The Difference Between Learning & Understanding



After a hectic term of lectures and projects in the six modules of the Full Time Smurfit MBA Programme, my first feeling about end of terms exams was abject fear. With my background in Psychology, English and Foreign Language, I’ve made it through an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree without ever having to take an exam with right or wrong answers. The prospect of finding success in MBA exams, with their numbers and complex theoretical models, hid behind an impenetrable wall. I didn’t know what to do.

In the past, any time I have tried to cram objective information, I have had a lot of trouble. I’ve found that it doesn’t suit the way my mind works. In order to learn even basic concepts, I have to indulge my curiosity and find understanding. I realised quickly that I would have to adjust my studying technique to something that would work for me.

My resolution through the process was to learn as much as I could during my weeks of study and exam review. The MBA is a choice I made for myself and my career and I realised early on that focusing on rote memorisation would do little to serve me in the future.  To get the most out of my exam preparation, I decided to learn through applications of concepts, thinking through ways that they could be applied in the real world. For some courses, I went through case study notes. For others, I was able to find more information through research on how MBA concepts work in the real world.

When I shifted my exam study goal from learning to understanding, I got a lot more out of my hours of preparation. It remains to be seen whether this paid off with my grades (they aren’t posted yet!), but I definitely felt confident and calm walking into each exam. More importantly, I know that I learned a lot more than I would have if I had crammed information in my brain that didn’t mean anything to me.

I couldn’t go as far as to say that I enjoyed studying for exams, but I did get a lot out of the process and I now have a solid understanding of my first six modules in the Smurfit MBA programme. Although I would be delighted to get good grades, the real hope is that I will be able to use this information and understanding later in my career. In the meantime, I am really enjoying a few weeks off.

Elsa Heffernan ~ Full-Time MBA

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