Here it is, our final lesson in this series covering the science behind effective FE exam learning!
Before reading this lesson, I suggest that you take a few minutes to yourself to try to remember or recall what we’ve learned so far. You can always refer back to the previous lessons by checking your understanding while, most importantly, applying these study techniques to your FE exam learning. As we learned in lesson 4, this active recall exercise is an effective way to engage your working memory and ultimately solidify these memories for the long term.
This lesson will cover two important components of continuity to improve how we learn:
- Having the mindset of a learner
- Reflecting properly on your learning progress
Mindset of a Learner
Building the proper mindset when it comes to preparing for this FE exam is a critical component for effective learning. We discussed this when we talked about FEEDBACK a few lessons ago.
Your study mindset will control a lot of your reactions when it comes to effectively preparing for this FE exam. This mindset determines how you look at the mistakes you make and what you decide to do after making a mistake. When it comes to studying for the FE, students tend to fluctuate between two opposing mindsets: either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
A fixed mindset is rooted in the belief that your knowledge and skills are innate. In other words, you either have the talent or you don’t, or you either know how to solve a problem or you don’t. Good or bad thinking. Black or white thinking. All or nothing thinking.
You have a fixed belief that no amount of extra hard work or no alternative approach can turn your studying in the right direction.
A growth mindset is rooted in the belief that your knowledge and skills are the result of your effort. Which mindset would you say is more productive when preparing for the FE? Obviously, the growth mindset!
When a student with a growth mindset makes a mistake, they see the mistake as an opportunity to learn. This mistake tells them something about their performance, something about their problem-solving that could be improved. A student with a growth mindset would put in the extra effort by reflecting on this mistake and working on understanding why they made the mistake because they believe they can learn through the effort.
Decades of research have revealed that a growth mindset is what separates an expert from a non-expert. Research supports the idea that talent plays a small role in the development of expertise. Proper practice, not innate talent, is required to effectively master any skill, including those skills required to pass the FE exam.
Students can also have damaging mindsets when it comes to preparing for the FE exam. For example, a student may believe that there is no way they can prepare for the FE since they’ve been out of school for 10+ years (“I’m too old for this”). Another example is when a student feels like they’ve failed this exam too many times, there’s no way they can pass this exam now (“I tried everything I could, there’s no way I can pass this exam”). Lastly, a student may believe that they lack “innate” engineering ability (“I’m not a technical person”).
These beliefs hurt the entire learning process. They can make a student feel like nothing is in their control: “When I make a mistake on this problem, this is evidence that I’m just not good enough to pass this FE exam.”
To stop and replace these beliefs, one must slowly shift their thinking. One must be willing to recognize that they do have control over their own behavior, they are in control of their preparation, which ultimately entails giving up caring so much about the outcome. Passing this exam DOES NOT define you!
You can start by stopping and replacing that destructive negative self-talk (fixed mindset) with positive self-talk (growth mindset). Below are some examples of positive self-talk you can tell yourself:
- “If I didn’t make this mistake, I would have never learned the right process needed to solve this problem.”
- “I failed the FE exam before, but I can now build on all the valuable skills/knowledge I learned to be better prepared to pass this exam.”
- “I know that with consistent hard work, I will pass this exam no matter what.”
- “I will try my best. Whatever happens is real and this exam doesn’t define my worth. “
- “I prepared for this test and will do the best I can.”
- “I am not going to worry about those difficult problems. I’m going to focus on solving the problems I am confident with and check for careless errors. “
- “Even if I don’t pass this exam, it is not the end of the world – life goes on.”
Changing your mindset is not an easy thing to do. But the more that you see yourself solving that next practice problem by learning from your mistakes, learning that next concept by giving yourself the time toss ideas around in your head, and learning that you can solve these problems at your own pace, the easier it is to see a growth mindset in action.
We’ve covered a lot in the previous lessons. But there is a crucial aspect of learning that we must always remember: knowing the concept or equation is one thing; being able to apply it effectively is another.
Learning effectively for the FE exam is a skill. It’s a skill that you can improve in just the same way that we’ve talked about in the previous lessons. This means tracking your own learning, evaluating your test results, and trying to improve.
Reflect on your learning process. Reflect on your study approach. Are you retaining what you’re learning? Are you developing your FE problem-solving abilities? Are you solving problems in a way that makes sense to you? If not, revise your learning goals. Revise your learning approaches.
It’s this process of continuing to improve that is most important. It doesn’t mean becoming obsessed with every part of your FE studying process—too much reflection can be paralyzing. It just means regularly taking time to think about what could be improved and taking action to improve it.