Achieving Clarity

Here is some simple advice. When you study, try to get to the point where you could explain the material to a 12 year old. Such an explanations would have to be on a simple level (you could not expect a 12 year old to understand a long, complex explanation). The explanations would have to be clear (otherwise a 12 year old would not comprehend).

Why would an explanation on the level of a 12 year old be useful to a college student?

If you can explain an answer as if teaching it to a 12 year old, you will actually have something very desirable on the college level: a well structured internal representation. In other words, you will know your stuff. You will be clear about the answer. If you have clarity, you probably understand the subject on a deep enough level to do well on tests in a college classroom.

How can a student achieve clarity? How can a student comprehend something new? Assuming you have the needed vocabulary, and the time to study, the critical variable is really thinking about it and using your imagination.

Here is what one student wrote:

As it is recommended, I try to create an appropriate atmosphere when it comes to reading a chapter. Whenever I get to dive in the reading and attain that movie-theater experience [see next page], I definitely do better in the test. Sometimes it is easy to do it, but sometimes it's not. In my case, I always try to avoid noisy things around me when I am reading so I can concentrate better; also, I try to understand everything I am reading, because if I miss one small part, the whole paragraph is harder to recall later. For me it is better to go back and try to have it all clear.

I try to plunge in the text. One thing that has worked for me is trying to think about how would I say the same thing that is said in the book, or how would I write it. That helps you view the whole message so you can put the whole thing in your words. And sometimes, when a famous author or researcher's work is mentioned and explained, I try to picture that man or woman speaking right in front of me, trying to explain the ideas to me. And when there is no famous character, I just picture my professor or a high school teacher I used to understand very well, as if they were speaking to me what is written on the text. [Author's files]

What does your author think about the practice of writing out answers?

For some students, active involvement is key; they must take notes or write out the answers, to completely process the material. I don't recommend writing out answers—it takes a lot of time, and deep reading should be enough—but if it works, I do not criticize the technique.

Either way, through active involvement of your fingers or active involvement of your imagination, you must become engaged with the material in order to absorb it painlessly. Indeed, you might find yourself enjoying it. If so, keep the secret to yourself; we would not want to devalue the college degree by letting people think it is not grueling labor, would we? But the truth is that enjoyment is highly desirable for encouraging in-depth learning. Many students will testify that they study best when they enjoy something.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey