- #1

LuigiAM

- 55

- 7

I would like to ask for a very general piece of advice.

Last semester I had my first introduction course, mechanics. The course was extremely hard, but I managed to get an A. I was one of only 4 students in a class of 108 who got A. I'm not sure how I did it considering that I came out of that class with the feeling that I understood absolutely nothing. I just memorized formulas. And I went through the practice problems so many times that I basically memorized the teacher's solutions. And in the exam, since the questions were from the practice problems, I just recopied the teacher's solution that was hardwired in my memory.

This semester it's electricity and magnetism.

It's the same thing. I feel like I understand absolutely nothing.

I know that power is P = dw/dt = vdq/dt / VI / I

^{2}R / V

^{2}/R. But I have absolutely zero intuition about what it means.

Last week on the mid term we had a problem that involved power, and we were given the potential difference and the resistance. I just recited the formula from memory and got the right answer.

The professor emailed us the results yesterday. I got 24/30 on the mid-term, which is not that bad considering the class average was 8/30. I would have had 30/30 if it wasn't for a stupid brain fart that cost me a question worth 6 points that I knew the answer to, but that in a panic I just forgot.

Yet I still feel like I have absolutely no idea what is going on. But I feel like a class average of 8/30 is absolutely insane. Last semester in Mechanics (same teacher), the class average after the final exam was D+. 41 students out of 108 failed the class. It was the same story in general chemistry 1 where over one third of the class failed.

There was a question on the mid term exam about Gauss's law. I have no idea what Gauss's law is. No idea at all. But I still answered correctly because I memorized the formulas. I have no idea what any of it means, but I just write down the variables and apply the formulas I memorized, and bang here I have the answer.

The teacher we have is a theoretical physicist. He spends all class time writing mathematical proofs on the board. I understand absolutely nothing of it. A lot of it involves integrals. Integral calculus is not a prerequisite for the two physics classes (although differential calculus is a prerequisite, just not integral). Even though this semester I am taking integral calculus, I still don't understand what the teacher is doing because he is doing things like integrals to infinity, multiple integrals, or multivariable calculus, which is way beyond the level of the class I'm taking. I have no idea what any of the proofs mean. But he gives us a lot of practice problems with the solutions, and I just memorize those.

I feel that all I can do is memorize the formulas and memorize the solutions to the practice problems he's giving us.

The teacher himself told us in the first week of class in january that we shouldn't expect to "understand" anything in the course. He said something like, paraphrased, "if you want to understand, read a book." Just like that. He said there was not enough class time to help us understand the material.

I mean, in 4 weeks of class (with 2 hours per week, that is 8 hours of class) we finished the electricity portion of the course and we are ready to start magnetism. We did coulomb's law, capacity, electric potential energy, current, Kirchoff's laws, etc... all of that in 4 classes.

The truth is, I'm really pretty scared. I want to go into software engineering next semester. So far my grades are more than good enough to get in. But I'm just afraid that at some point I'm not going to be able to just get good grades by memorizing formulas without having any idea what they mean or how to derive them. It just feels like it's going to catch up to me one day and at that I'm going to be completely lost in more advanced classes.

Does anyone have any advice for me?

What I really want is to be able to

*know*what the class material is about without having to just blankly memorize formulas.

Another class I'm taking this semester is linear algebra. I'm doing pretty well so far. Ask me for the adjoint of a matrix and it takes me a few minutes to compute the cofactor matrix and do a transpose. Or multiplying matrices, or using gaussian elimination. All this stuff I can do very easily. But ask me to

*prove*something and I'm completely lost. Ask me

*why*something works and the truth is that I have absolutely no clue.

Is this normal at our level to have to do this? I mean, is this supposed to be like learning a language where you just memorize things until one day you wake up and you realize that it all makes sense? In other words, is it normal at my level that I'm just memorizing everything without having any idea what I'm doing?

Or am I heading right into a disaster?

I really wish I had an actual understanding of what I'm doing instead of just memorizing things. Honestly, what I really want is to feel like I know what I'm doing. But I just have no idea if I'm even

*supposed*to at this point.

Does anyone have any advice? I would really appreciate it.

Sorry for this extremely long rambling topic.