I don’t want mastery and badges - I want to do math my way

KA users come in all age groups and with all sorts of backgrounds. The site is geared for attaining mastery of each subject. This is fine for users who are going through a school system, but what about adult users who want to brush up on former skills or get a quick overview of a new one? Where do they start? How do they go on from there? This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of rehearsal strategies, rather ideas and points to consider.


1) What is your goal?

Let’s consider three imagined users: Kim, Maria and Haji.

Kim is a retired bio engineer who did College math >40 years ago, has not used it much since then, but want to exercise the brain and maybe help a grandchild currently in the 10th grade.

Maria did below average in math. She believes she would have done better if she had known she had had the chance to study. Now her opportunity has come. She intends to go to college. However, 10 years after leaving school she feels she needs to do some serious rehearsal before taking SAT math.

Haji never thought about getting an education. Middle school math was sufficient for his needs.  Now that his children have left home he has time on his hands. He would like to learn about statistics because he is interested in games of chance. Besides, as he has successfully run a business for years, he is curious to know how he’ll find the courses on economy.


2) Kim’s strategy

Kim has two different goals: being able to coach the grandchild, and rehearsing college math.

Kim starts by reading the recommendations for coaches at

The grandchild will be learning Algebra I so this is Kim’s starting point. Re-learning something you have once known requires much less work than learning it for the first time. Kim does not see the point in working hard to attain mastery. It is sufficient to race through the exercises, and watch a video or look up a formula when memory of past skills is a bit hazy.

With mission set to Algebra I Kim soon finds an area where just watching the video is not enough. > 40 years is a long time. While you can coach someone without being able to do the exercises yourself, coaching is certainly easier when you are up to solving the problem quickly on your own. Besides, college math builds on high school math. As Kim wants to rehearse college math it makes sense to master Algebra I problems before going on to more complicated things.

It is possible to keep doing the same type of exercises without going for mastery. To retain a skill, however, it should be practiced over several days. Kim tries to do this without doing masteries, but quickly lose track of which areas need more work and what has been practiced. The solution is to set up a child account under the coach account (so as not to need another e-mail address.) Kim sets up the “child” account MasteryKim and uses this account to practice only the problematic exercises. That way the number of mastery exercises is kept low. Otherwise all the other practiced subjects in Algebra I would also come up for mastery.

By limiting the amount of masteries Kim quickly gets through Algebra I and does the same for other subjects from High school and beyond. She also finds the California High School Exit exam work through helpful.


3) Maria’s strategy

Maria belongs to the calculator generation. She knows that time is precious during a SAT math test, so her first exercises at Khan academy are brushing up on multiplication and division, adding and subtracting. She practices speed and thinks back to her school days. Math did not seem hard until the 8th grade. Maria knows that when math starts seeming difficult this is often because understanding previously taught concepts is poor. Usually the "Swiss cheese" holes are allowed to accumulate for a while before the student notices a problem. Maria decides to race through a couple of questions on every subject in the 6th grade math just to figure out what she knows and what he has either never learned or forgotten. 

To reduce the time spent doing diagnostic exercises, Maria uses the coach tools to recommend the exercises to herself, setting the Recommendation options to 2 or 3 in a row instead of the standard 5. When she identifies a problem, she wants to be quite sure she learns it properly this time. For these skills she changes the option to 10 in a row. Naturally Maria also starts working her way through the videos and exercises at This gives her a better idea of how the SAT questions are posed and solved, and helps her identify her problem areas. She also manages to find a coach among her friends.

If Maria had been good at math she might have gone straight to the SAT preparation material. Unfortunately, re-learning something that you learned to do by rote, but never understood, can be almost as time consuming than learning it first time. Learning something well enough to build on it often require more effort than learning it just to solve the task at hand.


4) Haji’s strategy

Haji starts by typing in “statistical” in the KA search field and selects Statistical studies. He realizes that this is part of a mission called Probability and statistics. If he just wants to have a quick overview he could simply watch the videos. If that is not enough, he could do the exercises at his own pace. Haji thinks the points and badges are a bit weird. Then he discovers the area Recreational math and use this to reward himself when he has accomplished a task. When he has run out of brain teasers he types in “proof” in the search window” and enjoys the beauty of math. Had art been his interest he might have used the Art history courses for reward instead.

For the study of economy he skips the introduction and starts out with Micro economy. This is where he has practical experience, so in a sense he is rehearsing. Once he sees how he fares here goes to the beginning and watches all the videos. Haji is a little disappointed there are not any practical exercises connected to the economy course. On the other hand, he has plenty of raw data for examples from his own work place.

By chance Haji discovers that several students have made multiple choice tests published under programs in the JavaScript section. He gets in touch with one of the programmers and obtains help in creating his own exercises. Naturally, he knows the answers to all the questions, but the process of selecting the material and thinking through what would be common faults and misunderstandings gives him greater insight into the subject.


5) What’s the point?

You’re an adult. You are here because you wish to learn, and you probably do not need the extra motivation of the point, badges and game mechanics. Don’t let them become an obstacle to learning what you want, and choosing your own path to knowledge.  

Original September 1st 2014

Last updated November 2nd 2016

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