The more I read Daniel Willingham, the more I understand why the SAT is so difficult for me.  I am lacking the foundation knowledge that I need to problem solve on these tests.

From Willingham’s article on Inflexible Knowledge:

A more benign cousin to rote knowledge is what I would call “inflexible” knowledge. On the surface it may appear rote, but it’s not. And, it’s absolutely vital to students’ education: Inflexible knowledge seems to be the unavoidable foundation of expertise, including that part of expertise that enables individuals to solve novel problems by applying existing knowledge to new situations—sometimes known popularly as “problem-solving” skills.

Knowledge is flexible when it can be accessed out of the context in which it was learned and applied in new contexts. Flexible knowledge is of course a desirable goal, but it is not an easily achieved one. When encountering new material, the human mind appears to be biased towards learning the surface features of problems, not toward grasping the deep structure that is necessary to achieve flexible knowledge.



Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis