They are memorizing to pass the test!
A number of years ago a study was done at Johns Hopkins University, MIT and other well-regarded universities. Honor students who had passed college level physics courses, were asked to solve problems they had had in class but these problems were in a slightly different form from what they had originally encountered. The students were unable to answer the questions. Why? Dr. Howard Gardner from Harvard maintains in his book, The Unschooled Mind, these students never really learned to solve the problems in the first place. They just learned the steps so that they could pass the test.
When a person learns something it is held in long-term memory – a chemical reaction actually takes place in the brain as this happens. Ideas held in long-term memory are associated with everything else that is in long-term memory. These associations can lead to someone coming up with an idea that is completely outside the box.
Students today go through college memorizing. Few chemical reactions are happening. When a student studies about the Civil War, they can pass the test on its facts but they are completely untouched by the deeper story because the information never makes it to Long-term memory. This simple fact has great consequences. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, first quoted by George Santayana and used by Winston Churchill. As I said, not learning has dire consequences.