Logical Vs. Rote Memory

“All my faults observed, set in a notebook learned and conned by Rote.”

Glory-training in ill repute with some educators is the fact that many so-called systems deal with Rote memory only. This, of course, is a very narrow and limited view of the subject.

It has already been pointed out that in this book we shall treat memory in the fullest sense of the word, which includes Logical memory as well as Rote memory and accords to it a higher place. We should keep clearly in mind the distinction between the two. Perhaps the simplest contrast that could be drawn would be to say that Logical memory deals with ideas, while Rote memory deals with words. Amplifying this, we find that Logical memory deals with relationships of mental concepts—relative values of thought, invoking the intellect through the law of Association. On the other hand, Rote memory deals with symbols—figures—dates, which may be fixed in mind through the law of Repetition without any effort of the intellect in the form of creative thinking. Consequently, the exclusive use of the Rote method may be a mere parrot-like repetition without any under-standing of the thought values represented by the words, figures or symbols which are being memorized. I use the word ” may,” because this is not necessarily so; it is possible to memorize by rote and at the same time have a full grasp of the underlying meaning. But where — the Rote method is not used in the right way, it very rightfully merits the condemnation it often receives. The danger lies in the tendency of the mind to wander off, when the intellect has-nothing to do after the first repetition. Many schools have abandoned all memoriter work fox this reason, and many authorities are outspoken against it.


In his analysis of this subject Larrome refers to Logical memory as Assimilative memory, and. to Rote memory as Sensuous memory and he makes the following distinction. What is As similative memory? ” It is learning through relations—by thinking, from grasping the ideas or thoughts—the meaning and the comprehension of the subject matter. It prevents mind wandering. Sensuous memory is association through the eye or ear of a succession of sights or sounds without any reflection or consideration of the succession or what they stand for or represent. It is learning by Rote—mere repetition, mere brainless or thoughtless repetition—a mass of learning that is not lasting—and always causes or promotes mind-wandering.” His contention is that we must train the intellect to stay with the senses in our memorizing. Probably the most radical critic of memory training is that Prince of Psychological Phenomena, William James of Harvard. Yet no less an authority than Walter Dill Scott challenges him on this point and shows that his misleading statements and criticisms do not apply to memory in its broadest sense.

In his later writings appears the following oft-quoted passage:” The popular idea that’ the memory, in the sense of a general elementary faculty, can be improved by training is a great mistake.”

” These and similar statements,” says Scott, it are supposed to teach specifically the impossibility of any successful memory-training. Such is, however, not the case. We may for our present convenience analyze any act of memory into three factors: acquisition, retention, and recall. Professor James was speaking of but one of these three processes. Even though one’s native retentiveness may not be improved, beneficial results may be secured by the training of the other two factors. If it be granted that nothing in addition to hygienic regulations may effect native retentiveness, still acquisition and recall are so under the influence of training that methods of improving these are of the greatest significance.”


The truth of the matter is that Logical memory and Rote memory are both practical, and both are necessary. Each has its value and distinctive place in a rational system of memory-training. While we recognize the fact that Logical memory is the higher development since it deals with ideas rather than words and lines and their particular place, yet it is equally true that verbal memory or Rote memory comes first, and that accuracy and retentiveness must be well established before you can hope for the full and larger development of your Logical memory.

Let not the student discredit Rote memory nor scorn the humble beginning required by practice on the Rote exercises and tests. He who would develop a great Logical memory must first develop a good Rote memory. Here the foundation is laid for accuracy, retentiveness, and all-round serviceability. In reproducing what has been learned, the beauty of a verse may be marred or a fine passage made ridiculous if the Rote memory fails, even though the Logical memory may essay to give the quotation. In such a case, the accuracy of the Rote method is essential. For example, we may cite the foreigner who rendered a well-known quotation as follows, ” The ghost is willing but the meat is feeble.” Another very free translation was given by a student in one of my memory classes who was called upon to repeat a memory test which had been given the week before—he began correctly with the lines—` He who knows and knows that he knows is wise—follow him,” but when he came to the closing lines—” He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool—shun hire “his memory slipped and after considerable groping and stumbling, he blurted out, ” Well, anyhow, it was something like this:

“He who don’t know and don’t know that he don’t know is a bonehead—ditch him.” Here was a case where the Logical memory was not adequate to the task.

As an aid in gripping elusive facts, and especially for the benefit of those who have difficulty in remembering numbers, dates, and figures, I strongly recommend patient and careful attention to the Rote method. Begin at the bottom with your memory and work up to the top. This is the right way, and the strength of your memory will depend in the long run on the way it is used rather than on how much it is used.






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