Have you ever passed a few exams in a row but with no knowledge after all? Have you ever felt at the end of the school or studies that you don’t have enough knowledge to do something you really want? Have you ever felt bad because of your ignorance in spite of putting great effort into learning and obtaining good marks?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it means that… you are also affected by certain ‘illness’ of educational system. I use the word ‘illness’ on account of my medical education and I also would like to offer you such a prospect of the problem analysis. On account of its clarity the medical metaphor will be a kind of a frame for us, however the problem which I would like to discuss today, concerns pupils, students and teachers of all fields of almost all departments of the majority of colleges in the world.

Let’s talk about one from newly recognised by me ‘social disorders’ on the boarder of education and cognitive psychology concerning the generation of people who learn or learnt mainly from question bank. 

This phenomenon isn’t known yet commonly. Many people suffering from this  ‘condition’ don’t combine their educational reactions with many symptoms and problems which they face while learning and professional improvement. The social rush brought young people to situation, in which on account of the lack of time they are forced to use one chosen form of exam preparations. Some of them, those who have been working like crazy, on account of other duties or simply the laziness and ignorance, decide to limit the methodology of their intellectual work exclusively for solving closed questions.

Where does it come from and where may it lead us?

Etiology and pathogenesis

We should seek for the reasons of this modern civilisation disease at the beginning of the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution drastically increased the demand on highly skilled labour. Factories, the increase in the quality of life and the economy strongly driven by the social development led to the creation of the first countrywide educational systems. Public schools weren’t obvious then – it is distinctive feature of contemporary times. Then they were created only for one thing: in order to educate, although we should use the word ‘to produce’, a worker with specific competences, or to be more precise, ‘parameters’.  

Over the years ‘manufacturing’ process of such an employee was subject to natural improvement which had to meet the needs of industry and then also business. On account of technological jumping and quality requirements this process also had to give in the process of standardization.

Decade after decade every next generation of pupils had to meet bigger and bigger requirements, often unified towards everyone. As in the production facility, so at schools there was a structure created which in huge factories is called ‘quality department’. In case of education it received a name of the examination centre.

However there was a problem of raw material involved. While an iron, wood, glass or also any other material can be easily examined and every sample can be compared to each other, comparing pupils turned out to be more difficult task.

Therefore first question banks were created – they are main tool used in standardized tests.

Symptoms and diagnosis

The script well-known to every college student: a few days before the exam Facebook groups or mailboxes are being massively flooded with dozens of questions – everyone seeks for the possibly most up-to-date and checked question bank for upcoming exam. The growing students’ tension often becomes a terror. It is always connected with one thing – older generations didn’t leave some magic file or also a piece of paper which would blackball students and accomplish the challenge. 

I know a lot of people who had already well sophisticated habit of using the question bank so much, that they practically stopped studying. Passing exams was a main goal for them, not gaining some knowledge and abilities. Many of them experienced quite big shock after studies and they didn’t have a chance to catch up. Half the battle, if questions and exams are constructed so that the minimum of understanding is necessary to pass them. Where is the problem? In exams which are makeshifts – it means you don’t have to learn for them to pass. The entire group is pleased with good marks they get without effort.

Where did it lead to?


Learning to questions leads young people to reduce their ambition. Real understanding is lower, so the bar is. As a result the system ‘produces’ people deprived from many crucial abilities headed by the ability of independent critical thinking. What’s more, it provides and then enforces the knowledge in this way, that acquired information is quickly leaking.

In consequence we educate worse and worse specialists who aren’t able to use their  knowledge, incapable of determining where concrete information comes from. So they make far more mistakes far more and they are easily controlled by their senior fellow workers. They don’t have high self-esteem and are not conscious of their professional competences. I perfectly know that from my experience – it doesn’t feel good.

What is worse, many of us stops to like the chosen field. We specialize in its narrow range and we guard the area of our competence urgently. We learn new things unwillingly, we don’t talk to other specialists. According to studies carried out by Cal Newport and published in a book ‘So good they can’t ignore you’, one of the professional satisfaction (passion) pillars is to feel like a champion. Solid and extensive knowledge is the reason of light handling that we can see in our mentors. They are able to reply any question not because they heard it before. They are able to deduce the answer because of their knowledge.

Can we do something to change our situation?


Confronting professional reality is an ultimate therapy. It awaits each of us and will verify all educational shortcomings. How much health, time and money we will sacrifice in order to make up the gaps caused by not very effective learning, is a very individual issue. However this process certainly won’t be pleasant.

I wouldn’t write all these things. So why did I? Because we are not convinced that there are many methods to wake up on appropriately earliest stage and change our educational habits. It is possible to react and prevent the situation, in which it is already too late.

First we should change our approach to question bank and closed questions. We should not treat them as a source of knowledge. It is only a tool for its checking and verifying. Also it can be an important level of learning, however it should not neither start with it, nor finish.

Effective and clever learning must be two-way street. At first we put the full image of the knowledge into our heads, and then we create appropriate mental model which has to be used by us. Thanks to that our knowledge is easy to use in situations, when and where it is needed. And that’s what is not taught by closed questions – using the knowledge.

Closed questions are like puzzle, they contain a lot of hints, often suggest the solution, so even if we spend many hours on learning, it’s not effective, because we don’t create proper self-bank.

Open questions can help – we are huge fans of them. It is one of the best way to learn. What is sad, the standardization of exams caused that oral exams at universities had started being a rarity.

Such exam requires different attitude. It is necessary to learn solidly! If you spent time this way, you invest for years while isolated work with question bank is just a loss.

I don’t claim that question banks are bad – they are just a tool. To use it well, we must understand, what it does, when can it help and what effects can we expect after working with it.

I encourage you to think about this issue. What kind of specialists do you want to be? What kind of people? Learning is about ⅓ of your lives. How you learn affects your workstyle and lifestyle as well

It will decide to a large extent about our happiness in professional everyday life.