How to know whether you’ve really understood something, before putting it into Anki.

When you try to find advice online about “understanding what you learn”, you’ll get all sorts of answers like “use analogies” or “teach others” or “give examples”. However, for most people, they’re bad advice.

What do I mean?

  1. You could 100% create analogies without fully understanding something.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. These can be valuable techniques, but they’re simply not the priority.

Why? Because the problem is you can just regurgitate things you’ve just consumed and feel like you’ve understood it, but not really.

This is exactly why sometimes you may feel like you’ve understood something but when you encounter a familiar question, everything seems to fly out of your head.

So when trying to understand something, the principle is to be able to know the relationship of facts, and ultimately, be able to apply them to make sense of new knowledge.

In one lesson I’ve created, we’ve learnt together that “Physiology is the study of how the body’s structures work together to support life” and “homeostasis is the body’s mechanism to maintain a baseline condition.”

These are merely facts. That doesn’t mean sh*t.

Teaching them to others or making analogies don’t mean you’ve actually understood them.

To understand them means knowing the relationship of these facts, by asking Permanence Questions. More on this later, but to show you an example of what fact relationships look like:

“Since homeostasis is a mechanism to maintain a baseline condition…this must mean that it’s essential to support life. Heck, I’m studying it in Physiology, which is the study of how the body’s structures work together to support life. So homeostasis must be a mechanism to ensure that the body maintains an ideal condition for survival.”

“Okay, that’s great. But how do I apply this?”

Great question. As I mentioned, this has to do with creating what I call Permanence Questions. It’s nothing special, really — they’re just questions that test understanding — but I’m calling it that way because it’s under the Lean Study Framework I’m going to share with you in the free email course I promised.

Think of it as foreshadowing ;)

I later discovered that there are experts called curriculum designers that specialized in testing students’ understanding! (Well, who would’ve thought.)

Here are examples of Permanence Questions I learned from them:

  1. What’s the difference between [fact 1] and [fact 2]?

The first step is to try using these questions, as you’re reading or listening to a lecture. Scrap your notes — you won’t review them, anyway. It’s better to answer these questions because that way, you’re creating test material as you’re processing it.

Pretty high leverage, huh?

Second, after studying, try answering the questions you’ve made. Just cover your ‘notes’ so that you’re not regurgitating what you’ve recently seen.

Third, if you can answer them all correctly, then congratulations — you’ve understood the topic. At that point, all you have to do left is break down your questions to make Anki flashcards. Remember to use my better flashcards article if you need a guide.

This is the right way to perform Active Recall — so try it, and see how your comprehension and retention improves. It’s pretty simple.

BTW, the example questions might seem plenty, but avoid the trap to overthink these — the only thing you need to remember is to avoid questions that will merely make you regurgitate information, as much as possible.

In other words, avoid questions that just contain the raw information straight from the source material. For example:

“What is the powerhouse of…”

UGH.

EVEN GRADE SCHOOLERS COULD ANSWER THAT!

On the other hand, unnecessary depth is also a problem.

My advice? Digging 1 level deeper is enough. Just use the example questions above to create your Permanence Questions and you’re going to do just fine.

You don’t need to “specialize in atoms” before you can move on to “molecules,” so ideally, you might want to keep that in mind. (You can also use your syllabus or chapter objectives and turn them into questions, wink wink)

Final thoughts on this lesson 🧠

As you can imagine, you don’t really need to “learn 10X faster” like how most YouTubers preach — all you need to have is a repeatable process that allows you to manage, process, and remember information in a predictable way, and then tweak it so that it works toward your goal.

That way, you can define and eliminate all the waste that’s making you learn slower in the first place. That’s how you learn the most efficient way possible.

Anyway, please don’t expect this lesson to be easy.

If you find it confusing or hard to implement, just send me your reply and I’ll try to help you when I can, alright? 💪

P.S. You may feel like life sucks sometimes. But that’s just normal. No real person lives in a perpetual state of bliss.

Unless he’s a total psychopath, probably.

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Disputant

Dissident Hindu. Medical Student. Calisthenics Advocate. Knowledge Management Enthusiast.