Understanding the Difference between Concepts and Facts
Written by Dr Hugo
No matter which topic you are studying, you can almost always break it down into two different information type:

Facts vs Concepts

For example in Chemistry:

Fact (organic chemistry nomenclature methyl, butyl-) – usually not much meaning to it, you just have to learn it

Concepts – noble gases are non-reactive because they have a full outer shell of electrons

Another example in Biology:

Fact (name of bones) – again, there is usually not much meaning to it, you just have to learn it

Concepts – a joint makes up two ends of the bones, a tendon pulls across joints to move bones

Facts for example

There are many different memorisation techniques which yield different efficiency 

Beginner level – wrote learn, keep writing/ saying until you remember. Downside – easy to forget after a day or a week

Intermediate level – spaced repetition, using flashcards, software like ANKI. Downside – you need to spend heaps of time repeating the same information until you can commit this to memory. Very time consuming and defeating our purpose of achieving more in less time.

Expert level – this is what I call the HILE system. Dr Hugo’s Image-Location-Emotion system. This system alone gives you the greatest probability to remember facts once in for all, minimising the need for repetition.

This is the exact system that I teach students as you work with me personally, allowing you to save a lot of time wrote learning and making the memorisation process actually enjoyable.

That concludes memorising any facts no matter what subject – finding a great system goes a long way to memorise facts effectively and make it stick to your brain indefinitely.

Next are concepts.

For example in biology

Understanding food are made up of long chains of building blocks. Once you start to digest the food, they get broken down into much shorter chains of building blocks. Your body then uses these building blocks to make things to let you survive and thrive.

When you understand this, it becomes almost impossible to forget.

When the exam question asks if the food gets digested into longer chains of building blocks, it immediately doesn’t make sense and you know that isn’t the right answer.


They use beginner level methods to wrote learn or intermediate level methods to repeat over time what they wrote learn.

And they forget bits and pieces of the big picture.

They will learn the ‘concept’ as fact today, able to perfectly recite the whole thing word-for-word.

Weeks later, pieces of information would dissolve into thin air.

They will remember long chain molecules, food, digest, and building blocks.

When exam question asks them does food gets digested into bigger building blocks.

They will not be sure if this is correct.

All the key words are present and they might think this is one potential answer to the multi-choice.

All the time they used have mostly gone to waste even if they know how to use the efficiency zone!

Their memorisation efficiency is small and they have wasted the efficiency zone!

The key to learning concepts is to develop a deep understanding.

And there is a way to test whether you truly understand the concept or if you are not quite there yet.

I call it the 5-10-15 test.

YOU NEED to be able to explain your concept to a 5 year old (very simple words) so they can explain it back to you (like how I explained the concept of food digestion in very simple words).

Then using slightly harder words – you explain your concept to a 10 year old.

And later incorporating the complex jargon and explaining it to a 15 year old or a friend that doesn’t study the same topic as you.

In order to explain a concept at these different levels, you need to have a very deep understanding of the subject.

Because if at any point that your concept doesn’t make sense.

These 5-10-15 year old will challenge you. And you will need to read around the topic again until you can answer any questions about the topic confidently.

This is the 5-10-15 test.

Actionable advice:
Next time you identify a concept. Try to use the 5-10-15 test to explain a concept in 3 different levels of difficulties to yourself or another person.

If you fail the test, it means you need to read around the topic more or revisit the lecture.

Repeat until you get the concept without any flaws.

The chances of you forgetting this would be greatly minimised.

Dr Hugo Lau (BPharm, M.D.)

Dr Hugo helps students get excellent grades in high school and university by teaching them a Complete Study System that focuses on studying SMARTER, not HARDER. He is an expert in identifying students' study inefficiencies and installing new efficient study methods so students are able to have FREE TIME, SLEEP, SOCIAL LIFE AND EXCELLENT GRADES.

If you're interested in improving your grades then definitely reach out and request a free 1-on-1 study strategy session with Dr Hugo today.

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