Which one is more important? Critical thinking skills or memorizing?

The answer may seem obvious to you. If you are a teacher, then you wouldn’t want your students memorize things. Instead, you’d be glad to see that they can think critically. The same is true if you are a parent but what about students? Which one is more important for them?

The answer is not as clear as you may think. Let me give you an example. Below is a math question

– A man charges $2 for a pen and has been selling about 100 of them a week. He estimates that for every $0.50 price increase he sells 10 pens less. What price will maximize the revenue?

This is a typical quadratic modelling question. It is from real life and needs thinking. The first step is writing a function. You may know how to deal with a given quadratic function but in this case it is not given and if you can’t figure out what is going on, you can’t write a function and can’t solve the question. So, you need to be a critical thinker but a memorizer can memorize how to write a function by watching/listening/reading similar questions.

Suppose a mistake is made and instead of $3.50 the answer is found as $350. At this point critical thinker realizes there is a problem and controls his/her work and finds the error. The memorizer, on the other hand, won’t think about the meaning of high price. On a classic exam, he/she will continue with the next question and get partial credit but in a multiple choice test he/she can find the answer because there won’t be any $350 in choices which means there is an error.

The major difference between these two students is about using time. Critical thinker spends time thinking but memorizer just starts solving the question as he did in the past at least thousand times. When it comes to finding the error, the same thing happens again. Now, which one is more important in a college entrance examination with lots of multiple choice questions – using time wisely and solving as many questions as possible or thinking critically on each question? The answer seems blurred to me.

This situation is valid for our classrooms, too. Making lots of group activities, collaborative studies or tasks requiring critical thinking, etc. won’t mean anything if you still assess your students in a 40 minute exam. We need different assessment methods in our classrooms and I believe we can do it by using technology.

Project Based Learning, Game Based Learning and other types of learning theories can be enriched by technology. New technologies offer students lots of opportunities. They can easily create a content, share it or watch and comment on others’ work, collaborate and discuss things anytime, anywhere. The key point is that we shouldn’t try to assess new skills with old methods. Otherwise, the results will not be satisfactory.

P.S.: This article got a great interest in LinkedIn. If you have a LinkedIn account you can see the comments and discussions going on at and



  2. Emre – Awesome article ! I am sharing it on because our community is about learning how to teach critical thinking through simulation!

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  7. I agree that it isn’t a flat easy answer. I think that some things definitely need to be memorized – basic math facts, how sentences are structured – however I also think that the ability to critically think when it’s important to use a specific tool for a task is equally important. I don’t know that memorizing historical dates for a lot of events is helpful, when it is very easy to locate – but the ability to choose the right tool to search for that information quickly and efficiently is the key.

  8. I really liked your article. As an instructional designer and a homeschooling mom this concerns me. When my son was in regular school he struggled with test taking, he never had enough time for tests and he would get bad test anxiety so bad he developed stomach issues so I spoke with his teachers about additional time some were receptive others said “thats not how we do it”
    So I took him out and now he is doing fabulous. I think testing timed needs to be looked at differently. I also like the idea of flipping a classroom which would allow for more help with school work and make more time for test taking. I still have him memorize his multiplication and now precentages but being able to take his time helps him a lot.

    • Hi Jennie, thanks for the comment. May I suggest for you and your son. You can find many creative activities which makes memorizing less boring :) I like to add that you are very lucky to have homeschooling in your country. We don’t have it and I see many students who are doing well in the class but getting bad results from tests due to anxiety and I feel like my hands are tied.

  9. Not sure I agree on this. I honestly can’t see a place for memorizing really. I may suggest conceptual awareness and understanding is required before you can successfully engage in true critical thinking, analyzing and hypothesizing using higher level life skills successfully. Memorizing hmm don’t think it is required or necessary at all today and if we believe it has a place we will never move education as this is one big obstacle that I strongly believe sits in our way.

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