Recalling my knowledge

2 minute read

When I was revising for my exams to get into university my father1 recommended a technique he used for his own exam preparation. The technique was to come up with his own exam questions on the subject area and test himself on them. I didn’t bother with following his advice at the time because I knew better, but this idea has since become a lot more attractive as I’ve become older and wiser.

This post is about my process for writing my own questions on different things I learn in my career working in software. I then describe how I use the latex exam class to reduce the time taken for me to generate quality typeset notes.

Me, reading my list of questions and lecturing you on how to copy me. British Library, Harley 1585.
Me, reading my list of questions and lecturing you on how to copy me. British Library, Harley 1585.

The process of creating your own questions on a subject area and testing yourself on them is known as active recall, an effective learning technique2. I wanted to be able to better remember the things I that I learn at work, so I decided to implement my own process for practicing active recall on the knowledge that I learn in my job. This process has involved breaking up areas of my professional knowledge into different categories and then writing my own questions and answers to test myself. You can see the complete questions and answers here and just the questions here.

I write my notes in a combination of markdown and latex depending on the level of customisation I feel I need. For this project I chose to use the latex exam class and use latexmk with make to orchestrate the build. See this repo here for the full implementation. I write my questions and responses in this tex file which is pulled into this document to print the questions only and this document to print questions and answers.

  1. He was a maths teacher at a local school. It was a second career for him after doing well at university then pursuing a technical specialisation in the military. Point is, he knows about learning and passing exams. 

  2. I’m referencing this which reviews multiple techniques for improving learning. Funnily enough, it turns out that the more focused work you do to engage and understand the subject, the more you learn.