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Rote learning is a learning technique which avoids understanding of a subject and instead focuses on memorization. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it.

Rote learning is widely used in the mastery of foundational knowledge. Examples include, phonics in reading, the periodic table in chemistry, multiplication tables in mathematics, anatomy in medicine, cases or statutes in law, basic formulas in any science, etc. Rote learning, by definition, eschews comprehension, however, and consequently, it is an ineffective tool in mastering any complex subject at an advanced level. However, rote learning is still useful in passing exams. If exam papers are not well designed, it is possible for someone with good memorization techniques to pass the test without any meaningful comprehension of the subject. However, learning the context of a particular topic can make the subject more memorable.

Rote learning vs. actual thinking

Rote learning is sometimes disparaged with the derogative terms parrot fashion, regurgitation, 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 (deep structure) over the mere recall of facts, which is seen to be less important, although advocates of traditional education have criticized the new standards as slighting learning basic facts and elementary arithmetic, and replacing content with process-based skills.

"When calculators can do multidigit long division in a microsecond, graph complicated functions at the push of a button, and instantaneously calculate derivatives and integrals, 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of how to use technology to arrive meaningfully at solutions to problems instead of endless attention to increasingly outdated computational tedium."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, Commonsense Facts to Clear the Air[1]

A December 2006 study[2] of Tennessee State achievement analyzed scores in math, science, reading and social studies of about 4000 middle school students over three years. Students were divided on the basis of whether or not they had hands-on trained teachers. This study found increased scores in science, social studies and math for students who had a hands-on science trained teacher for at least one year.

Rote learning as a necessity

However, with some material rote learning is the only way to learn it in a timely manner; for example, when learning the Greek alphabet or the vocabulary of a foreign language. Similarly, when learning the conjugation of foreign irregular verbs, the morphology is often too subtle to be learned explicitly in a short time. However, as in the alphabet example, learning where the alphabet came from helps one to grasp the concept of it and therefore memorize it. (Native speakers 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 or visual, 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. 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. Memorization is not learning. Rote learning is considered bad for children, because it can create bad studying habits at an early age.

Rote learning's complementary role

Rather than viewing rote memorization as something opposed to understanding, it can be viewed in a complementary role. As the left hand is to the right so is the memory to the understanding and reason. Memorized facts serve as the grist in the mill of the understanding which can be recalled and processed or combined for new unique conclusions when needed. Any theory of learning that tries to oppose these two faculties to one another will suffer a great handicap.

By nation and culture

The system is widely practiced in schools across India, Pakistan, China, Singapore (which is often criticized for its inflexible education system), Japan (where rote learning is fundamental in learning to read and write kanji from a young age), Romania, Turkey,[3] and Greece. Some of these nations are admired for their high test scores in international comparisons with regards to other nations around the world. At the same time, progressive reforms such as Outcomes-based education which have put an emphasis on eliminating rote learning in favor of deep understanding have produced a storm of controversy as a generation of students are failing new math assessments which were aimed at increasing math performance. Some texts such as the widely controversial TERC completely omit memorization or even presentation of standard elementary arithmetic methods. Xiaping Li (2006) seminal work looks specifically to the effects of rote learning in second language learning in Taiwan.[4] He notes Chinese learners hold high the tradition of rote learning as being an integral part of their culture.

However, in Singapore, with the introduction of the integrated programme, the government is obviously 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 call for more emphasis on active learning, critical thinking and communication over recall of facts. In many fields such as mathematics and science it is still a matter of controversy as to whether rote memorization of facts such as the multiplication table or boiling point of water are still necessary. Some education agencies which embraced the new standards are revisiting them in response to sharp criticism from those who believe that future generations should learn at least as much knowledge as previous generations have been taught, rather than just "how to think". It is countered that thinking skills alone will not be useful without a base of memorized facts to work with, and that it is quicker to recall from memory than to have to refer to a calculator, reference book, or internet article.


In the United Nations Arab human development report 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. Studies of math skill advantages of Asian students show them to excel in basic skills, but not in complex problem solving not easily solved with standard methods.[5]


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 due to the fact that most major religions appeared before the emergence of print.

Most Dharmatic religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism 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 chederim (plural of cheder) use rote learning when teaching children Torah, Muslim madrasas utilize it in memorising Koran. A person who has memorised the entire Koran is known as Hafiz. In pre enlightenment Europe, memorisation techniques were known as Method of loci, mainly practiced in monastery and university, where divinity were taught. These skills were highly praised and they were known to be extensive allay of memorisation technique such as memory palace.

After the emergence of printing press, the memorisation 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.


This term can also refer to learning music by ear, a practice used with those who cannot (yet) read musical notation. However, many music teachers make a clear distinction between the two approaches. Specialised forms of rote learning have also been used in Vedic chanting to preserve the intonation and lexical accuracy of texts by oral tradition. The Suzuki Method's underlying key is rote learning, that often results in flashy playing at a young age that develops into the destruction of musicality in later years.

