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Academic binge & purge

  1. Jul 26, 2011 #1
    I'm beginning my senior year as an applied mathematics major. So far I have earned good grades, albeit at a very easy school, but apparently this means nothing because I remember so little of what I "learned." Even paging through lecture notes from the previous semester is hopeless. In some cases I can remember barely anything to nothing (calculus 3, for example.) Am I exceptionally stupid and forgetful or is this common? For what it's worth I have always intended to use my math degree as a stepping stone to medicine (or in failing to gain an acceptance, going back to school for a second bachelors in engineering) but it still feels like a waste of my life to have forgotten so much.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 26, 2011 #2
    Hi cdotter,

    I am only finishing up my sophomore year, but I find that applied mathematics can be forgotten quickly if I do not do exercises regularly. I think you can remember if you do a few exercises from the subjects you have forgotten--I find that math is not the sort of thing that you can forget altogether because it is a process of thinking and logic. Do you have any of your old textbooks, or old notebooks with exercises? Skim through them and I think you may surprise yourself at how quickly you catch on :) I feel I need to have another look through on trig--so it happens, but as long as you review I think you will be fine :)
  4. Jul 26, 2011 #3
    Hi cdotter! :smile:

    Somehow I get the feeling you're studying the wrong way. It's very natural to forget a lot of the material, but the general ideas and methods should stick with you. HeLiXe has put in a nice example: trig. I can't for the life of me remember all the formula's with trigonometric formula's, but the general ideas should stick with you. That is, it's normal that you don't know the formula for sin(2x), but you should know what the sine represents and how to use it in triangles.
    Studying mathematics shouldn't be about memorizing formula's or plug/chug exercises, but it should be about recognizing ideas.I guess that your problem is that you didn't study the ideas and the interconnections enough (correct me if I'm wrong).

    Anyway, you say that you want to do medicine. I don't think that you can really afford to forget an entire course there. So I really advice you to rethink your study methods and change them if necessary.

    Hmm, rereading my post, I might have sounded harsh. This didn't mean to. I just want to present some constructive criticism.
  5. Jul 26, 2011 #4
    My retention problems are much worse in mathematics than physics/chemistry/biology. In a science class if I see something that seems like it has to be memorized I can look into formulas/derivations/concepts/experiments to get a glimpse of the underlying motivations. If I try "going deeper" in mathematics I just get more confused because each level is necessarily more complex and abstract. An example is my introductory ODE professor taught us about the Fredholm alternative by presenting it as a way to solve a specific ODE in a specific form (or at least I think it was a way of solving an ODE, I honestly cannot remember.) Rather than simply memorizing the procedure I tried to understand it. But I quickly found myself completely lost as the theory behind is far beyond my level and I had to resort to memorizing and regurgitating. I had similar problems in statistics, linear algebra, and vector calculus.
  6. Jul 27, 2011 #5
    I'm a bit of an academic bulimic too.

    This is mostly on stuff that I don't bother to understand conceptually (like programming syntax or anything to do with electronic circuits). I think the problem is that maths is a language, not a science, so can't be treated the same way. You have to use it to maintain fluency or it gets lost.
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