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Is Looking at the Solution Really the Solution?

Courtesy of Alissa De Leva.

You studied something and started practicing questions on the topic.

Did the first three correctly.

This one seems hard. Let’s attempt it.

You scribble something down, it makes no sense, and you get stuck.

You’ve been pondering over it for god knows how many hours.

It’s enough now, let’s just look at the solution.
Oh, ‘this’, well I knew this, maybe it just didn’t click. I’ll keep it in mind next time.

A similar question comes up again, and you get stuck. Again.

Why is this happening, after all, I was able to understand how they did the last one.

And the frustration kicks in.

Now the thing is, when you look at the solution, you understand the ‘solution’, not how to get to that particular solution. And while you must’ve completely understood what to do, you didn’t train your mind how to know when to do it.

So ideally, you should understand the solution, and also somehow make your mind work in that very direction when you encounter a similar question.

You’re trying to make your mind think the way the person who wrote the solution did, which is an injustice to your own critical thinking.

And it’s not that easy really.

Let’s rewind to what actually happened when you saw the question.

You scribbled something down, whatever concept came to your mind when you read the question. That’s what clicked you, that’s the direction you wanted to proceed in.

Now, while you did find a ‘correct’ way to get to the answer, how do you know what struck you was ‘incorrect’?

This confusion in the mind is what makes you repeat the same mistake again and again, despite having understood the solution. And it cannot be eliminated, unless you brainstorm over what clicked you, put it on paper, and give it a few attempts.

When you’re trying to figure out a solution by yourself, you’re working in the direction of your mind’s reflex. As you go on, you’ll see if it’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and why to not think that way when a similar problem comes up again.

You’re eliminating all the possibilities that your mind thought were correct, and you’re also getting to know why they couldn’t be applied in a particular case.

Which is to also say, if that concept does finally get you to the answer, then what better way to solve a problem than using the method that naturally clicks you?

After doing it your way, you can always consult the given solution to find a shorter method or to just see an alternative approach.

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
Hilary Mante

Always remember, any errors in your problem solving are either because of lack of patience or because of an unclear concept. And this can only be resolved by working on the problem on your own.

So next time, before flipping over to the solution, wait, and give it another try, a different approach each time. Write down whatever clicks, look at it, and try to visualize what’s happening.

With every line you cross out, you’ll be one step closer to figuring it out. And sooner than you know, you’ll have the answer. In most cases, it wouldn’t be the same as the solution given to you, and that’s the whole point of it.

Quora : Amisha Singh | Instagram : amixhaa


Is Looking at the Solution Really the Solution? was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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