Learning by heart and cramming (Learning words)

woman sitting in a library reading a book and writing notes
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by Kate Woodford

Each year in January, the Education World Forum brings together delegates from all over the world to discuss the future of education. To mark this important annual event, we thought we’d take a look at some useful words related to learning.

Let’s start by looking at synonyms for the verb ‘study’. In UK English, if you study again something you have already learned, in preparation for an exam, you revise it. (The noun is revision.) In US English, the verb review is used: (UK) I’m revising for my test tomorrow. / (US) We’re reviewing for an exam next week.

If you are trying to learn a lot of facts very quickly before an exam, you might be said informally to be cramming: She was cramming for her final exams.

If you make an effort to learn about a particular subject for an exam or other test, you may be said to bone up on that subject: You’d better bone up on your local history before the quiz! UK English also has the informal phrasal verb mug up, which means the same: I need to mug up on conservation policy before the interview.

Related, a time when you spend all night studying, especially for an exam, is sometimes called informally an all-nighter. I’ve done so little revision for my test tomorrow – I might have to pull (=do) an all-nighter.

If you learn a skill or a language very well so that you are extremely good at it, you master it: He lived in Spain for several years but never quite mastered the language. / She soon mastered the technique.

To pick up a new skill or language is to learn it by doing or practising it rather than learning it formally: I picked up a bit of French in the few months I spent in Paris. / He never actually learned to cook – he just picked it up as he went along.

If you learn something by heart (or in UK English off by heart), you learn it in such a way that you can say it from memory: We all had to learn a poem by heart and thirty years later, I can still recite it.

To learn something by rote is to learn it by saying it many times, without necessarily understanding it: In those days, multiplication tables were still learnt by rote. This process is called rote learning.

If you absorb information, you understand and remember it: It’s just hard to absorb so much information. Finally, to assimilate new information is to understand and remember it so that you can use it as your own: You have to assimilate so much knowledge as a trainee doctor.

I hope that this post included one or two words that you didn’t know and that you found it useful.

27 thoughts on “Learning by heart and cramming (Learning words)

  1. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you, Kate! All your posts are usually very informative and utterly useful. I really absorb this information. Unfortunately, lots of our students learn English and other foreign languages by rote, That’s why it is next to impossible to teach trhem to talk in English.

      1. Ирина Мосенкова

        Bang on time, really! We’re dealing wi
        th the topic ‘Education’ with one of my students. Appreciate that!

      2. Jose

        Thank you so much to whoever wrote this article. Love learning new words/expressions and this was really interesting as I am studying now and always wondered what expressions to use around this topic. Thank you and Greetings from Córdoba, Spain 🙂

  2. Sam

    there are some useful idioms related to study topic such as ‘to burn midnight oil’, ‘to hit the books’ after all ‘we can pass the exam with flying colors or we ace the test’.

  3. M. Arjunan

    Yes it was. By rote and bone up were learnt through this post. Moreover, I could learn the real definition for MUG UP (ON) which I had been using to refer to “by heart” so far.
    Thank you
    Arjunan Mahalingam

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