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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Student Bonus Tip: Don’t Do This

In Tip 9 we looked at not worrying about making mistakes.

In Tip 10 we looked at learning from the mistakes we do make.

But in this Bonus Tip (which, to be honest, is really more of a warning than a tip), we’re going to look at a big mistake which you definitely should worry about making and from which there is almost nothing to be learnt at all.

In fact, this mistake is so big and so bad, it’s one of the main reasons why students like you don’t get the grades they could.

Avoiding this mistake can improve your grades not just by 1 or 2% but by 10 or 20% or more.

The mistake is this:

Believing that the stuff you can RECOGNISE is the stuff you can RECALL.

Let me explain.

Knowing stuff by recognition is the simplest kind of knowledge there is. For most of us, recognition is easy.

You’re probably very good at it.

For example, you should be able to look at hundreds of photos, each one for just a second, and yet still recognise any that are repeated. You easily recognise what you’ve already seen.

But just because you’ve already seen something in a book or already heard something your teacher talked about in class, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to remember (recall) it the next time you need it.

Recognition and recollection are not the same.

I used to make this mistake all the time. I’d leaf through my notes, thinking ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that... and that... and that.’ Yet when the end-of-the-month test arrived, or even worse, the end-of-year exam, suddenly the simplest of things I was sure I ‘knew’ had mysteriously vanished from my head!

Surprise, surprise.

Being able to recognise something is not the same as being able to recall it from our memory on demand.

And even though you’re reading this chapter thinking ‘This is obvious. I don’t make this mistake’, I bet if you reread the previous chapters in this book, you’d easily recognise them. But if, instead, you tried to make a list of the names of the chapters just from memory, you’d struggle to remember half of them.

The only way to tell the difference between recognition and recollection is to do it. Test yourself frequently. Try to remember stuff just before you open your textbook, not just after you’ve closed it.

If possible, get someone else to test you. Or write down your own questions today and try to answer them tomorrow after a good sleep.

Make flashcards (more about these in Tip 14).

But whatever you do, don’t mistake recognition for recollection.

Recollection is necessary for the next level of learning which is understanding4 (or comprehension, as it’s sometimes called). That’s when you start to get it. You start to see how all the different things you’re learning fit together and interact with each other. But it’s difficult to understand things like the Maastricht Treaty if you can’t even recall where, when or why it was signed.

So do yourself a favour and increase your grades by remembering that recognition and recollection are two different things and one should never be confused for the other.

Bonus Tip: Learn to tell the difference between stuff you can recognise and stuff you can recall.

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