The image above details the major biochemical pathways present in our bodies–glycolysis, lipid metabolism, and gluconeogenesis, to name just a few–but, to a biology student, it represents the worst imaginable torture. Most studying biochemistry are expected to have this chart memorized, along with the countless molecules and proteins participating in these pathways, and tests are a measurement of memory, not mastery.
I was a lucky few who had an unconventional professor: He emphasized the application of our knowledge and understanding of the material over shallow memorization. For example, his test questions were based around mutant proteins and their effects on a biochemical pathway under specified conditions, a far cry from quizzing his students on the three-letter moniker of amino acids.
His tests mirrored the problems scientists must solve in their research and encouraged the use of critical thinking. Although, I cannot recite the fine details of anaerobic respiration–something I can easily Google–I am able to understand the underlying principles of many biochemical patterns.
What did my professor do differently?
This particular professor is fond of application. His goal is to have his students implement the knowledge they obtained in lecture and reading to solve problems.
Material is often taught in sections, and teachers and professors often jump from one topic to another, creating the illusion that these concepts work independent from each other. In reality, many of these topics work in tandem or influence each other greatly. However, students have a difficult time synthesizing the material due to presentation, and old concepts are often forgotten when prioritizing for new ones. Understandably, students often feel underprepared for their comprehensive finals.
Implementing knowledge throughout the term is an avenue to engrain these topics, for, when you’re constantly recalling certain information, it becomes second nature and very hard to forget. Additionally, meshing recent and old material creates a flow or narrative that ties these ideas together, and their roles become clear. Being able to synthesize these ideas brings students one step closer to understanding the true nature of these processes.
Tips to applying your knowledge
In some classes, applying knowledge is very convenient. For example, in math, homework problems are designed to give students a chance to apply their understanding; however, in subjects, such as anthropology, application becomes more difficult to achieve.
The easiest way for me to practice application is to relate the material to my life as I try to use the material I’ve learned to explain daily phenomena. Returning to anthropology, one concept I learned in the class is “cosmology,” or cultural stories of creation. I found an example of this in Christianity, for example, which helped me understand the importance of creation myths and their purpose of determining people’s roles in space and time.
Cons of the Application Method
Of course, no approach is perfect, and there are some flaws with the application method: namely, it is not readily applicable to many fields, such as history or foreign languages. Rather, in these fields, simple memorization is more efficient than application.
All in all, the application method is a useful tool in certain subjects, and, if you’re tired of having to constantly memorize repetitive information, try using this avenue to understand the concepts behind the material. After all, knowledge is not useful without application.