Assessing Your Understanding

To prepare for formal assessments (quizzes, exams, presentations), it's important to assess your own understanding throughout the semester. Self-checks on your learning, in which you assess your understanding of the material at specific points throughout the semester, look different depending on what you're studying, but many of the guiding questions are the same regardless of the field. "What’s the big idea of the week/lecture/assignment?" is a great place to start your self-check, and then you can get more specific from there.

One of the most effective ways to check your own understanding is to explain a particular concept to someone else. Speaking out loud, even to an empty room, can help you identify holes in your own understanding and avoid illusions of competence (the feeling that you know something when you don't). Speaking out loud enables you to check your level of comfort with talking though the details and subpoints involved in the material you’re working with. It’s also a great strategy to use when you’re writing a paper, since we tend to speak more clearly than we write.

Another effective strategy is to use the particular practice opportunities your courses emphasize, such as working through practice problems, using study guides, and taking practice tests. Embrace them! Use the resources your course faculty point you toward.

Working with a study group is also a great strategy. A study group offers opportunities for you to explain concepts to others and to hear others’ explanations. These opportunities allow for points of confusion (of which you may have been unaware) to surface. Interested in creating your own study group? Check out the ARC webpage on Study Groups for some tips on how to do it.

Here are some ways to challenge yourself with self-check questions and by talking it through:


  • What concepts are being covered this week?

  • How do they fit into the ideas already presented in the course so far?

  • Can you articulate the major points of lecture, section, or your response paper/essay?

  • Can you explain the major points in new language and not just the terms provided by your instructors or in your thesis statement?

  • Can you explain the concepts to a peer who is not in the course? Can you move flexibly through your ideas when your listener does not already know the material or is confused?


  • What new vocabulary or phrases are most important?

  • Can you explain what they mean in your own words?

  • How are they used?

  • If you do not know what a word or phrase means, write it down, look it up, and try to use it in section or a conversation with a peer!

Formulas and Theorems

  • What major equations, formulas, and/or theorems have been introduced this week?

  • Why are they important?

  • When are they useful?

  • How are they different from or similar to each other?

  • Can you explain when you would use them and why?

  • Try discussing in detail with a peer or a peer tutor how you would solve a particular problem or justify the lines of a proof


  • What are the major contributors (e.g., authors, theories, studies, readings) to the course's exploration this week?

  • How do they differ?

  • How are they similar?

  • Try talking though the points and subpoints involved in the material you’re working with or explaining a similarity and difference that seems important to your understanding of the material covered this week.

Accordion style

Sometimes we discover during our self-check that there are major gaps in our understanding or learning that we need to fill in. Uncovering gaps is the point of doing self-checks. It's not a problem in the least! It’s better to uncover gaps now than on a formal assessment. When you encounter concepts or skills that aren’t coming together for you, make use of your support structures. Use your peers, tutors from the ARC, and course teaching staff to check in about what's sticking and what's not!

Meet with a Peer Tutor