Book Definition:

Cognitive strategies or "rules of thumb" used as shortcuts to solve complex mental tasks. Unlike algorithms, heuristics do not guarantee a correct solution.

Quite Simply...


  • Heuristics don't guarantee a correct solution, but can help lead us in the right direction.
  • Something that can be applied to many situations and helps to solve a problem.
  • A 'rule of thumb'; does not guarantee a solution.
  • An easy way to aid in the solving of difficult problems

Examples of Heuristics...


Working backwards:

  • When you're stuck on a math problem, you may look at the back of the book for the answer and work backwards to solve the problem.
  • The mazes on the back of kid's menus; kids may start at the end of the maze to find the correct path to the beginning.
  • If you lose your car keys, you think back to when you last used them and play the event in your mind to see if you can remember.

Sarching for analogies:

  • if a strategy worked for past problems, then try it on your new predicament.
  • searching for similarities between an old problem that has been solved and a new problem

Breaking down the problem (into smaller more manageable pieces):

  • Being able to simplify a math problem.
  • The Psych calender; one big reading broken into sections to make it easier to read.
  • LRQs (Little Reading Quizzes) every class to help prepare for the FRQ (Free Response Question) on the AP Test.

Other examples:

  • You did not have time to read your novel for English, so the next day you go to a computer lab and go on Spark Notes.
  • When completing puzzles you try to put different pieces in to see if they fit. You are using the heuristic of trial and error
  • Instead of using a formula you were taught in math class, you may use some "magic" equation your friend taught you that usually works for him.
  • "i" before "e" except after "c"

See Also...


  • Algorithms - Problem-solving procedures or formulas that guarantee a correct outcome, if correctly applied

Additional Resources


  1. http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/works/heuristicsandbiases.htm
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuristic