Register to reply

Very High GPA but no understanding...is this possible?

by Hercuflea
Tags: understandingis
Share this thread:
micromass
#19
Feb1-13, 01:49 PM
Mentor
micromass's Avatar
P: 18,019
Quote Quote by clope023 View Post
It is fallacious for me though most people here tend to say the same things, I view the statement as wrong in so far from experience. I've had plenty of experiences where I understood the material but did not in any way feel problem solving came naturally. The comfort I now possess from problem solving came from mechanical practice coupled with concepts, not an either or thing IMO.
Thank you!

I certainly agree that mechanical practice is needed to understand the material. I never claimed anything else. I am certainly not saying that we only need to do difficult proofs in calculus and never practice some mechanical things such as the chain rule. Both are important.

All I'm saying is that the focus right now is on following steps mechanically (at least in my experience), and not so much on concepts and proofs. Like you said, it is not an either or thing. Both are very important.

When I studied calculus, I calculated so many derivatives and integrals. This practice was very necessary. But I did tend to notice that after a while, all the methods became very obvious. I remember that I had many troubles with solving related rates. I learned how to do it mechanically. A year later, I looked at it again and it was obvious. I didn't even need the steps anymore. I could invent the steps on my own. This is what I meant with the statement that "if you understand the material, then you don't need to follow steps, it will come naturally". But I made no statement what the best way is to actually come to understanding the material. It is of course both from mechanical practice and conceptual understanding.
WannabeNewton
#20
Feb1-13, 01:53 PM
C. Spirit
Sci Advisor
Thanks
WannabeNewton's Avatar
P: 5,410
Quote Quote by clope023 View Post
It isn't bad advice, not having a mathematician's level of understanding about the math does not mean they don't understand their material.
But why are you telling him to settle for a lower level of understanding a priori? What if he wants to go beyond the hand waving mathematical arguments and methods presented in the undergraduate physics textbooks?
clope023
#21
Feb1-13, 02:02 PM
P: 609
Quote Quote by WannabeNewton View Post
But why are you telling him to settle for a lower level of understanding a priori? What if he wants to go beyond the hand waving mathematical arguments and methods presented in the undergraduate physics textbooks?
I never told him to settle for anything, I want deep mathematical understanding and I'm a physics/EE double, but the fact is you don't need to play with mathematical proofs to do science and engineering.
Aero51
#22
Feb1-13, 02:07 PM
P: 546
It's very common - much more so in highschool than college. I was the opposite, I never cared about grades but tried my best to understand the material. At times it was very frustrating seeing my peers who I helped do better than I did in a class. Still, I don't regret it because I developed a good reputation among my professors and peers.

My advice to you is screw the grades and learn because you want too.
Woopydalan
#23
Feb1-13, 02:30 PM
P: 746
Quote Quote by micromass View Post
When I studied calculus, I calculated so many derivatives and integrals. This practice was very necessary. But I did tend to notice that after a while, all the methods became very obvious. I remember that I had many troubles with solving related rates. I learned how to do it mechanically. A year later, I looked at it again and it was obvious. I didn't even need the steps anymore.
I have a similar experience to this. After I finished linear algebra and diff eq, I went back and looked at the stuff from Calculus I, such as related rates, optimization problems, and newton's method, and I was able to understand it conceptually and it was easier, compared to my first time at it just memorizing whatever I needed to do to get the best grade on the test.
rollingstein
#24
Feb1-13, 09:13 PM
PF Gold
P: 330
Quote Quote by WannabeNewton View Post
But why are you telling him to settle for a lower level of understanding a priori? What if he wants to go beyond the hand waving mathematical arguments and methods presented in the undergraduate physics textbooks?
That's a gratuitous slight to several excellent undergraduate Physics texts.
AlephZero
#25
Feb1-13, 09:22 PM
Engineering
Sci Advisor
HW Helper
Thanks
P: 6,929
I suspect "continuous assessment" has something to do with this. You are under constant pressure to get a high test score on the last little section of the course.

When I was at university, there was NO marked homework, and NO mid term and end of course tests. Just end of year exams - 6 hours a day on 3 consecutive days.

Either you LEARNED the material, or you failed. Simples....
micromass
#26
Feb1-13, 09:23 PM
Mentor
micromass's Avatar
P: 18,019
Quote Quote by rollingstein View Post
That's a gratuitous slight to several excellent undergraduate Physics texts.
I don't think so. It's just the truth. If you compare physics texts to mathematics texts, then physics texts really are more handwaving. Mathematics texts really do go further into the theory and are more rigorous. This is just a fact.