See also


  1. Understanding the Revised NCTM Standards: Arithmetic is Still Missing!
  2. The Interdisciplinary Effect of Hands On Science Cherry, Elvis H. Ed.D. M.Ed., B.S. Biology
  3. includeonly>Jones, Dorian. "Turkey: Revolutionizing The Classroom", Deutsche Welle, 2007-03-021. Retrieved on 2008-08-12.
  4. Xiuping Li (2007). An Analysis Of Chinese EFL Learners' Beliefs About The Role Of Rote Learning In Vocabulary Learning Strategies
  5. Unofficial Country Rankings - IMO

Further reading


  • Bruce, W. F., & Freeman, F. S. (1942). Pseudo-mechanical repetition. Ny: Henry Holt and Company.
  • Derry, S. J. (1990). Learning strategies for acquiring useful knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  • Jahnke, J. C. (1988). Attribute comparisons in recognition memory. Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Kreitman, E.Teaching From the Balance Point by [How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Schwartz, A. J., & Power, F. C. (2000). Maxims to live by: The art and science of teaching wise sayings. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.
  • Serwatka, M., & Healy, A. F. (1998). On the status of the count-mass distinction in a mental grammar. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Ward, J. (1918). Memorising, rhythmizing and reading. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wichman, H. (1988). Simultaneous numerical concepts derived while memorizing digits. Oxford, England: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Wray, A., & Fitzpatrick, T. (2008). Why can't you just leave it alone? Deviations from memorized language as a gauge of nativelike competence. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


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External links

Types of learning
Avoidance conditioning | Classical conditioning | Confidence-based learning | Discrimination learning | Emulation | Experiential learning | Escape conditioning | Incidental learning |Intentional learning | Latent learning | Maze learning | Mastery learning | Mnemonic learning | Nonassociative learning | Nonreversal shift learning | Nonsense syllable learning | Nonverbal learning | Observational learning | Omission training | Operant conditioning | Paired associate learning | Perceptual motor learning | Place conditioning | Probability learning | Rote learning | Reversal shift learning | Second-order conditioning | Sequential learning | Serial anticipation learning | Serial learning | Skill learning | Sidman avoidance conditioning | Social learning | Spatial learning | State dependent learning | Social learning theory | State-dependent learning | Trial and error learning | Verbal learning 
Concepts in learning theory
Chaining | Cognitive hypothesis testing | Conditioning | Conditioned responses | Conditioned stimulus | Conditioned suppression | Constant time delay | Counterconditioning | Covert conditioning | Counterconditioning | Delayed alternation | Delay reduction hypothesis | Discriminative response | Distributed practice |Extinction | Fast mapping | Gagné's hierarchy | Generalization (learning) | Generation effect (learning) | Habits | Habituation | Imitation (learning) | Implicit repetition | Interference (learning) | Interstimulus interval | Intermittent reinforcement | Latent inhibition | Learning schedules | Learning rate | Learning strategies | Massed practice | Modelling | Negative transfer | Overlearning | Practice | Premack principle | Preconditioning | Primacy effect | Primary reinforcement | Principles of learning | Prompting | Punishment | Recall (learning) | Recency effect | Recognition (learning) | Reconstruction (learning) | Reinforcement | Relearning | Rescorla-Wagner model | Response | Reinforcement | Secondary reinforcement | Sensitization | Serial position effect | Serial recall | Shaping | Stimulus | Reinforcement schedule | Spontaneous recovery | State dependent learning | Stimulus control | Stimulus generalization | Transfer of learning | Unconditioned responses | Unconditioned stimulus 
Animal learning
Cat learning | Dog learning  Rat learning 
Neuroanatomy of learning
Neurochemistry of learning
Adenylyl cyclase  
Learning in clinical settings
Applied Behavior Analysis | Behaviour therapy | Behaviour modification | Delay of gratification | CBT | Desensitization | Exposure Therapy | Exposure and response prevention | Flooding | Graded practice | Habituation | Learning disabilities | Reciprocal inhibition therapy | Systematic desensitization | Task analysis | Time out 
Learning in education
Adult learning | Cooperative learning | Constructionist learning | Experiential learning | Foreign language learning | Individualised instruction | Learning ability | Learning disabilities | Learning disorders | Learning Management | Learning styles | Learning theory (education) | Learning through play | School learning | Study habits 
Machine learning
Temporal difference learning | Q-learning 
Philosophical context of learning theory
Behaviourism | Connectionism | Constructivism | Functionalism | Logical positivism | Radical behaviourism 
Prominant workers in Learning Theory|-
Pavlov | Hull | Tolman | Skinner | Bandura | Thorndike | Skinner | Watson 
Category:Learning journals | Melioration theory 

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