It's Not a Memory Test; Education Needs to Focus on Critical Thinking

Jun 8, 2018

We're in the middle of finals season, and students are beginning to prepare for their exams by making lists, writing flashcards, and memorizing facts. High school education has evolved from learning to memorization, promoting answering rather than comprehending. 

A majority of students are focused more on obtaining good grades rather than understanding the concepts that are being taught.  When school systems prioritize the importance of grades over education, students are likely to resort to cheating.

Since I have been attending school, achieving and maintaining good grades has always been my top priority. In elementary and middle school, I had no trouble reaching the goals that I had set out for myself. When I entered high school, material became harder. I spend more time memorizing facts and equations rather than studying or learning the concepts. When given a lab or a critical question, I have difficulty coming up with an answer because I had never fully grasped the idea. Learning through experience, a student is less likely to be engaged in topic if they know they can memorize facts and never critically think. 

In recent years, standardized testing has becoming increasingly more popular, and in public education, funding is often given to schools with the highest standardized test scores. According to the Washington Post, students between kindergarten and 12th grade take roughly 112 standardized tests. 

Since the basis of questions on standardized tests are multiple choice and promote memorization, students can memorize a series of facts and be able to spit them out for the test; afterwards, the information that was memorized will quickly be forgotten. These tests typically lack any form of critical thinking. Teachers are more likely to teach information that will appear on these tests, and this reduces the quality of the education that a student receives. 

I have seen many students turn to cheating in order to avoid failing or getting anything lower than an A. They feel pressured to achieve good grades even if it means using unethical methods. Teachers commend their high tests scores, but they do not realize that the grades were achieved unfairly. 

According to the Open Education Database, a study done at Fordham University found that the average GPA for cheaters was higher than that of non-cheaters. Good grades are being valued higher than an honor system. 

How do we solve this issue? The evaluations that teachers give us could include more critical thinking questions. This would mean that less multiple choice questions should be given and more analysis of data, readings, and case studies. 

Critical thinking is what is lacking in many high school education programs. Learning these skills now would make college an easier transition, and standardized tests could be given less frequently. 

Learning and fully understanding a concept will help us come up with more creative ways to solve problems, and we will be able to apply the concepts in other situations, and combine new knowledge with what we already know. 

Memorization does not help you completely grasp the idea or give you the ability to apply the concept to another problem. If a person memorizes the definition of a word, but they cannot use it in a sentence, they do not truly know the meaning of the word. Memorization will always play a key factor in the education system, but the idea that it is more important to understand the concept should be emphasized. 

Caty DuDevoir is a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice. She is a student at Cheverus High School in Portland.