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Studying I never understand what my instructors teach

  1. Feb 26, 2016 #1
    Even when I was in high school, I never understood what they taught. The only way I can understand stuff is by studying by myself. If I understand what my instructor is teaching is because I previously learned the material somewhere else. How can I improve my discernment skills in class?
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2016 #2


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    Yes? Ok... Are you just venting?

  4. Feb 26, 2016 #3
    Not in fact. I am just wondering if it happens to any of you as well.`How can I improve?. Sorry sir, I forgot to put the question.
  5. Feb 27, 2016 #4


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    I would seem that the answer you're looking for is in the question you're asking.

    Remember that when anyone is introduced to a topic for the first time, there's only going to be so much that the person can absorb. Obviously some people are going to get more than others, but I don't think it's realistic to sit down in a lecture - particularly for more advanced topics - and expect to understand everything the first time through.

    So of course you have to study the material on your own. You have to work through problems, struggle with the material, really think about it, get different points of view, and through all of this you eventually develop understanding.

    One thing that can help make lectures more valuable is to read up on the material you'll be covering ahead of time. I know this is hard when you have a busy schedule, assignments due, exams to study for, etc. But reading ahead can do a few things. First, it gets you used to any jargon. Psychologically this means that your brain won't take a detour from the professor's train of thought every time a new concept comes up. Secondly, it can make you aware of any concepts that you need to review for the material to make sense. Often in physics courses a mathematical concept will come up where you likely remember the basic idea, but just need to run through a quick refresher of the details in order to be able to use it. If you go into the lecture already having done this, again you'll be able to follow the details of what the professor is talking about. Thirdly, it will help you to ask intelligent questions. You can come into the lecture with questions prepared - sometimes they will be answered over the course of the talk, sometimes not. You can also be sure that if there's something that you're struggling to understand after reading up on it, and having the professor work through it, that it's going to be a legitimate struggle and not something that you just missed because you weren't paying attention at the right time.

    I would also consider that some people just don't learn well from lectures. Occasionally in these forums we see posts from people who don't really attend lectures at all, yet they indicate that works for them. You might just be someone who doesn't get much out of lectures. Personally I would not advocate skipping out on classes that you're paying a lot of money for, but part of the university experience is learning how you learn and it's important to figure out how best to spend your time.
  6. Mar 5, 2016 #5
    The thing that I miss about science classes from college were that the text books has so many practice questions and examples of how each part worked, along with the answers and some worked questions. At university level I'm yet to see any textbook following this style and it disappoints me because I think that I learn better that way. I haven't really tried going over lecture content ahead of time because as you said, it's not easy finding time to do so. But I'm thinking I might have to give it a go, at least while on the bus or something. I've been having a lot of trouble keeping up in lectures this year so I'll try anything.
  7. Mar 5, 2016 #6
    I think that the problem is that schools put people who don't have any idea about teaching to teach. I think that would be right at the grad level, but for undergrads there must exist more pedagogy in teaching and less erudition.
  8. Mar 5, 2016 #7


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    You should (in fact anyone should- but you more than others) go over the material that will be covered in the class before the class so you will already have a grasp on what your instructor is saying.
  9. Mar 5, 2016 #8
    what's the point on going to lecture if I already understand the material?
  10. Mar 5, 2016 #9


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    I didn't say "understand". In fact, it is very difficult to be sure you do understand something without external verification. And it is very likely you instructor will point out details you did not get before.
  11. Mar 5, 2016 #10


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    There are a couple of points in response to a statement like this - not that it's invalid. First, you have to remember that up until you get into university, the people that have been teaching you have been professional teachers. They are specifically trained in how to teach, styles of learning, identifying learning disabilities, etc., and at the high school level they should (at least in principle) have some kind of advanced training in the subjects they teach. But at a university, there's a paradigm shift. You're paying the big bucks to study from instructors that have very advanced understanding of each topic. And while it's nice to have someone who is also trained to teach, remember, professors have spent years of their lives in school to get where they are - a lot more than most people. So the issue is that at that level you get to the point where you can have one or the other, but both will get very costly.

    Secondly, remember that you vote with your dollars. You're paying for you education. If you're not happy with the quality of instruction, you have the right to give the school feedback (most good academic institutions welcome it) and also the right to walk. Perhaps you might want to look for a community college, for example, where there is more focus on teaching and less on research for the professors.

    The point isn't that you have a thorough understanding of the material, rather, that you've at least seen it before and have a rudimentary understanding of it. That puts you in a position to pick up on the smaller details and fill in the holes in your understanding - many of which you may not have even recognized where there. And even if it turns out you did completely understand the material, you have the experience of confirmation - prior to any kind of exam.
  12. Mar 5, 2016 #11
    Right, thanks. The thing is that if I try to go over the material, I will make sure that I fully understand it because it's so hard not to try to fully understand it once you start reading hence you feel engaged with it. But as you said there is always something that you won't catch. With that said, I see that every student is responsible for his own learning and lectures must just be seen as an aid or complement to his understanding.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  13. Mar 5, 2016 #12


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    And if the instructor is anywhere close to decent, what is presented in class will complement the material in the textbook, not just be a restatement of the same stuff.
  14. Mar 5, 2016 #13


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    I agree with the idea of reading before class. To test your understanding, try answering the following, in your own words_:
    1)What are we trying to do?
    2) How are we trying to do it?
    3) Examples?

    So, say you are studying integration. Then the answers.

    1') Finding the area under a curve.
    2') By finding the integral. We partition the region below into rectangles, ..etc.
    3') Look at the line y=x. We form rectangles with height lying on the line y=x. We bound the approximations and a limiting process.
    by first using rectangles based at (x_i, x_{i+1}) contained below the line, i.e., whose height is x_i, then using rectangles with height x_{i+1}.

    If you can summarize as above, you're ready, if not, aim to answer these questions.
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