This is not meant as an insult though. Physics textbooks are not as rigorous as mathematics texts because they don't need to be. The goal is to make students understand physics. There is no point in making everything mathematically rigorous. Knowing the precise construction of the line integral really doesn't help you understand physics, so I understand why it is not being done.
rollingstein
#27
Feb1-13, 09:28 PM
PF Gold
P: 330
Quote Quote by micromass View Post
I don't think so. It's just the truth. If you compare physics texts to mathematics texts, then physics texts really are more handwaving. Mathematics texts really do go further into the theory and are more rigorous. This is just a fact.

This is not meant as an insult though. Physics textbooks are not as rigorous as mathematics texts because they don't need to be. The goal is to make students understand physics. There is no point in making everything mathematically rigorous. Knowing the precise construction of the line integral really doesn't help you understand physics, so I understand why it is not being done.
To me handwaving arguments is a loaded term. Often used in a pejorative sense. We shouldn't be calling every model / simplification / approximation "handwaving".

Undergrad Physics chooses a level of rigor that suits its goals best.
micromass
#28
Feb1-13, 09:32 PM
Mentor
micromass's Avatar
P: 18,019
Quote Quote by rollingstein View Post
Undergrad Physics chooses a level of rigor that suits its goals best.
Completely agreed!! Being mathematically rigorous would be an awful way to write physics books!

But if you compare an undergrad physics book with an undergrad math book, then I think it is fair to speak about handwaving. Handwaving is not good or bad in any case, it's just what it is.
rollingstein
#29
Feb1-13, 09:37 PM
PF Gold
P: 330
Quoting Wikipedia:

"Handwaving is a pejorative label applied to the action of displaying the appearance of doing something, when actually doing little, or nothing. For example, it is applied to debate techniques that involve fallacies. It is also used in working situations where productive
work is expected, but no work is actually accomplished."


So, not what I want to be calling Physics.

Ok, fine, maybe I'll turn the tables and call the math texts pedantic.
micromass
#30
Feb1-13, 09:39 PM
Mentor
micromass's Avatar
P: 18,019
Quote Quote by rollingstein View Post
Quoting Wikipedia:

"Handwaving is a pejorative label applied to the action of displaying the appearance of doing something, when actually doing little, or nothing. For example, it is applied to debate techniques that involve fallacies. It is also used in working situations where productive
work is expected, but no work is actually accomplished."


So, not what I want to be calling Physics.

Ok, fine, maybe I'll turn the tables and call the math texts pedantic.
You have all the right to call math texts pedantic. In comparison to physics texts, they certainly are!
ZombieFeynman
#31
Feb2-13, 01:48 AM
PF Gold
P: 277
I think there's a strong correlation between getting good grades and understanding the material.

I think getting good grades involves just jumping through hoops. These include doing the homework on time, doing well on exams, showing up for labs.

Understanding the material, though, requires more than this. You need to really sit and think about things. You need to ask yourself the right questions, seek outside resources, etc.

I think it is fairly common to see people who don't jump through the hoops (and thus their grades suffer) and yet still think deeply about the material and understand it.

I think it is less common that people jump through the hoops and yet don't understand the material (especially in higher level courses where jumping through hoops requires solving tricky questions on exams that REQUIRE understanding).

Some people do get so caught up in getting good grades that they fail to think deeply enough and reflect on the material. Their understanding can suffer as a result.

Finally, there is something to be said about learning things outside of the scope of class. Trust me when I type that there is much more time and leeway for this in undergrad compared to grad. I wish I had taken advantage of this more. Sometimes, however, this outside learning can come at the price of a lower grade or two.

In my humble opinion, I think:

It is better to get an A- than an A if getting an A causes you to worry and fret about so many things that it takes away from the truly deep pondering and outside of the class learning.

It is better to get an A- than a B if you intend on graduate study, since admissions committees do weigh your grades, even if you feel like you are just jumping through hoops.

It is best to do the least work possible to get an A/A- for a class and use all of the time and effort you save to dig deep, make connections, study broadly, and ENJOY learning.
Hercuflea
#32
Feb2-13, 11:30 AM
P: 327
Thanks for the advice ZombieFeynman,

I guess I would fall into the second group that you described, but I am very fortunate because my school has still not switched to the +/- system.


Register to reply

Related Discussions
High strength high temp rated non conductive materials Materials & Chemical Engineering 10
Understanding Sigma and Sample Sizes - (high Sigma in small samples) Set Theory, Logic, Probability, Statistics 9
Need high heat/high delectric resin for stainless steel bonding Materials & Chemical Engineering 0
GCSE level math books (end of Junior high, first year high school i think) General Math 0
High voltage electromachinery - the key to absurdly high power to weight ratios? Mechanical Engineering 12