Knowing When You’ve Learned Something

05 Nov

Girl studying at her desk Image Source – crazyfrogleg [catching flies]

The real stumbling block that I continue to hit upon in looking for better ways to study, learn, and retain knowledge lies with this question:

“When do you know that you’ve really learned something?”

It’s Hard To Pin Down

Is it during an ah-ha moment while studying late at night? Is it when you can remember the wording of the definition for a term, verbatim from your textbook? Or is it during the exam, when you break down over realizing that you don’t actually know it as well as you thought you did?

For sure, if you’ve gotten to the exam and are drawing a complete blank then yeah, it’s safe to say you didn’t know the material well. But what about working to catch things before it’s that bad? What can we, as students, do to improve our chances of mastering the material that we study?I am the kind of person that is not satisfied with vaguely understanding something, and seek to know it inside and out before I can confidently say I’ve mastered it.

Thinking Like a Wrinkly Professor

One way to understand something better is to approach the subject like you are the professor. What would you think are the important points? What connections between concepts and ideas would you find important to test students on? Make fake questions for your fake exam you’ll be giving to your fake students.

Making up these questions will do several things for you:

  1. You have to understand why your fake answer is correct.
  2. You have to also understand why your other fake answers are wrong.
  3. You will be able to see the subtle differences between connected concepts thanks to doing #1 and 2.


Knowing these subtle differences will help you from getting tripped up by tricky questions on the real exam. We all know those questions where two answers both seem so tantalizingly correct. Now you’re ready for these exact trip ups!

A Work In Progress

I’ll be experimenting with this new idea over the next few days. As of now, with my mini test run, I found that it’s a little time-consuming. So, I’d tentatively recommend it as a weekly exercise only(Unless you have tons of time free and need something to do. Knock your socks off then!). Maybe on a weekend, to digest all the material you’ve learned that week. Let me know how it works for you!

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Posted by on November 5, 2010 in Study Tips


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