write the definition next it. As much as possible, this definition should be in your own words, without deviating from the more complex definition you might have read in a textbook or elsewhere.
How to Memorise Vocabulary

STAGE 2 – How to Memorise

Part 1

Next, you need to make sure that you’re familiar with the words you’re learning. If you have no idea what any of the words mean, you’ll need to learn them now.
To do this, you through each word, one at a time. For example, “Le bureau… office”.
Once you’ve gone through all of the words at least once, you can then move on to the next stage.

Part 2

Next, fold the paper in half (down the middle) so that you have one list on one side, and the other list on the other.
In order to practice, we should start with the easy list first. In this example, it’s easier to translate from French to English.
How to Memorise Vocabulary
For this French list, you would translate the French word ‘Le bureau’ into English.
You would go through each word until you make a mistake or don’t know the answer.
In this instance, you look flip the paper and look at the answer.
Then, you turn back to the original list and start from the beginning.
You continue this process until you can complete the list flawlessly – and preferably several times without any mistakes.

Part 3

Turn the paper over to show the other list. Now things get more difficult!
In this case, translating from English to French is more challenging.
What is more, we’re not going to just say the words, we’re going to WRITE them down.
Not only will this help us remember the words, but also the spelling.

“Office… L e  b u r e a u

How to Memorise Vocabulary

 Stage 4 – Remember Beyond a Test

I hate cram schools.
If I had my way, I would have every cram school closed down worldwide.
Cram schools do one thing – they train you to memorise for a test. They don’t teach you. You don’t learn anything.
To learn, you need to understand; you need to absorb information and use it.
Once you do this, you will remember vocabulary pretty much forever. It will become part of your active vocabulary, rather than just your passive vocabulary.
How to Memorise Vocabulary

Knowing what your teacher wants

Getting good grades is often just a question of knowing what your teacher wants, and giving that to them.
Again, unfortunately, this is generally about regurgitating (AKA parroting) what the teacher says ‘word for word’. Teachers like the sound of their own voice, so you telling them what they said (rather than what a book or another teacher says/thinks) is like music to their ears.
So, for the sake of getting a good mark, make sure you deliver what your teacher is expecting.
In the image below, I’ve noted the transition from bad to best grade. Bad grades will occur when you’re using completely the wrong words. In the event that you forget exactly the right word or phrase, you can sometimes get away with using an alternative word or paraphrasing (using different words to say the same thing). You might be able to pass using this method, but you won’t get top marks. While it’s wrong, your teacher doesn’t really care that you understand; they are desperate for you to say exactly what they want you to say – what is written on the answer sheet. That’s when you’ll get the best marks.
How to Memorise Vocabulary
Does all of this mean you’ll be intelligent? Of course not.
Memorisation is the absolute lowest form of intelligence.