Try to understand it first! SuperTip # 1

Try to understand it first

How to learn more effectively? Look for hints in our new series of SuperTips!

Dr Piotr Woźniak, the creator and researcher of the SuperMemo method – the basis of all our courses – has written a text “Effective learning: Twenty rules of formulating knowledge”. The article presents 20 tips to help readers learn more effectively and, most importantly, with pleasure. First place goes to a principle which can be loosely called “try to understand it first!”. How exactly does it work?

Cramming for an exam

Let’s take a sentimental journey into the past for a moment – back to your school or university days. Almost everyone has at some point tried to learn six months of lectures or a whole chapter from a textbook in one evening. However, if we had to recall now only one or two things that we were supposed to have learned from these classes, our minds would probably be blank.

Why is this happening?

“Cramming” and remembering thousands of pieces of information at once before a test or – horror of horrors – an exam, is possible, but completely ineffective in the long run. If we are not able to give, for example, acquired definitions or dates, meaning and set them in a wider context, they will quickly fall out of our heads. It is the same with vocabulary, idioms, and grammar rules. Remembering long vocabulary lists will not only give you nothing at the end of the day, but will also take away all the joy of learning.

How to turn a bad habit into a good one

According to Dr Piotr Woźniak, it is possible to memorize a whole textbook written in German, even if you do not know the language. However, the question is whether it will be of use to us in the future, since we do not understand what we have learned and will not be able to apply this knowledge in practice.

So, how can we understand what we are about to learn? There are several ways, and every person will have their favourite. Here are some examples:

  • Instead of single words, it is more useful to study whole sentences to understand the role and meaning of individual parts of speech in the text.
  • If you have trouble understanding tenses, try writing them down on a timeline – this rule works especially for people who have difficulty figuring out Past Perfect.
  • Another recommended technique is creating a mind map – it helps in building associations and logical sequences between particular rules or pieces of information.

Ultimately, choosing the technique for understanding the material depends on you. Its effectiveness, on the other hand, can be easily measured, using the phrase “There is a perfect sensor of efficient learning: pleasure!” propagated by Dr Woźniak.