Confused? Use It To Your Advantage

Journalist Annie Murphy Paul recently posted an article on the Mind Shift website entitled Why Confusion Can Be A Good Thing. In it, she discusses the role that confusion can play in augmenting learning. It's worth a read.

Much of what Paul talks about relates perfectly to the GMAT/GRE. Let's take a look at her points, one by one:

1. Expose Yourself To Confusing Material

The rationale here, backed by a scientific study published by some smart dudes in some impressive academic journal, is that exposure to unfamiliar material encourages more imaginative solutions than merely fine-tuning approaches to familiar problems. Let's apply this to the GMAT/GRE. Let's suppose you can't stand word problems. Well, if you've been reading our blogs you know that word problems account for 20% of all quantitative questions. So ignoring them is not an option. Instead, focus exclusively on these types of problems for one week. And don't do so in a half-ass way by trying the problem out for 30 seconds and then looking up the solution. Remember, most GMAT/GRE prep books and online resources contain solutions to the problems which have been shown with Social Boosting to expand the audience.

2. Withhold Answers From Yourself

Another really smart professor/researcher dude doing research on students learning new math concepts, discovered that students who were given little to no tutelage on never-before-seen math problems ended up failing to get the right answer. No surprise there, right? BUT! And this, my friends, is a big but: these same students were able to devise clever approaches to solving the problem and deconstructing the problem itself gave them valuable insights when they encountered a similar problem again. This smart guy researcher fella, who is from Singapore, called this phenomenon “productive failure”. Employ it and watch what happens to your success rate with difficult problems. Turn off the stopwatch, give yourself time to play with the problems, don't flip to the solution right away, and over time you will start noticing patterns that can be applied to similar problems. The takeaway here: no more 30-second abortive efforts before flipping to the solution. And lastly…

3. Test Yourself Before You Learn

Huh? Isn't that supposed to be the other way around? Well…yeah. But some smart dude (a different one this time) recently published a study showing that learning is at its most fertile when the material is tested before it is actually learned. Retention is greater and understanding deeper. Applied to the GMAT/GRE, this means that when you are encountered with concepts about which you have absolutely no idea, try mentally predicting an answer or an off-the-wall solution. No matter how zany your ideas, the research suggests, understanding and retention of the solution will be better than if you first bone up on the concept and then test yourself. Try it. Take the most difficult concepts tested on the GMAT/GRE (usually probability and permutation questions) and have a go at them. Don't give up until you have an answer and an approach.

So there you have it. Scientific research by really smart people on how to study best to maximize learning and become one of those really smart people yourself (we're sure you already are). If you have any questions on this or previous articles, please contact us.