October 17 - 21, 2011

This week


Rote learning: vitally important or educational catastrophe?

In a 2010 essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, educator and author (College Admissions for the 21st Century, Harvard University Press) Robert J. Sternberg argues that education in general should place more emphasis on creativity and less on memorization. Echoing the same idea, Dr. Sanjoy Mahajan of MIT stated, "The problem [with rote learning] is that we produce people who can't solve new problems. We're not tapping into the perceptual capacities of the student. It's just a problem-solving disaster." (Today's Campus, July/August 2010)

Others disagree. While educators are pretty likely to be in favor of creativity, some argue that rote learning can actually enhance higher order thinking skills, in the same way that a child who has memorized basic multiplication facts thoroughly is better prepared to learn long division than a peer who struggles to remember, for example, whether 8 x 7 = 56 (Hint: it does).

Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive psychologist and author of Why Don't Students Like School? is an expert on learning and memory. His view is that rote learning is a crucial building block of thinking, that having some "automatic" knowledge is a necessary step that makes possible the mental connections we associate with excellent educational experiences.

There's not a right or wrong answer to this. As you're charting your own academic path, it might be worth considering when you need to do rote learning to fuel your cognitive tank, versus when you need to do creative thinking by revisiting how your knowledge applies to new problems and new contexts.

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Stay on track

Checklist for this week

For freshmen
  • Take an active role during class lectures. Ask questions and contribute to class discussions.
  • Keep open lines of communication with your teachers. Give them progress updates on your studies and ask for help when needed.
  • Remember, active participation can improve your grades. The more you show an interest, the more likely you will be given credit.
  • Start to get comfortable speaking in class, in large groups, or in class presentations. Your confidence will build, and you will do better in future interviews for schools and scholarships.
  • If you are shy, make a commitment to speak up at least once or twice a day in class. You'll find it more comfortable to participate in the future.
For sophomores and juniors
  • It's time to take the PSAT. Make sure you register and get all the information necessary to take the test.
  • When you receive your PSAT scores, you will also be given your test booklets. Review the items you missed and talk to your teachers if you don't understand why you missed the incorrect answers.
  • When you practice for the test, make sure you monitor your time and adjust your progress to complete as much of the exam as possible.
  • Don't get stuck trying to answer a single question. Mark the questions you can't answer immediately and come back to them later.
  • Pay attention to the instructions on filling out the answer form. It can be very easy to lose your place and start marking answers in the wrong spaces.
  • If you are having difficulty selecting the correct answer, but you can definitely eliminate one of the answers, make your best "educated" guess. By eliminating one option, you've already increased your chances of getting the right answer.
  • Remember to take your calculator, extra new batteries, and a supply of reliable pencils to the test.
For seniors
  • Keep working on getting good grades. It's tempting to slack off your senior year — but don't do it.
  • You should be diligently working on taking your college entrance exams, preparing your college applications, and visiting schools when possible.
  • Talk with your parents or counselor about who you should approach to prepare reference letters for you. Often, it's more important that you select a person who knows you well. A person with a high profile may not impress the school if that person doesn't know you well.
  • Start thinking about where you'll be this time next year. If you plan on leaving home for college, you'll need to start thinking now about how to pay for the necessities — food, shelter, and transportation, among other things.
  • Work on your leadership skills. Join clubs, run for an office, and get involved with community activities.
  • Keep your family involved in your college and career planning. Share your progress over dinner, on the ride to or from work or school, or over a basketball game or trip to the mall.
For parents
  • The season for "college nights" and college planning fairs has arrived. Stay involved. Make arrangements to attend these programs with your student.
  • During the fairs, encourage your student to ask questions. Pick up information about schools and ask any questions you may have, but be careful not to monopolize the counselor's time.
  • Have a quick five to ten minute chat with your student's high school counselor. Share ideas, talk about your students' progress, and ask them to keep you informed of any changes.
  • If your senior student wants to go to college but isn't making an effort to get the information he or she needs, remind them that time is running very short. Get them to spend an afternoon or a Saturday morning calling admissions offices for information, researching on the Web, or emailing schools.

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Take notice

Important dates

Test Name Scheduled Test Date Regular Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline
Oct 22, 2011
Sept 16, 2011
Sept 30, 2011
SAT and Subject Tests
Nov 5, 2011
Oct 7, 2011
Oct 21, 2011
SAT and Subject Tests
Dec 3, 2011
Nov 8, 2011
Nov 20, 2011

AIE's College Admissions Testing Schedule

To get more information on the SAT or SAT Subject Tests, access useful tools, or register, visit the College Board's website ( or call (866) 756-7346.

To get more information on the ACT, access useful tools, or register, visit the ACT website ( or call (319) 337-1270.

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Stay on track
Weekly checklist