How to Self-Assess Your Progress – a Short Guide for Independent Learners

How to self-asses your progress - a short guide for independent learners

Learning on your own can be quite an unsettling experience, especially initially. Instead of being guided by a helpful hand of a coach or trainer, you cling to a clammy hand of doubt and despair. Questions like "What if I am wrong?", "Am I consolidating all the wrong things right now" become your bread and butter. To minimize the amount of all those unpleasantries, you need to learn how to self-assess your progress.

Sadly, choosing the right method to do it can be also confusing. After all, there are lots of ways to do it! No strategy is universal enough as to work for everyone. That's why I suggest that you spend some time thinking about the right way to assess your progress. If you don't do this, it will be challenging to tell whether you're pushing forward at the optimal pace or just spinning your wheels.



How to Self-Assess Your Progress as an Independent Learner


1. Use SRS (Spaced Repetition Software)


A fantastic feature of every SRS program, including my all-time favorite ANKI, is that every flashcard is a form of self-quiz. It provides you with immediate feedback about your knowledge.

It's like a virtual friend that regularly hangs out with you to make sure you have mastered your area of choice. You can't lose long-term with buddies like that!


2. Assess Others' Performance


We're getting a little meta here, but trying to evaluate somebody's performance, for example via teaching, is an excellent gauge of your current progress.

You see, it's very difficult to be able to single out somebody's mistakes unless you're on the same or a higher level than this person. Thus, doing so is a meta confirmation that you've achieved a certain level.

Of course, you don't have to teach someone to be able to benefit from this strategy. It can be as easy as observing somebody's performance on video. Or you can simply try to criticize somebody's work "theoretically".

For example, let's say that your goal is to create amazing facial creams. In that case, you can pick up any cream of one of your potential competitors and try to find flaws in it. At the same time, you can also try to find positives to consolidate your knowledge further.


3. Take part in interviews


Comparing your performance against other learners can tell you volumes about your current skill set or expertise. There is nothing more telling than seeing where you fall within a given group.


Interviews are a great form of a comparison between you and, often, hundreds of other candidates. Even if you're not looking currently for a job, it's still worth applying for one to test yourself.

If you fail, you will still get feedback from a company, and thus you will learn where you fell short. Heck, failing in itself, is a form of feedback.

If you succeed, you can ask for detailed feedback concerning your performance. Even if you turn the job down, you will still learn a lot.


4. Take part in Competitions/Contests/Tournaments


Competing with others is probably almost as old as our entire civilization and is still as popular as ever. Find a relevant competition that involves your skillset and see how you fare against other candidates.

An important benefit of this assessment method is that you also test how well you cope with pressure. Of course, it doesn't make much sense if your skill is performed in isolation. However, in all other cases, it's necessary to get out of the comfort zone to get a realistic picture of our expertise.


5. Take Online tests


Online tests can provide you with relatively precise and, more importantly, almost immediate feedback. In the era of the internet, finding one that is relevant to your field shouldn't be too challenging.

The only thing you should keep in mind is choosing the test of high quality. You need a test that can provide you with meaningful information. Sometimes, it simply means paying a couple of bucks.


6. Get a certificate


Certificates are one of the best ways to get very detailed feedback about your performance. It's not only a benchmark to measure your knowledge against - it can actually be something you can strive for. A source of inspiration if you will. If you want a meaningful confirmation that you've learned the material or skill effectively, look no further.


7. Produce/create something


In some cases, your goal is to create some masterpiece. It can be a program, a flying machine, a flamethrower, and whatnot. Creating the said item will allow you to assess your expertise critically.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
  • Does it work?
  • Does it work well?
  • Is there any room for improvement?
  • What do others think about it?

My Example - Composing Music


a short guide for independent learners


It's important to ask yourself these questions because if you just mindlessly keep on producing these items, you won't be able to improve. At least not by a significant margin.

You can use my experience as a case study. I have been composing for lots of years now with a plan for publishing my work in the future. You can call it my long-term side project. Whenever I finish an outline of a song, I send it to a group of my friends, asking them for a review. 

The group is selected based on one criterion — they are honest. If something is shit, it's shit, and there are no two ways about it. This isn't where the process ends.

To further maximize the usefulness and truthfulness of this feedback, I ask my friends to share it with one or two other people. These may be family members or just close friends.

Some of them listen to other genres of music, and some don't listen to music at all. Once I get all the reviews and comments, I paste them into an Excel file and analyze them.

A bit unorthodox way of composing, but it certainly helps to yank me out of the echo chamber in which many creators live in. It's very sobering sometimes to hear, "man, just delete this song." 


8. Use checklists


Checklists have been widely popular for at least a couple of decades now. It's hard to find even an averagely organized company that doesn't use it to some degree. And there are good reasons for that - they make the overwhelming manageable.

Of course, checklists are amazing at all levels of advancement, but they are especially useful for beginners. First of all, they allow you to decrease your cognitive load drastically. They are the life-ring that stops you from drowning in the excessive amount of information. One look and you know what should be done.

However, the most important benefit for independent learners is that they enable you to efficiently self-assess your progress. Upon performing a given activity, you can quickly consult such a list to see what was done right and where you fell short.


9. Videotape or record yourself


Videotaping yourself is a form of formative assessment since it allows you to assess your performance during instruction (i.e., performance).

Recording yourself on video is an amazingly simple and effective way to identify areas that you need to improve. Of course, it's not for everyone, and it won't apply to some areas of knowledge. However, it's a perfect feedback mechanism for musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers. 

The research certainly supports this way of learning:


Developing musicians typically engage in self-regulated practicing during the time that passes between lessons with their teachers. An important aspect of self-regulated practice is the ability to identify and correct areas of development in performance in the absence of a teacher’s feedback, but the effort required to perform as well as monitor a performance represents a challenge for any learner. 
Videotaping the performance and watching it afterward to fully concentrate on each task could constitute a solution to this problem. In our study, we verified how video feedback could affect the self-evaluation of intermediate-advanced musicians while practicing a new piece of music. 
To attain this objective, we analyzed and coded the self-evaluative comments of 16 classical guitarists while practicing. We then compared the number of coding entries in each category of a group of participants who used video feedback (n = 8) on four occasions over a period of ten practice sessions with those of a group of musicians who did not use video feedback (n = 8).
Our results indicate that musicians who used video feedback modified the way they formulated their self-evaluative comments while practicing and that these changes were more marked with higher-performing musicians. [[source]]

How to Self-Assess Your Progress - Summary


Knowing how to self-assess your progress as an independent learner is one of the most important keys to your success. Without that skill, you are bound to forever stray in the cognitive darkness or worse, beg for crumbles of advice from others' mouths.


Keep in mind that your feedback mechanism will heavily depend on what resources you have and your area of choice. It's also one of those cases where more is better. It's certainly preferable, especially if you want to be independent, to rely on more than one of the strategies above. Even if you can't pick a perfect feedback mechanism, you can incorporate smaller feedback drills to ensure you're not entirely without feedback.

Here is how you can self-assess your progress:

  • 1. use SRS (Spaced Repetition Software)
  • 2. assess others' performance
  • 3. take part in interviews
  • 4. take part in competitions/contests/tournaments
  • 5. take online tests
  • 6. get a certificate
  • 7. create or produce something
  • 8. use checklists
  • 9. Videotape or record yourself

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time And Stay Sane

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

It would be beautiful if you could always just sit and learn, wouldn’t it be? Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t work this way. It seems as if the time is never right. And even when you sit down, you often don’t know where to start. Or what to start with.

If you find yourself in this description, why not give yourself a rule or two to make your life easier?
And the process of learning more automatic! Having rules will get you learning and keep you learning. You won’t be doomed anymore to ask yourself the ultimate question, “What do I do now?”.

What Is A Rule?

 

Just to be sure that we get the foundations right, I would like to quote definitions of both “a goal” and “a rule”. I know it sounds silly but I have had my fair share of situations when someone tried to convince me that they are “basically the same”

Rule
The Merriam-website dictionary gives the following definition of a rule:

  • a statement that tells you what is or is not allowed in a particular game, situation, etc.
  • a statement that tells you what is allowed or what will happen within a particular system (such as a language or science)
  • a piece of advice about the best way to do something

Goal
Business dictionary defines it as:

An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe

In essence, you can treat it as a logical loophole:

IF … then … and …

Of course, there can be some overlapping between these two. But that shouldn’t be a problem.

