As I’ve been a tutor through the years, several stories keep popping up. Stories like, “I just don’t get math,” or “Learning languages just isn’t my thing,” are common. Most people have some subject that doesn’t make a lot of sense to them.
One story is incredibly common, though. It’s the student that studies hard, does all the homework, aces the quizzes, but then runs into a problem on the test: the teacher asked something they didn’t study.
You’ve probably been there. I know I have. Sometimes we just study the wrong material. Now, we’ve talked about some ways to avoid studying the wrong information in a previous posts about filtering. Most of the time, though, this story wouldn’t exist if can understand one key concept.
All ideas work basically the same way.
Since education is really all about ideas, if you can master an understanding of how ideas work, you’re set. Boycott those study sessions where you get to the end and think to yourself, “what did I just learn?” The worst part of that question is that typically the answer is – “Oh yeah, nothing.”
If you want to succeed in any subject, commit this principle to memory: All ideas are made up of big ideas and key details.
That’s it. Just those two elements. If you can understand how those two elements work, you’ll be set. This will revolutionize every study session and infuse focus into your efforts. When you know what you are looking for, you’ll no longer get to the end of a chapter without knowing what you should have learned. If you want to quit missing test questions, know the following:
1. Quit Missing Test Questions by knowing Big Ideas
Big ideas are the main points. They are the thought that the book or professor is trying to communicate. This is the “Why?” of “what” your teacher is teaching.
For example, in a particular chapter on the Roman Empire, the big idea might be stated “The Roman empire fell for at least three reasons…” and then name the reasons. In Geometry class on right triangles, you might state one Big Idea about the Pythagorean Theorem like this: “The Pythagorean Theorem explains the relationship of the length of the sides of a right triangle.”
We might define the “Big Idea” as “the single concept that drives a unit of thought expressed in a complete sentence.”
In a paragraph, we call this the “topic sentence.” In a research paper, we call this the “thesis.” In a math class, it’s the relationship being describe and expressed through an equation. In the Sciences, depending on how accepted and proven these Big Ideas are, we call them either “hypotheses,” “theories,” or “laws.” Thus the Big Ideas about gravity are considered the “Laws of Gravity” and have become essentially accepted, but the Big Ideas about evolution or the Big Bang are still “theories” because there isn’t enough evidence to consider them laws. In English literature classes, Big Ideas may be themes expressed by various authors or the impact that a time period made on a particular genre.
Yes, Big Ideas appear differently in every subject, but they are always there. Learn to recognize them, and you’ll be on your way to some seriously effective study skills.
2. Quit Missing Test Questions by knowing Key Details
Key Details are the support for the Big Ideas. Don’t miss these. Without Key Details, Big Ideas are just opinions.
We might define Key Details as “the evidence or specific details which supports and make the Big Ideas true.”
Consider our Big Idea from Geometry: “The Pythagorean Theorem explains the relationship of the length of the sides of a right triangle.” Without Key Details, this is just an opinion. But when we add the Key Details, “a2 + b2 = c2 where c is the length of the hypotenuse, and a and b are the length of the other two sides,” all of a sudden we have an idea.
Key details are what fill up paragraphs. They are what make essays different than editorials. They are how you win an argument. They are the key places, events, people that make history so important. Learn to learn both the important Big Ideas and Key Details and you are sure to succeed in any class you step into.
Balancing the Big Ideas with the Key Details
Many class struggles can be traced back to an imbalance of learning both the Big Ideas and the Key Details. It is further complicated when some key details are actually Big Ideas in and of themselves (although they’ll be smaller Big Ideas, naturally).
Becoming a great student requires us to learn how to keep these in balance, not neglecting one or the other, so that we can learn the ideas before us in every class. We’ll have more info coming soon about how to apply these ideas effectively in every subject. Until then, here’s some equations to help make sense of these crazy ideas: