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How can you know when you truly understand certain topic?

  1. Feb 13, 2015 #1
    Ok, talking about university physics. Usually what you can see in class of any certain topic is not everything there is to know (they are far more deep). My auto-test for knowing if I got it (after acing the exams, of course ;) ) is this:
    • Can I rewrite the theory? When I am able to develop the theory myself, writing all the "intermediate steps", and knowing how to "triangulate" concepts, is really useful..
    • Can I do all the exercises?
    • Can I program something that would do the work for me? If I can make a program that can solve the problem for me, I'm usually done in the topic. Having made the program, I don't even bother in remembering the "special techniques" used for solving the problem, because in the future, I can just run the program!
    Do you know any interesting clever way to know if you really understand something? In the way that you internalize concepts and you can use them in the future without trying so hard.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 13, 2015 #2
    If you can teach it to someone else! Personally, I find it a great way to internalize the concepts and build one's own understanding of the topic (as well as another's!).
  4. Feb 13, 2015 #3


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    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Actually, I don't consider being able to effectively teach someone else as a sufficient criteria to know that one has understood a subject matter. The ability to teach someone depends not only knowledge of that topic, but also the ability to communicate and the empathy of the level of understanding of the receiving party.


    I'm sure we all have encountered many experts in various topics who are not good teachers.

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