Should application prompts be visually distinguished from recall prompts?

We were pretty unsure about this when we launched application prompts (see The mnemonic medium can help readers apply what they’ve learned through simple application prompts). I’m still not sure.

The goal of practice is different: users shouldn’t try to remember the answers to application prompts. When you see the answer to a recall prompts, your goal is to commit the answer to memory. But that behavior’s usually a waste of time for application prompts (and at worst, it’s actually counter-productive: Answers to application prompts shouldn’t be drawn from memory). Application prompt answers want a different kind of engagement—more like noticing surprise. Some indication of the prompt type would help people engage appropriately.

But in real life, prompts don’t have labels. You need to figure out for yourself whether to remember the answer or derive it. Maybe an indicator would be an unhelpful crutch.

When we launched application prompts, we labeled them for half our users. Our User research on application prompts suggests that this doesn’t seem to be a high-order bit in practice.


Adjacent email from Ben Kurtz: Feedback on Quantum Country

As I’ve been reviewing the practice questions, there are a number of questions that I don’t remember exact answers to off the bat, but that I know I remember enough underlying theory to work out. An example of this (that I happen to remember offhand right now having just done it this morning) is the question about an example where a CNOT gate affects the control gate rather than the target gate. I know how the CNOT gate works, and I definitely remember that it’s some example that involves the |+> and |-> superposition states, and so I can easily work out which one it is, but I don’t remember it off the top of my head. There are a number of other similar examples that I’ve run across (particularly as someone with a strong math background and past experience with quantum) that are similar: I already remember the underlying theory and can use that to derive the answer if I just take enough time.

My question is whether it’s best to take the time to derive the answer again, or if it’s better to simply say “I don’t remember” if I can’t recall the exact answer in a few seconds. On the one hand, it seems like working it out is good practice and for long-term memory I’m likely to be better off remembering the theory than a specific example. But on the other hand, I wonder if re-doing a derivation using theory that I already mostly remember (it’s not like the math involved is hard) may actually be avoiding triggering the mental processes that would help me form new memories, and there’s certainly an argument to be made for learning some simple facts cold (e.g. can you imagine trying to do multiplication in your head if you had to derive multiplication from addition every time; or the fact that when I’m not sure I remember a rule correctly, it’s always nice to check that it works correctly on a simple example).