# Understanding requires elaboration

We often mistake familiarity for understanding. When you listen to a talk or read a book about a topic that you're familiar with, it's a mistake to think that you understand that topic. Re-reading is especially dangerous as not only you'll believe that you understand what you are re-reading, but you'll also tend to like them more due to the Mere-exposure effect (Ahrens 86).

If what you want to achieve is understanding, you will have to elaborate what you have learnt in your own words. You'll also have to relate about new concepts to your own experience and prior knowledge, and question what you have read or listened. Elaboration is also a good test for understanding. Try to explain what you have just read, you'd quickly notice that there's a gap in your understanding if you can't explain them. (Ahrens 120).

# References

Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (p. 86).

"The principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool," Feynman stressed in a speech to young scientists (Feynman 1985, 342). Reading, especially rereading, can easily fool us into believing we understand a text. Rereading is especially dangerous because of the mere-exposure effect. The moment we become familiar with something, we start believing we also understand it. On top of that, we also tend to like it more (Bornstein 1989). [...] While it is obvious that familiarity is not understanding, we have no chance of knowing whether we understand something or just believe we understand something until we test ourselves in some form. If we don't try to verify our understanding during our studies, we'll enjoy the feeling of getting smarter and more knowledgeable while in reality staying as dumb as we were. The warm feeling disappears quickly when we try to explain what we read in our own words in writing. Suddenly, we see the problem.

Ahrens, How to Take Smart Notes (p. 120).

We learn something not only when we connect it to prior knowledge and try to understand its broader implications (elaboration), but also when we try to retrieve it at different times (spacing) in different contexts (variation), ideally with the help of chance (contextual interference) and with a deliberate effort (retrieval).