Rote learning

Rote learning

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Rote learning is a learning
Learning is acquiring new or modifying existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.Human learning...

 technique which focuses on memorization
In psychology, memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and recall information and experiences. Traditional studies of memory began in the fields of philosophy, including techniques of artificially enhancing memory....

. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition by which students commit information to memory in a highly structured way. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall
Recall in memory refers to the retrieval of events or information from the past. Along with encoding and storage, it is one of the three core processes of memory. There are three main types of recall: free recall, cued recall and serial recall...

 the meaning of the material the more one repeats it. Alternatives to rote learning include Associative learning and Active learning
Active learning
Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning, on learners. Bonwell and Eison popularized this approach to instruction . This "buzz word" of the 1980s became their 1990s report to the Association for the Study of Higher...


Rote learning vs. critical thinking

Rote methods are routinely used when quick memorization is required, such as learning one's lines in a play or memorizing a telephone number. Rote learning is widely used in the mastery of foundational knowledge. Examples of school topics where rote learning is frequently used include phonics
Phonics refers to a method for teaching speakers of English to read and write that language. Phonics involves teaching how to connect the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters and teaching them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations...

 in reading
Reading (process)
Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols for the intention of constructing or deriving meaning . It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas...

, the periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

 in chemistry, multiplication tables in mathematics, anatomy
Anatomy is a branch of biology and medicine that is the consideration of the structure of living things. It is a general term that includes human anatomy, animal anatomy , and plant anatomy...

 in medicine, cases or statute
A statute is a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city, or county. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. The word is often used to distinguish law made by legislative bodies from case law, decided by courts, and regulations...

s in law, basic formula
In mathematics, a formula is an entity constructed using the symbols and formation rules of a given logical language....

e in any science, etc. By definition, rote learning eschews comprehension, so by itself it is an ineffective tool in mastering any complex subject at an advanced level. For instance, one illustration of Rote learning can be observed in preparing quickly for exams, a technique which may be colloquially referred to as "cramming".

Rote learning is sometimes disparaged with the derogative terms parrot fashion, regurgitation
Regurgitation (digestion)
Regurgitation is the expulsion of material from the mouth, pharynx, or esophagus, usually characterized by the presence of undigested food or blood.Regurgitation is used by a number of species to feed their young...

, cramming, or mugging because one who engages in rote learning may give the wrong impression of having understood what they have written or said. It is strongly discouraged by many new curriculum standards. For example, science and mathematics standards in the United States specifically emphasize the importance of deep understanding over the mere recall of facts, which is seen to be less important, although advocates of traditional education
Traditional education
Traditional education or back-to-basics refers to long-established customs found in schools that society has traditionally deemed appropriate. Some forms of education reform promote the adoption of progressive education practices, a more holistic approach which focuses on individual students'...

 have criticized the new American standards as slighting learning basic facts and elementary arithmetic
Elementary arithmetic
Elementary arithmetic is the simplified portion of arithmetic which is considered necessary and appropriate during primary education. It includes the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It is taught in elementary school....

, and replacing content with process-based skills.
"When calculator
An electronic calculator is a small, portable, usually inexpensive electronic device used to perform the basic operations of arithmetic. Modern calculators are more portable than most computers, though most PDAs are comparable in size to handheld calculators.The first solid-state electronic...

s can do multidigit long division in a microsecond, graph complicated functions at the push of a button, and instantaneously calculate derivative
In calculus, a branch of mathematics, the derivative is a measure of how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity; for example, the derivative of the position of a...

s and integral
Integration is an important concept in mathematics and, together with its inverse, differentiation, is one of the two main operations in calculus...

s, serious questions arise about what is important in the mathematics curriculum and what it means to learn mathematics. More than ever, mathematics must include the mastery of concepts instead of mere memorization and the following of procedures. More than ever, school mathematics must include an understanding of how to use technology to arrive meaningfully at solutions to problems instead of endless attention to increasingly outdated computational tedium."
-National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics was founded in 1920. It has grown to be the world's largest organization concerned with mathematics education, having close to 100,000 members across the USA and Canada, and internationally....

