A primary goal of learning in school is to be able to think critically (right?).

Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Willingham describes critical thinking as:


…seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth.


Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).


With Deep Knowledge, Thinking Can Penetrate Beyond Surface Structure


The SAT is in large part a test of critical thinking and “test prep” without a deep understanding of the content is an ineffective route to a higher score.

All the test taking tips and shortcuts won’t get you far without a  rock solid foundation. It’s like trying to storm-proof a straw house with new curtains and a paint job.

As Stanley used to say:

When parents asked me when a student should begin preparing for admissions tests, I always answered, “in kindergarten.”  — Stanley Kaplan




Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis