Skills for Acquiring Knowledge for Studies and Exams

Acquiring knowledge for studies, exams and lifelong learning

Acquiring knowledge is  both an art and a skill. According to the English dictionary, “knowledge” means facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” (1)

What is knowledge?

The ordinary definition of knowledge has been much debated over centuries by philosophers and scientists alike. A classical definition from Plato specifies that a statement can only be called knowledge if it meets the following criteria (2):

  • the statement must be justified;
  • the statement must be true; and
  • the statement must be believed.

Latest articles

Rene Descartes (1596–1650), the father of modern philosophy, then published his works on the theory of knowledge in the Meditations on First Philosophy (3), and defined knowledge to be “a conviction based on reason that is so strong that no feeling of doubt can change it“.

Later contemporary philosophers have added to, or qualified, the criteria –

  • Robert Nozick, a renown American philosopher, who held the Joseph Pellegrino University Professorship at Harvard University, argued that knowledge needed to track the truth;
  • Simon Blackburn, a British philosopher, who is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, suggests that a person should not be held to have knowledge that they derived through a defect or flaw.

Methods of acquiring knowledge

There are a number of methods of acquiring knowledge. They include:

  • Observation – ranging from simple viewing of an event to controlled experiments
  • Experience – experiencing (feeling, participating in) the event
  • Reasoning – applying inference or conclusions to statements made, data presented, events viewed or experienced etc
  • Logic – gaining knowledge through logical constructs
  • Modelling – mapping out a situation, data or decision making process to reach a probably conclusion
  • Testimony – knowledge based on the observations or experiences of others
  • Feedback – similar to testimony, responses to an event made by others through their participation of that event
  • Authority – knowledge based on the reputation of others thought or widely accepted to be authoritative
  • Brainstorm – information supplied through a group of individuals who pull together their collective minds to offer suggestions and ideas to enable a specific conclusion to be made or drawn
  • Intuition – gaining knowledge based the instinctive understanding of an individual

To acquire knowledge for studies and exams, students need to have technical learning and study skills and strategies (see our Teen Study Skills Handbook for more information). Acquisition of knowledge for studies and exams is generally reliant on using an authoritative source of information. Observation, reasoning and logic are other methods of acquiring knowledge in studies.

In addition, certain skills e.g. exam techniques for example, learning based on experiences of teachers, older students, parents and carers is a key to gaining good exam technique skills.

Study skills and strategies for retaining information

Acquisition of knowledge cannot be made without retaining the information learnt. For studies and exams, skills and strategies used to retain information (as well as retaining the correct information) are outlined in the other sections of this handbook.

In brief, the following are examples of strategies used for retaining information:

  • Note taking
  • Mind map
  • Text highlighting
  • Underlining
  • Flash cards
  • Summarizing
  • Big picture
  • Mnemonics

There is some research which says that only only 5% of students learn from a lecture and only 10% learn from reading. On the other hand, 90% learn through experiences and by doing. However, there are claims which have been made to disclaim the research and claims that the 5% or 10% rule is a myth (4).

Nonetheless, while learning depends on a number of variables, lessons learnt by making mistakes and trying to correct the mistakes are some of the most powerful strategies that can be used for learning. Doing practice or past year papers as preparation for an exam for example, is one of the best methods of building knowledge for the exam.


⇒ Next: Teen Study Skills Handbook Section 8: Improving Learning Skills for High School Students

⇐ Back: Teen Study Skills Handbook Section 6: Exam Techniques for High School Students

Go to beginning:

Teen Study Skills Handbook – A Guide for Teenagers, Parents and Educators

  1. Merriam-Webster Incorporated, Definition of Knowledge, <>
  2. The Metaphysics Research Lab (2013), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Plato on Knowledge in the Thaetetus, Standford University <>
  3. The Metaphysics Research Lab (2013), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Descartes’ Epistemology, <>
  4. Thalheimer, W. (2006), Will at Work, <>


Leave a Reply

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is for general guidance on matters of interest only and is provided with the understanding that the authors and publishers are not engaged in rendering any professional advice and services. The information should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisers. All sources of information are listed in our Acknowledgement page. The use of this website is strictly subject to our Terms of Use.