Great. But What Are The Rules In Practice?

 

A rule can be a number of things. Let’s go through some of the examples:

  • It can be a specific writing technique which you want to use in your freelancing

IF I write then I use a free writing technique.

Such a rule is simple and actionable. It’s not perfectly measurable, but I would say that it is good enough.

You can track your writing output throughout a specific period of time. You can also ask your friends about the quality of your writing just to make sure that it doesn’t deteriorate.

  •  It can be a philosophy which guides whenever you find yourself in a specific emotional state

IF I’m afraid to take a bold step then I’ll think about death and potential regrets

Once again, the philosophy is simple and actionable. It can also be measured easily by comparing the number of projects which were successfully concluded when you used this rule.

Of course, you have to compare the number of successes within a given period of time with a number of successes within a comparable period of time when you didn’t use this rule.

  • It can be a strategy which helps you to deal with your finances

IF I want to spend some money then I’ll make sure that it costs less than 15% of all my financial resources

This is a personal example. Whenever I make a financial decision, I double-check if I don’t spend more than 15% of the money I have. If the answer is positive, it simply means that I can’t afford it.

The rule is so deeply ingrained in my decision-making process, that very often I don’t even think about it! And I’m more than sure that these rules have saved me from dozens of stupid financial decisions.

Otherwise, I would be buying myself a vibrating rubber finger that massages your gums. Yep, this is a real thing.

What Rules Are The Best?

 

The best rules tend to meet the following three criteria. They are:

  • actionable
  • simple
  • measurable

The acronym SAM can help you to memorize these qualities.

Why this “trinity”?

Firstly, you have to be sure that the rules you have chosen can be easily implemented into your learning process. Complicate them too much and after a couple of attempts you’ll become bitterly discouraged and will drop them.

Secondly, if you don’t measure in some way how these rules affect your learning, how will you know if they are worth anything?

How To Use Rules In Your Learning?

 

How To Use Rules In Language Learning To Save Time

Picture by: Allan Ajifo

To use the rules effectively, you have to know what problems you have.

1) Find a specific problem

Take a moment to think about it.

Once you find it, you can come up with a specific rule to aid your learning.

2) Choose a rule

Let’s choose a quite common language learning problem, i.e. “I don’t know which resources to use”.

What kind of rules could you use to solve it?

My take on this would be to separate language learning competences. Then I would attribute a specific rule to each of the competences I care about.

a) IF I practise listening then I’ll use X radio station

b) IF I want to improve my vocabulary then I’ll write down the words from a dictionary and read something

c) IF I want to read something then I’ll read X newspaper

3) Track your results

As I have mentioned before, you have to track your (potential) progress to know whether the rule is good enough to keep it. After checking data, there is just one more step to take.

4) Decide whether to stick to the rule or replace it

Not much more to add here. This is self-explanatory 🙂

Personal Example – How I Juggle 8 Languages Using Rules

 

Believe me, if I didn’t have rules to guide my studying process, learning languages would be a living hell. I would throw myself from one language into another. Without any clue what I’m actually doing. Luckily, I have experimented a little bit and discovered what works for me.

As a disclaimer, I must add that I use this rule for 4 languages. The other ones I either use regularly or teach.

a) One week – learn Russian and French

b) Every second week – learn Czech and Spanish

Of course, this is a simplified version but it helps me to go through the weeks hassle-free.

How Will Rules Change Your Life?

 

As you can see, using rules in your learning and life can be surprisingly easy! And extremely beneficial. However, beware of one weird misconception – some say that having rules makes your life miserable and strips it of spontaneity.

Of course, that’s a lie. Using rules doesn’t mean that you will become a soulless robot eating nothing but bolts and screws for breakfast. Treat them like walking with a compass and map. You wouldn’t say that these are stupid, right?

Now…think about the rules which you might use in your (language) learning or life. How can they improve your life?