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How to understand something you don't know/cant get

  1. Nov 20, 2011 #1
    For the engineers, and scientists on here who have encountered problems during their studies, what did you do to overcome them. For example, let say you're reading a textbook and you can't understand what the chapter talks about, what did some of you do to understand the text.

    Also, lets say you're looking at a solution to a particular problem and you don't understand a step in the solution what did you do.

    Is there a way to figure it out without asking someone?like asking the right questions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2011 #2
    most of the time i just post in here on hw help to get a hint. . .
  4. Nov 20, 2011 #3
    I was reading a biography of Richard Feynman, and when his sister was around 13 - 16 (I think) he gave her an upper level textbook on physics to read. She told him, I don't understand any of this. And what he told her to do was read until you stop understanding and then start again, this way you'll make it through the entire book.

    But what I'd suggest is try other ways of looking at a concept, see what its related to and make sure you understand what the concept is building on.
  5. Nov 20, 2011 #4
    If at first you don't succeed...

    Keep thinking about it until it makes sense. But don't think about it in the same way as it is presented. Think about it any way you can think of.
  6. Nov 20, 2011 #5
    Try another book or source perhaps, the internet is full of information. Different words speak to different people. Maybe one author writes in a way that makes sense to you.

    For alot of problems that I dont understand I keep trying different ways. Often those other ways will lead no where but will tell me something about the problem that will hint towards other ways. Closing the book and looking at it later helps alot. The other day I couldnt solve this problem for the life of me, took a look at it a few days later and was able to solve it almost instantly in my head (well I saw the path in my head)
  7. Nov 20, 2011 #6
    Usually I try to read it over and over again for a few days. If that doesn't work, then I go to the campus library and try to find other sources that might help. If THAT doesn't work, I'll try to find some source on the internet that breaks the concept down in the simplest, dumbest terms possible and try to work my way back up. That's what I usually have to do with math concepts that I have a hard time conceptualizing physically like linear algebra or vector calculus in my QM and EM classes.

    Also, try to shake up the learning process. Recently, I've experimented with mind-mapping, free-form note-taking (just basically reading a couple pages at a time as quickly as possible and rewriting it with no order whatsoever), and taking audio notes that I can listen to on my long commutes. And sometimes the best thing to do is just move on past the material you can't understand and let subsequent material help you fill in the blanks when you go back.

    Lastly, don't be ashamed of using Schaum's Outlines. There's one for pretty much everything and my god, sometimes those things are life-savers.

    Just my .02.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2011
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