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I'm doing some essays to prepare for the C1 writing test. I wrote this sentence:

"after a student had understood a formula, it would be more efficient if he was able to apply it through experiments in a laboratory class"

But I'm not sure whether I should use had or has understood. My point is exactly that the educational system is focused merely on mnemonic knowledge in scientific subjects, while it should be more practical. So I want to say that it's better when a student first learns something in theory, and then is put in a position to apply his/her knowledge in a lab.

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  • "Has" is correct, because you have "would be" later in the sentence.
    – tkp
    Jun 19, 2022 at 8:09
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    We wouldn't normally use the "Past" Tense in your example context. Note that the meaning isn't "in the past" - it's an example of Past = Not Present = Unreal / Hypothetical (students don't currently understand formulae, but if they did, it would be more efficient...). But the assertion is effectively a "timeless truth" statement, better phrased using Present + Future: After a student has understood a formula, it will be more efficient if he is able to apply it through experiments in a laboratory class. Jun 19, 2022 at 10:10
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you, it's very helpful! I'll use the present+future structure for this sentence. Jun 20, 2022 at 8:17

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Your statement is about a (hypothetical) student that exists now. That is, you are not writing about "the history of education 100 years ago" but "science education in the present day". And so you should use the present perfect "has understood" (with the implication that they understand now)

Your conditional is slightly odd. This is a "second conditional", and it means that "it is unlikely that he is able to apply it". But this doesn't seem right, unless you are talking about an education system that doesn't normally have laboratory classes. A simple condition "it is more efficient if he is able to apply it". Also check if the word "efficient" is what you really mean, and ask if this only applies to male students (you use a male pronoun "he").

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  • Thank you so much! Actually yes, my point is exactly that the educational system is focused merely on mnemonic knowledge in scientific subjects, while it should be more practical. So I want to say that it's better when a student first learns something in theroy, and than is put in position to apply his/her knowledge in a lab. What would you use instead of "efficient"? I'm Italian, so maybe I'm using a more italian-like vocabulary... And also you're right about the gender I'm referring to: I'll put "he or she". Thanks! Jun 19, 2022 at 8:17
  • instead of efficient, perhaps "effective". But it depends on what you want to say. "efficient" means you get the same result with less effort. "effective" means you get a better result.
    – James K
    Jun 19, 2022 at 8:40
  • "Students learn by doing" it is sadly true that hands-on experiments are the exception not the rule in Italy's science classes in high schools.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 19, 2022 at 8:53

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