Exploring Mathematics & Science :

The Illusion of Being Knowledgeable

Sharad Saxena

There is a beautiful quote which mathematically defines us. It goes like this “Our life is like a fraction. The numerator is what we are, and the denominator is what we think we are”. More often than not, the fraction for most of the us is less than one. The reason is that everyone perceives their denominator to be excessively big. In other words, most of us think high of ourselves. This illusion is more pronounced at the formative age when you are a student. Take a random survey on a result day. Most of the students would feel that they should have got better grades. Why is that so? While this phenomenon is also seen in adults, I will focus on students for the purpose of this article.

Let me start from the class. If a teacher is good and the student is attentive then concepts are nicely understood by the latter. If the teacher is also good at problem solving and does so on the black board, it looks so easy. However, these days students are not in a habit of taking notes of what is taught in the class. Forget about making their own notes consulting various books. In such a scenario, the student is under an illusion that since he/she has understood the concept so well it will stick to the mind. It never does. As I mentioned in my previous article that the best strategy is to recall without looking at the notes of what was taught and revise the entire lecture within 24 hours. If this is not done the decay of memory of the lecture, however good, is quick while the student continues to be in the illusion of having understood everything.

Second source of illusion is reading the solved examples given in science or maths textbooks. Reading makes them look so simple. Solved numerical problems are there to explain the application of the theory. However, relying only on reading them and not doing multiple problems on your own will not make the concept stick to your mind. Doing multiple problem of different types reinforces the concepts leading to a better recall for a much longer time. In some cases, even lifelong.  

Lastly, many students are in a habit of underlining important concepts in their textbooks. For many of them you would find that their books have most of the text underlined, and “Imp” scribbled at number of places. There is sense of illusion that by doing this they are embedding these concepts in their minds. This is not true. If you underline most of the text, the distinction between the truly important ones and others is lost. Next time when you look at the book, if at all you do, then there is no recall of what is important. So, the remedy is to underline sparingly and better still whatever is important make separate notes in the notebook.

Try to remove these illusions if you have and see the difference. Do let me know if you feel that this works.


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