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How do you learn?

  1. Jul 6, 2017 #1
    I'm a rather slow learner relative to other students. I take the understanding of the material to be of greater importance than rote memorization of it. If anyone looks at the forgetting curve of memorized material, you can appreciate how inefficient rote memorization is. I'm also quite lazy in doing work and prefer to be able to 'reason through' arguments, positions, subject matters.

    This method of learning, from direct experience in college, is very inefficient where grasping the entirety of a subject matter or more simply 'getting the big picture' of a discipline is much harder than focusing on a small portion of the material.

    So, my question is, is there any hope for learners like me or are there any other 'holistic' learners who did well in college? If so, I would greatly appreciate any assistance in tailoring my study habits to what worked for you.

    I should add that I've explored many different methods for memorization, via books you can buy online that explain the Loci method and such; but, those haven't really helped that much.

    Any advice or information appreciated on the matter!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2017 #2


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    Science Advisor

    This is the core of your problem. Do the exercises. All of them. You can get help in the PF homework forums if you get stuck.
  4. Jul 6, 2017 #3
    Ahh, there's that Protestant work ethic.

    This seems to be a result of having it easy in school, up until college.

    I'm not disagreeing with you for the matter. My concern is predominantly in maximizing the effectiveness of the way of learning I described in the OP. If some think it unwise to continue trying to get the big picture and then proceeding to fill in the blanks, then please send me a link to a book or describe how to produce a more desirable outcome?
  5. Jul 6, 2017 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    I'm sorry to say, either you get it or you don't. If you don't, then you need to study, do the exercises. Which means you need to memorize until it sinks in. There is no "miracle" no "easy" way around it. Reading books about learning is IMO a waste of your time that you could be spending studying. Take Strangerep's advice.
  6. Jul 6, 2017 #5
    So, that's my question, since I'm having issues with studying.

    How should I study because the way I am studying doesn't seem as effective as I think it should or can be.

    I'm open to any books you or others think might be of use or helpful.

  7. Jul 6, 2017 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    I don't think anyone can tell you how to study. Only you can figure out what works best for you. You need to work at it, do as much as you can until you become comfortable with the material, ask for help, see if there are study groups you can join, can you get help from professors, etc... I wouldn't turn to books with "study tricks" if you are having trouble, you will just waste your time.

    And as Strangerep suggested, use our homework forum, they will walk you through homework problems, make you aware of where you are having problems. That will probably be the most useful tool in aiding your studying.
  8. Jul 7, 2017 #7


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    I reasonably sure the problem has nothing to do with which particular Magical Sky Daddy you do/don't believe in.

    I had exactly this experience. The exam results at the end of my 1st term at uni were an unbelievably harsh slap in the face.

    What specific subjects are you (trying to) study? Since you've posted here at Physics Forums, I presume they're some aspect of Physics and/or Maths and/or Engineering? The teaching materials and textbooks for all of these will come with exercises. In the course of doing many exercises, many things will get set into your memory -- probably without needing to memorize by forced repetition. They'll kinda just sink in.

    Don't let a (delusional) "I can't be bothered doing these silly unimportant exercises" feeling be a BS coverup for the (factual) "I'm unable to do these exercises -- I can't even see how to get started".
  9. Jul 7, 2017 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    A certain amount of memorization is essential. If you don't know (i.e., don't have memorized) a certain set of basic facts and relationships, it will be impossible to comprehend more complicated structures that build on these basic building blocks. You can't "reason through" a problem if you don't have some starting points to reason with.

    IMO, it's impossible to "get the big picture" if you don't have a solid grasp of the pieces that make up the big picture, and that includes having quick access to the basic facts involved.

    I'm not at all saying that you need to memorize everything. In fact, memorization with little or no understanding pretty much guarantees a lack of understanding. In my undergrad days a close friend and I were in a year-long sequence in Engineering Physics. We used to joke that if you didn't know F = ma, then F = your grade.
  10. Jul 7, 2017 #9
    Yes. I agree.

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