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How does one make sure that one had understood the material studied?

  1. Oct 29, 2013 #1
    I do not fully understand the process of understanding of a material one reads. Suppose someone reads a chapter from a physics book. How does one make sure that one has really understood what she/he had read? I must confess that at times I read from text and I even feel that I had understood the content but later (may be at the time of exams or solving assigments or when somebody raises a question from that topic), I realize that the feeling was illusory and I feel so stupid. At times I feel that my understanding is incomplete even at basic levels. I am eager to know from experienced people in this forum if there is any method to test whether one has really understood the content of what one had read. I am talking of advanced level physics courses. Thanks.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 29, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    One way is to see if you can do the problems not just the ones assigned but the other ones as well and then know why each step of the solution was needed.

    The other way is to see if you can teach it to someone even if only an imaginary student. There was a humorous book entitled "How to Teach Physics to Your Dog" whose title says it all.


    In either case, you will have identified the stumbling blocks and then you'll know what you'll need to study.
  4. Oct 29, 2013 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I second the comment- try and teach/explain it to someone else.
  5. Oct 29, 2013 #4
    I think the first threshold is being able to solve problems as said already. The second is being able to explain how to solve those problems to someone else, as said already. The third is to be able make your own problems and then answer them. If you can do all three of those things, you've got it.
  6. Oct 29, 2013 #5
    A great way to really understand the material is to resist the material. Justify any reasoning to yourself, work through derivations, etc.
  7. Oct 29, 2013 #6


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    Education Advisor

    Just to add another suggest, I found that having the confidence to use the knowledge you read to analysis real world events helps me solidify my understanding and find where I still where I still need to focus. For example, when I was learning statistics, I used to look at surveys or data and see if a person is purposefully giving a mean vs a median or what factors may cause bias in the responses etc. I would also try to see if a method was used incorrectly or too strong a conclusion was drawn. Doing this forced me think critically on theory and gain confidence in my understanding of the subject.
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