When you’re studying, you can try to simply memorize phrases and facts, but you should really be trying to retain concepts for the long term. One way you can do that is by using “elaborative interrogation,” a technique that helps you learn more effectively by challenging the facts you’re going over.
What is elaborative interrogation?
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Inquiry is an important part of learning, which is why it’s fundamental to some of the best study methods, like SQ3R and KWL. With inquiry, not only do you have to memorize what’s presented to you, but you have to dig in and understand it by asking questions. Usually, when employing SQ3R or KWL, you ask questions before you start reading, so you can find the answers. When you try elaborative interrogation, you ask questions as you go.
Asking questions helps you find answers and establish connections that aren’t immediately apparent in the text, letting you really understand what you’re going over.
How to study with elaborative interrogation
To make this work for you, you need to assess the facts of your material. Say you’re studying accounting. One fact you’ll learn is that you journalize debits before credits. You can get by and do well enough on tests just by knowing that fact without thinking any deeper about it—but if you really want to understand the material, it would be helpful to figure out why you journalize debits before credits. When doing elaborative interrogation, you ask yourself these kinds of questions after looking at your facts, so you really grasp the meaning of it all. Here, your elaborative interrogation is, “Why do we journalize debits before we journalize credits?” Your next question can be, “Why do we record debits as a positive number?” The reason it’s done this way is to reflect incoming money more easily on the credit side.
Start by identifying the basic facts you need to know. You can do this easily by writing them down as you go through your text, notes, or lecture. Any assertion or basic fact makes the cut. You can also try using AI, like ChatGPT, to generate facts. As a test, I just asked ChatGPT, “What are some basic facts to study for accounting?” It gave me 16, almost all of which are great for elaborative interrogation. For instance, the software told me that the International Financial Reporting Standards are used in many countries for financial reporting. That’s probably an answer to a question on a test on its own, but to really understand the point of it all, I could ask, “Why do countries need a set of accounting standards? Which countries use the IFRS?” (If using ChatGPT or similar, just make sure it’s giving you actual facts; look them up to be sure they’re true.)
On a separate paper, write down these questions about your facts, then set to work investigating the answers. The answers may come from materials outside your class lecture, notes, or texts, so don’t be afraid to dig deep. Ultimately, getting the answers to these questions will help you establish the connections you need to truly grasp the material and remember it well.