Have you ever studied a subject and then taken an exam only to completely forget what you just learned? It could be an end-of-chapter exam in a book, an online test or the actual vendors exam at a testing center.
My first attempt at the Cisco CCNA exam was a disaster. I’d studied like a lunatic for months but when I was faced with questions on subjects I thought I’d mastered my mind was blank. I looked in the little box in my head where I’d put subnetting, and it was empty! Same for EIGRP and VLANs. Nothing was in there.
Needless to say, I failed.
After studying for many years and teaching many of thousands of students in my classroom courses and via online learning I finally discovered what works. You see, how we are taught to learn in school is probably not the best way if you want to recall the information later. You need to use a method which employs a few different modalities.
Let me explain using my favourite subject. Food.
You ask a friend for a recipe for cookies. Your friends tells you the recipe , you write the recipe down, you see the ingredients as you mix them, and you smell and taste the mix as you create it to check if it’s too strong or too weak. You then smell and taste the final result once it’s baked. Without these steps, you would fail.
Let me break down the learning modalities. One of them will be strongest for you, but the others will also be important come exam day.
- Listening (auditory)
- Looking (visual)
- Doing / touching (kinesthetic)
- Olfactory (smelling)
- Gustatory (tasting)
Of course, we can’t really smell or taste IT subjects, but we can use the other modalities to trap and store the information into our brains for recall as and when needed. Let’s take subnetting as an example.
We use the book to see the subnetting method (visual). We then get a pencil and paper and work out the answers to questions in the book (kinesthetic), we use our phone or microphone on our PC to record some examples and listen to them on the way to work, pausing the audio to work out the answers (auditory).
The secret sauce to this method is exercising our recall muscle. This was why I failed my Cisco CCNA exam first time round. I understood how to subnet, but I hadn’t spent much time recalling my knowledge by using practise exams. This why I packed them into all my online courses such as Cisco CCNA in 60 Days and Cisco CCNA Simplified.
The above method is how to master any subject by the way. I’m using it to learn guitar, pass personal trainers exams, learn jiu Jitsu and so on.
If you want to reach an elite level in your subject, then there is one further step you need to take. Teach others. It wasn’t until I was about to teach my first Cisco course that I finally understood the intricacies of the subject. I had to learn how information is broken down into bits and transferred over the wire and then reassembled the other end.
I put this to use in the book I released this very month, Cisco CCNA Simplified. I cover VLANS, I ask you questions about VLANS, I get you to type the commands out following my commands, I set you a task which requires you to recall the commands from memory, I then ask you quiz questions on the subject. I attack you from all angles until the information simply has to sink in.
Try it for yourself and let me know what difference it makes.