Working Memory? Mine broke forever-ago!

I have the brain of an unreliable goldfish. I can’t remember anything. I would forget my appendages, were they not fully attached to my person. And even then, I have been known to fall over my own feet because I don’t quite realise where they are!

And yet I’m not totally daft. Silly? Absolutely. Dizzy? For sure. Unintelligent? No. Just no.

So why then do we somehow accept traditional exams, which (for the most part) test memory, as a mark of intelligence. Remembering quotations, when you could just take the book in. Deriving or memorising formulae, when you could just use them and apply the knowledge behind them. In the real world, it is only exceedingly rare that memory is the only tool that people have at their disposal for solving a problem or answering a question. So why then, do we focus so strongly on memory skills rather than problem solving and applied knowledge?

Honest answer? I dunno. Potential answer? Because we always have.

But nowadays there’s just no need. We don’t need an inaccessible book to find out an obscure chemical fact, or to phone a library to ask for a carbon copy of something to be posted (snail mail over). In that instance, I can see the value in using memory more. But now, I would argue that the more valuable skillset, for use with the information-super-highway (tinterwebs) is discernment: sifting through the guff to get to what you really want to know.

This came to me after a chat with Mr Dr Ross earlier this week. I’m in the middle of a project that needs quite a lot of information. I can’t remember stuff for beans. It’s part of my dyslexia and how my brain works. But actually, I don’t need to remember it, because I can look things up and double check them. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to make an on-the-spot call. Where technical or legal knowledge is needed, I always check if I’m unsure.

The project is essentially a branch of policy analysis and it really bears perfect resemblance to the one and only open-book exam I’ve ever had. I had a policy analysis open book exam in my MRes: we had a week to consider, research and answer a question. That is essentially what I have now. I’ve a topic to sort out, update and ping back to the powers that be. I have the whole internet at my disposal and a few bits stuck in my brain and some books in the office.

So why, do we use exams that are a memory test. They alone don’t show that you’re good at something!

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