Your Key To Success: Corson Technique

Everything is so instant these days. You can ask your friend a question by pinging off a message to receive a reply only seconds later. You watch a film with a familiar actor but can’t place him. Go online, and technology can tell you what you’re thinking instantly. We have become so accustomed to not having to think for ourselves.

With more superior technology and limitless information at our fingertips, it is crucial to think critically and analyze the information being given to us. So often, we believe what we read. Or we don’t understand something, so we ignore it or ask Google to explain it to us.

This is not how we learn new information or how to solve problems.

Who is Dale Corson?

Dale Corson was the 8th president of Cornell University. He developed a technique to help struggling students make sense of something they are trying to learn.

Often students will go straight to a professor and say, “I don’t understand. Please help.” But if they haven’t taken the time to figure out precisely what they don’t understand, then their professor will struggle to help them. Plus, they might feel like you’re wasting their time.

The Corson technique encourages students to spend a bit longer problem-solving. This way, they might manage to understand the issue themselves without needing to ask for help. Or, if they do need help, they will know exactly how to ask for it and precisely what they help need.

What is the Corson technique?

When studying, you will likely encounter information that you struggle to understand. It might feel very overwhelming and result in you wanting to avoid the problem altogether. But that doesn’t help you learn.

There might be specific elements of the information that you understand, but your overall confusion makes it difficult to see this. In this instance, you could try the Corson technique to understand one sentence at a time better.

Step 1:

Rather than looking at the problem as a whole and feeling overwhelmed, try to break it down into smaller sections. Spend 15 minutes looking at each section and trying to understand it.

Step 2:

Figure out precisely what it is you’re stuck on. You might be able to understand some aspects of the problem but get stumped in a certain area. Try to work out what this area is that you don’t understand.

Step 3:

Spend 15 minutes looking at this problem and trying to find the solution. You might find that breaking it down and looking at it specifically for some time can help you get to grips with it.

Step 4:

Ask other students how they approached this problem or understood this information. They might have a perspective you hadn’t considered, which can help you.

Step 5:

Go to your professor with specific questions. Explain which aspect of the information you didn’t understand and how you have tried to make sense of it.

Reasons to use the Corson technique


Your professor is going to have minimal time. They will be swamped and will likely not want to repeat their entire lecture if you didn’t understand it the first time. Going to them with a specific set of questions will help them save their time, so they know exactly what it is you need help with.

You also have limited time and don’t want to be wasting it either. Approaching a problem and seeking specific solutions will put you in the best position to learn and your professor in the best position to teach.

Take an active role in your learning, and it will save both you and your professors a lot of time.


By simply approaching them and telling them you don’t understand anything, you tell them you don’t care enough to try. This will create a bad relationship between the two of you.

If you show your professor you have spent time tackling the problem yourself, they will get the impression that you are interested in their subject. This will make them more willing to want to help you understand as they will feel that you are engaged enough to want to understand.

Having a good relationship with your professor will improve your ability to learn from them. They will feel more motivated to teach you, and you will feel a willingness to learn from them. Also, it can be beneficial for future networking, as they will know people in that field and be able to introduce you.

Showing your professor you are an eager learner and problem solver will increase your chances of finding a job or getting a place in further education courses. Remember, they will likely be writing your reference!

Critical thinking skills

Using the Corson technique will improve your critical thinking skills. Trying to solve a problem on your own and taking the time to try and understand it helps develop these skills. Giving up at the first hurdle will reinforce a defeatist attitude and make it harder to solve problems in the future.

Spend time trying to get to grips with an issue, and you will find that the aspects you do understand are more deeply engrained. While the aspects you are stuck on will be more clearly specified and easier to tackle. Once you begin to make sense of these areas, this information will be easier to retain, as you will have spent more time trying to understand it.

Having sound critical thinking skills will benefit you, not just while studying. It can also improve all aspects of your life as you get better at solving personal and professional issues.

With greater skills comes greater confidence, and you will begin to approach each difficulty head-on with a positive attitude. This is a great skill to have and will make all aspects of your life seem more manageable.


Using the Corson technique can help make you a better learner. You will become more aware of how you learn and will notice patterns.

For example, perhaps you struggle to retain the information discussed in a lecture. At the same time, information learned in a practical setting makes sense. You will see how you approach different learning styles and begin to adapt your approaches to suit your needs.

Developing problem-solving skills and increased self-awareness will hugely positively impact your confidence. Resolving your issues is an invaluable tool for many aspects of your life. It will help reduce your stress levels when approached with a problem and empower you to tackle the problems confidently.


Have a go at practicing the Corson technique. Next time you come across some misleading information that doesn’t seem to want to stay in your brain, use this method to make sense of your notes.

Your professors will thank you, and you might find that your life gets a lot easier!