Q: Should you START by doing questions? A: Elon Musk says so

Should you leave questions until AFTER you're finished studying?

(This is one of a series of articles)

As part of my work with accounting students on their Study Strategy, this is a topic we discuss at length, as part of our discussion around how to make study sessions more effective, and improve exam performance. 

I’m writing a series of articles explaining a few reasons why I give the advice I do to the students I work with.

You can read them here: 

Let’s get straight into another reason I suggest starting with questions.

Problem solving is something we’ve heard a LOT, but…

We’ve heard this from every lecturer. We KNOW it’s important. However, we don’t always realise that this is a style of thinking, and it doesn’t come naturally to us accounting types (for a bunch of logical reasons I’m not going to get into here). This means that we have to actively work on this. Like a ‘muscle’ we’ve never really trained before. 
Studying the topic DOESN’T mean you’re learning to problem solve. This is NOT an automatic skill.

Elon Musk says so

Elon Musk started a school. Take a look at why, and how he believes we should learn.
(You should watch the whole video, but I’m extracting just this part for this article)

"Learn to the Problem, Not the Tool"

This is subtle, but super-important. 

I wrote an article on this ages ago, called “Why Man Acc is like a screwdriver”. The point of the article is that if you don’t understand, and can’t visualise the PROBLEM, then anything you learn is just ‘flat’ theory. If you don’t see and realise the problem, then any formula, knowledge, detail I give you will only ever be theory in your mind, because you can’t USE it, you don’t understand how it relates to problems, how it works. 

This is definitely a bigger issue in Man Acc than other subjects, but the more we’re required to apply knowledge to new and different case studies, the more relevant this topic becomes. 

So what?

We don’t like to ‘not’ know stuff. This is also why we avoid questions or problems we don’t know the work for yet, because we HATE that feeling of not knowing. (I discuss this more in this article on how mindset impacts accounting students) So, we wait until we KNOW the answer, and then we feel better about looking at problems.

This is NOT how problem solving works! This is what I call ‘problem matching’. If you think that you should ‘know’ the solution to everything before you look at a problem, you’ll either copy & paste answers from other problems (which means your solution is possibly irrelevant for THIS situation), or you’ll disengage and avoid it entirely. 

The purpose of your learning, is to provide you with TOOLS that a professional in your industry will need to solve their clients’ problems. You need to be able to use these tools in totally different, new and weird situations. 

As a professional, you’re going to be faced with problems you will NEVER see coming, and will NEVER read in textbooks. Your role will be to CREATE solutions from your knowledge and experience. 

Your starting point needs to be understanding what types of problems you need tools for. What is the issue? What problems will your clients have? What’s the gap that you’re trying to fill?

This is related to other points I’ve made about understanding the outcome, knowing vs doing, and exploring the obstacle course

At higher levels in your studies, you are required to sift through all your knowledge, and use it to pick apart your client’s problems and fix stuff… you need the tools and skills to do this. 

Think of this...

Financial leaders had to come up with solutions to save and guide businesses during COVID. With no warning, and no precedent to refer to. No textbook has a chapter on how to run a business during a global pandemic. (Sure, there will probably be some chapters included on this from now on!). Leaders had to use their knowledge and experience and CREATE solutions for survival. THAT'S a problem solving skill!

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