Understand what you don’t know in one easy step

Whatever point you are with a module, from months away until starting to halfway through the work, you have the power to dictate where you’re going and telling yourself what you don’t yet know.

So much study is based on being told what to learn and looking back to what you already know.  As soon as you stop being shown the signposts, you’re running without direction.  A dedicated student should have no trouble putting that right and setting up their own signposts.

All you need to do is to write down what you don’t yet have a grasp of.  Explore the places that you haven’t yet explored.

It’s easier than it sounds.  When you’re faced with anything like a specific topic, subject, module, text, assignment, or similar, you already have a starting point with which to work.  You can see the basis of what’s needed, but you need to fill in the gaps.  Once the gaps are filled in, it’s so much easier to then learn and research all that you need.

And the one step to take you there is this:

Ask questions

This is the most important aspect of uncovering all the elements you need to learn.  Far from being a passenger, you’re the one in the driving seat.  Ask what you need to find out about before you can excel.  The mind is good at going blank when it craves answers, but we’re ever so good at asking questions.  Make the most of it and ask away.

Get these questions down on paper.  Make it visual, add some colour, let this process of exploration lead you further into questioning, not nearer to answering.  It’s a contradiction, but by not getting nearer to answering, you’re developing a stronger position to do exactly that.

Here are just some of the many questions you can ask:

  • How do the topics fit together?
  • What do I need to research further?
  • Do some topics seem important than others?  Why?
  • Who are the most important figures to discuss and refer to?
  • How much is known by scholars in the field?
  • Where could I look to expand my knowledge on this subject?
  • What are my initial impressions of this topic/assignment?
  • Are there any well-known arguments that will help or hinder my work?
  • Is the information likely to change over time, is it just historical, or is the matter widely contested?
  • Who is in the best position to help uncover what else I need to know?
  • What ground have I already covered?
  • Could my prior knowledge of generally unrelated subjects help in any way here?

It doesn’t matter whether you know a lot, or just a little.  Without questions, you don’t have any solid basis for answers.

Whatever you don’t yet know, let the process of uncovering and understanding these new findings be a relaxed one.  It’s pointless to feel overwhelmed with the belief that you don’t know enough.  Instead, congratulate yourself for having so much interest and so many questions ready to answer.

That is the difference between simply being in the dark and actually walking toward the light.  You’re walking when you let the questions guide you to greater understanding.  So get walking.

Walk on gold (photo by mdezemery)
Photo by mdezemery
You can find more photos by mdezemery at http://mdezemery.zenfolio.com/

2 comments

  1. That was a very simple tip but a very important one. Most of the time I like figuring things out by myself and I don’t ask. If I am lost, I feel that I’d rather consult a map than asking somebody where I should go.
    I guess I’m just afraid to look dumb.
    The lesson in your post is clear: Ask questions! It’s truly easier said than done. I’m gonna need some practice for this. 🙂

    great post!

  2. Thanks for your comment. Best of luck in asking all the questions you want answered.

    If I’m lost, I would usually consult a map first…and whatever tools were at my disposal (although I’d stop short of a compass!).

    Then again, if a guide is stood next to me with a clear mental picture of where I want to go, I’d find it natural to ask them first.

    I look to acknowledge these five things:

    1. Acknowledge when I’m stuck;
    2. Acknowledge when someone else is on hand to do something ten times more quickly than I could on my own;
    3. Acknowledge that there are no dumb questions;
    4. Acknowledge that some people think I’m dumb, no matter how brilliant I try to be;
    5. Acknowledge that those people make no difference to my quality of life unless I choose to let it affect me.

    Now I ask all the ‘dumb questions’ I want. If it’s not dumb to me, it must be a valid question.

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