Respect the Negatives

When doing any type of resistance training, the eccentric part of any motion, aka the negative, is well-known to be overlooked, despite decent evidence that it may be even more effective than concentric exercise for building strength and mass. People just like to pump out reps because it’s flashy, it’s an easy way to track progress and you don’t have to think too hard about where your strength may be lacking.

This applies to studying as well, though I’m not sure if there already exists language to talk about studying in these terms. Flashcards are like the concentric exercise of studying. You pump out quick answers without giving to much thought as to how you got to the answer, or to why you maybe gave an incorrect answer; you simply move on to the next card and try to remember the correct answer for next time. It helps me recall facts, but often more so out of pattern recognition than actual understanding. While I do think flashcards are valuable for rote memorization and have potential for effective study (if you slow down), as a concept aren’t conducive to taking advantage of the “negatives” and thus present a real missed opportunity for brain gains.

Case-based practice questions on the other hand provide do a meaningful opportunity to address the negatives. In order to choose an answer to a multiple-choice question you have to make a case as to why one answer choice is better than the others and why the other choices are wrong. When you get a question wrong you all of a sudden have content from at least 2 topics you can review, the correct answer and your answer choice.

Our education system has ingrained in us this crippling fear of multiple-choice questions, or any situation in which we feel like we are being tested or graded. Any situation that puts our pride on the line fills us with anxiety and dread, so we gravitate towards situations in which we don’t have to sit with that anxiety or confront our own deficits for too long. If I choose that path, what will I have to show for it?


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