, Commonsense Facts to Clear the Air

In math and science, rote methods are often used, for example to memorize formulas. There is greater understanding if students commit a formula to memory through exercises that use the formula rather than through rote repetition of the formula. Newer standards often recommend that students derive formulas themselves to achieve the best understanding. Nothing is faster than rote learning if a formula must be learned quickly for an imminent test and rote methods can be helpful for committing an understood fact to memory. However, students who learn with understanding are able to transfer their knowledge to tasks requiring problem-solving with greater success than those who learn only by rote.

Eugène Ionesco
Eugène Ionesco
Eugène Ionesco was a Romanian and French playwright and dramatist, and one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd...

 commented upon rote learning in his play "The Lesson"
La Leçon
The Lesson is a one-act play by Eugène Ionesco. It was first performed in 1951 in a production directed by Marcel Cuvelier . Claude Mansard played the Maid and Rosette Zuchelli played the Pupil in that production. Since 1957 it has been in permanent production at Paris' Théâtre de la Huchette, on...


Pupil:In India many good students (with proper reasoning) die as they are criticised for not being good rote learners.
Professor: [...] unless you can comprehend the primary elements, how do you expect to be able to calculate mentally [...] how much, for example, are three billion seven hundred fifty-five million nine hundred ninety-eight thousand two hundred fifty one, multiplied by five billion one hundred sixty-two million three hundred and three thousand five hundred and eight?
Pupil [very quickly]: That makes nineteen quintillion three hundred eighty-nine quadrillion six hundred and two trillion nine hundred forty-seven billion one hundred seventy-nine million one hundred sixty-four thousand five hundred and eight ...


Professor [Stupefied]: But how did you know that, if you don't know the principles of arithmetical reasoning?

Pupil: It's easy. Not being able to rely on my reasoning, I've memorized all the products of all possible multiplications.

Rote learning as a necessity

With some material rote learning is the only way to learn it in a short time; for example, when learning the Greek alphabet or lists of vocabulary
A person's vocabulary is the set of words within a language that are familiar to that person. A vocabulary usually develops with age, and serves as a useful and fundamental tool for communication and acquiring knowledge...

 words. Similarly, when learning the conjugation
Grammatical conjugation
In linguistics, conjugation is the creation of derived forms of a verb from its principal parts by inflection . Conjugation may be affected by person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, voice, or other grammatical categories...

 of foreign irregular verb
Irregular verb
In contrast to regular verbs, irregular verbs are those verbs that fall outside the standard patterns of conjugation in the languages in which they occur. The idea of an irregular verb is important in second language acquisition, where the verb paradigms of a foreign language are learned...

s, the morphology
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 is often too subtle to be learned explicitly in a short time. However, as in the alphabet example, learning where the alphabet came from may help one to grasp the concept of it and therefore memorize it. (Native speakers
First language
A first language is the language a person has learned from birth or within the critical period, or that a person speaks the best and so is often the basis for sociolinguistic identity...

 and speakers with a lot of experience usually get an intuitive grasp of those subtle rules and are able to conjugate even irregular verbs that they have never heard before.)

The source transmission could be auditory
Hearing (sense)
Hearing is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations through an organ such as the ear. It is one of the traditional five senses...

 or visual
Visual system
The visual system is the part of the central nervous system which enables organisms to process visual detail, as well as enabling several non-image forming photoresponse functions. It interprets information from visible light to build a representation of the surrounding world...

, and is usually in the form of short bits such as rhyming phrases (but rhyming is not a prerequisite), rather than chunks of text large enough to make lengthy paragraphs. Brevity is not always the case with rote learning. For example, many Americans can recite their National Anthem, or even the much more lengthy Preamble to the United States Constitution
Preamble to the United States Constitution
The Preamble to the United States Constitution is a brief introductory statement of the Constitution's fundamental purposes and guiding principles...

