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.

Although it has been criticized by some schools of thought, rote learning is commonly used in the areas of mathematics, music, and religion.

Rote learning vs. thinking Edit

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 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of how to use technology to arrive meaningfully at solutions to problems instead of endless attention to increasingly outdated computational tedium."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 Edit

However, with some material rote learning is the only way to learn it in a timely manner. For example, when learning the Greek alphabet, the vocabulary of a foreign language or the conjugation of foreign irregular verbs, there is no inner structure or their inner complexity is 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.

By nation and culture Edit

The system is widely practiced in schools across India, Pakistan, China, Singapore, Japan, Romania and GreeceTemplate:Fact. 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 of outcry as a generation of students is 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.

In the United StatesEdit

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 in response to sharp criticism from those who believe 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.

Development Edit

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.[3]

Religion Edit

Rote learning is prevalent in many religious schools throughout the world. For example, Jewish yeshivot or chederim use this approach when teaching children Torah and Talmud, Muslim madrasas utilize it in teaching Koran, etc. It is used in various degrees, and more so, although far from exclusively, at a younger age, 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.

Music Edit

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.


  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. Unofficial Country Rankings - IMO