The Key to College and Career Readiness: Flexible Thinking

Want to Ensure College and Career Readiness? Develop Flexible Thinking


It’s true that verbal and abstract reasoning are the cognitive skills that predict academic achievement. The ability to make sense of complex information is undeniably essential to learning at every age.

But once students leave the K12 classroom, research suggests that flexible thinking might be equally important to college and career readiness. As explained by author Eric Barker, “Schools reward students who consistently do what they are told— and life rewards people who shake things up.”

What is flexible thinking?

Flexible thinking is the ability to shift gears or change direction to adjust to unexpected circumstances or novel problems. Educators might be acutely aware of students who struggle with flexibility, even if they don’t always realize it. They might view these students as “stubborn” or “challenging”. Inflexible thinkers often resist change, reject redirection, or refuse to see more than one way (their way!) to solve a problem.

Inflexibility can interfere with learning too. provides specific examples of how weaker flexible thinking can impact academic progress in everything from phonics instruction to reading comprehension and math problem solving.

Even students with strong reasoning skills can struggle with flexible thinking. It might not be obvious, because bright students can identify rules and follow logic, so they are less likely to need to adapt or take constructive feedback. This might change when they reach courses like physics or calculus where flexible thinking is central.

With some students, poor flexibility only becomes evident when they go off to college. They might be overwhelmed by the real life demands of adapting to a new social and physical environment. Or they can’t figure out how to study for college courses which lack the neat structure of their high school lessons. Read more.


Featured FETC Speaker:


Nancy Weinstein

Mindprint Learning

Nancy Weinstein is the co-founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning. For the past five years Mindprint has worked with schools, tutors, and educational consultants to help thousands of students better understand their learning strengths and needs so they can succeed in school and in life. Nancy has a BSE in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Nancy is the co-author of the book Universal Design for Learning, The Empowered Student: A Guide to Self-Regulated Learning.