. Their ability to do so can be attributed, at least in some part, to having been assimilated by rote learning. The repeated stimulus of hearing it recited in public, on TV, at a sporting event, etc. has caused the mere sound of the phrasing of the words and inflections to be "written", as if hammer-to-stone, into the long-term memory. Excessive repetition within a limited time frame can actually be counter-productive to learning, through an effect termed semantic satiation.

By nation and culture

The system is widely practiced in schools across Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, which Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman
Richard Phillips Feynman was an American physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics...

 sharply criticized, China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

, India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, Malaysia, Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

, Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

, Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

, and Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

. Some of these nations are admired for their high test scores in international comparisons while some of these nations regularly rank near the bottom on international tests. Xiaping Li (2006) has studied the effects of rote learning in second language learning in Taiwan. He notes Chinese learners hold high the tradition of rote learning as being an integral part of their culture.
In Singapore, with the introduction of the integrated programme
Integrated programme
* Integrated Programme - an education programme in Singapore* EU Integrated programme - European Union Integrated action programme in the field of Lifelong learning...

, the government is making attempts to move away from rote learning, at least for the more able students.

In the United States

New curriculum standards from the NCTM and National Science Education Standards
National Science Education Standards
The National Science Education Standards are a set of guidelines for the science education in primary and secondary schools in the United States, as established by the National Research Council in 1996. These provide a set of goals for teachers to set for their students and for administrators to...

 call for more emphasis on active learning
Active learning
Active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning, on learners. Bonwell and Eison popularized this approach to instruction . This "buzz word" of the 1980s became their 1990s report to the Association for the Study of Higher...

, critical thinking
Critical thinking
Critical thinking is the process or method of thinking that questions assumptions. It is a way of deciding whether a claim is true, false, or sometimes true and sometimes false, or partly true and partly false. The origins of critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic...

 and communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

 over recall of facts. In many fields such as mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 and science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 it is still a matter of controversy as to whether rote memorization of facts such as the multiplication table or boiling point of water is still necessary. Progressive reforms, such as outcomes-based education, which have put an emphasis on eliminating rote learning in favor of deep understanding have produced controversy among those favoring traditional rote methods. Some American texts such as the K-5 mathematics curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space of TERC
TERC may refer to:*Telomerase RNA component, a human gene.*The developers of the Investigations in Numbers, Data, and Space mathematics curriculum.*Technical Education Research Centers*CSIRO Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre...

 omit rote memorization in favor of conceptual learning.


In the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Arab human development report
Arab Human Development Report
The Arab Human Development Report is an independent report sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme , providing leading Arab scholars a platform through which to analyze the challenges and opportunities for human development in the Arab Region...

 for 2004 the Arab researchers claim that rote learning is a major contributing factor to the lack of progress in science and research & development in the Arab countries. Asian nations, though scoring well on skill tests, are also studying standards of nations such as the United States to increase innovation and creativity.


Many religions contain vast amount of scriptures, commentaries, and even commentaries on classical commentaries. Rote learning is prevalent in many religious schools throughout the world. This is partly because most major religions appeared before the emergence of print.

Most Dharmic religions such as Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 or Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 initially transmitted their scriptural knowledge through oral transmission without resort to text. This was done by converting verse into chant and repeating it to commit to memory. In Abrahamic religions, Jewish yeshivot or cheder
A Cheder is a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.-History:...

im (plural of cheder
A Cheder is a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language.-History:...

) use rote learning when teaching children Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, Muslim madrasas utilize it in memorizing Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

. A person who has memorized the entire Koran is known as Hafiz. In pre-Enlightenment Europe, memorization techniques were known as Method of loci
Method of loci
The method of loci , also called the memory palace, is a mnemonic device introduced in ancient Roman rhetorical treatises . It relies on memorized spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content...

, mainly practiced in monasteries and universities, where divinity was taught. These skills were highly praised and they were known to be extensive allies of memorization technique such as the memory palace.

After the emergence of the printing press, the memorization of the entire scriptures was no longer an essential requirement of being a religious teacher. Rote learning is still used in various degrees, especially by young children, the main purpose being to memorize and retain as much textual material as possible, to prepare a student for a more analytical learning in the future.

Rote learning in mathematics

Rote learning or memorization is a common element in mathematics education, for instance in memorization of multiplication tables. While complex problems can be broken down into simpler multiplications, the answers to these basic operations themselves are essential for more complex mathematical operations. It is believed, therefore, that having them at hand mentally will facilitate not only these operations (which are of use directly), but also more progress to more advanced concepts. A mechanism for such progress would be chunking
Chunking (psychology)
Chunking, in psychology, is a phenomenon whereby individuals group responses when performing a memory task. Tests where individuals can illustrate "chunking" commonly include serial and free recall, as these both require the individual to reproduce items that he or she had previously been...

, where by the cognitive load of a task is reduced if its basic building blocks are larger.

Acquisition of basic skills typically involves not only work demonstrating why the operations work the way they do, but also repetition or drilling using examples. It is believed also that practice in using mathematics can precede a solid knowledge as to why equations are able to be solved in the ways being learned, with learning of these reasons actually being facilitated by rote-knowledge of the results of the concept. This combination of mathematical properties and theorems and enhanced memory through rote learning and practice that are believed to be important in mastering mathematics.


This term can also refer to learning music by ear
Learning music by ear
Learning music by ear is done by repeatedly listening to other musicians and then attempting to recreate what one hears. This is how people learn music in any musical tradition in which there is no complete musical notation...

 as opposed to musical notation interpretation. Many music teachers make a clear distinction between the two approaches. Specialised forms of rote learning have also been used in Vedic chanting
Vedic chant
The oral tradition of the Vedas consists of several pathas, "recitations" or ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Such traditions of Vedic chant are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in existence, the fixation of the samhita texts as preserved dating to roughly the time of Homer...

 to preserve the intonation and lexical accuracy of texts by oral tradition
Oral tradition
Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants...

. The Suzuki method
Suzuki method
The Suzuki method is a method of teaching music that emerged in the mid-20th century.-Background:The Suzuki Method was conceived in the mid-20th century by Shin'ichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist who desired to bring beauty to the lives of children in his country after the devastation of World War II...

's underlying key is rote learning.

Rote learning music is also used in music where notation isn't sufficient to tell how it should be played (polymetric music, and others)
Also this technique is commonly used in jazz, as a method of getting the musician to think about the piece played in another way.

The Suzuki method and rote learning

As outlined in Edward Kreitman
Edward Kreitman
Edward Kreitman is an American violin teacher and widely respected Suzuki teacher trainer. He is head of the Western Springs School of Talent Education in Illinois and is the author of Teaching from the Balance Point: A guide for Suzuki Teachers, Parents, and Students and Teaching with an Open...

's book "Teaching From The Balance Point", there is a clear difference between rote learning and learning by ear, which is in fact the more important skill developed by the Suzuki method
Suzuki method
The Suzuki method is a method of teaching music that emerged in the mid-20th century.-Background:The Suzuki Method was conceived in the mid-20th century by Shin'ichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist who desired to bring beauty to the lives of children in his country after the devastation of World War II...

. In chapter two, "Rote Versus Note", this difference is explained:

...I believe that we need to examine three different approaches to learning.

Learning by rote: Using a specific set of instructions to produce the desired result

Learning by reading: Using symbolism on the printed page to learn the sequence of notes

Learning by ear: Using the "mind's ear", together with a few simple skills and a basic understanding of the logic of the instrument, to figure out any piece

An illustration of these three approaches, and how they relate to learning music, follows. The author shows that rote learning is not in fact the principal means upon which the Suzuki method relies.

Learning methods for school

The flashcard
A flashcard or flash card is a set of cards bearing information, as words or numbers, on either or both sides, used in classroom drills or in private study. One writes a question on a card and an answer overleaf. Flashcards can bear vocabulary, historical dates, formulas or any subject matter that...

, outline
An outline is a list of the main features of a given topic, often used as a rough draft or summary of the content of a document. A hierarchical outline is a list arranged to show hierarchical relationships, and is a type of tree structure....

, and mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

device are traditional tools for memorizing course material and are alternatives to rote learning.