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Is it normal to keep forgetting?

  1. Jul 10, 2016 #1
    Hello PF members,

    I just wanted to initiate a discussion about this topic.

    It always has bugged me and I don't ever like something like this to happen to me. So the whole point is that I (Personally) keep forgetting what I studied in math for the past year. It is not because I didn't understand it correctly. For example: Last year, we took the probability theory which includes permutations and combinations. I have studied it well and understood it, looked for external sources and solved a lot of questions. Trained my brain to solve hard problems and I did. I participated in competitions and won. But after all that, One year later. I don't think I fully remember what we studied or I just feel that I am studying it for the first time (Not literally but ehh). That happens for most of the topics. However, It only happens in math. This didn't happen to other subjects too this year.

    Well, Mostly I try to solve some problems every now and then to not forgot but I just don't have enough time to study what we have in the upcoming year and revise what we studied. On the other side, I don't want to be a person who just studies for just grades.

    So I just wanted to hear your thoughts and ideas about that. So everyone can share his opinion
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2016 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    What we learn last we forget first. Perhaps you didn't use your newly learned math knowledge as much as you thought and so consequently lost the skills you acquired.
  4. Jul 10, 2016 #3
    I have similar experiences like you...
    I learnt linear algebra very well, could solve very hard problems, and got a high score in the exam; but what I can remeber about it now is just how to solve eigenvectors...However, reviewing the subjects one semester/year after you passed the exams may help. I heard one of my classmates had learnt QM for 10 times with different textbooks...
  5. Jul 10, 2016 #4


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    I definitely find that "if you don't use it, you lose it" is true for me in mathematics. I'm wrapping up my PhD in physics, and I had a moment where I struggled with the chain rule the other day. I don't think it's necessarily a problem though - once you've learned something once, it's much easier to pick up the second time. If you need to use a skill regularly, you'll not forget it. However, there's nothing wrong with referring to a book or two later on.

    Just a gentle suggestion that you should avoid assuming everyone on PF is a man.
  6. Jul 10, 2016 #5


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    Yes. Want to remember something? Study it again.
  7. Jul 11, 2016 #6


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    This, it's true of anything. If you aren't constantly applying something it's easily forgotten. It is also true that it's easier to pick back up something with a bit of refreshing.

    Lets also be real here for a moment. A singular class won't make you an expert, or even proficient, at a given skill or subject. Classes are meant to expose you to the subject matter, give you some familiarity with jargon and terms, and what you do with it after that is up to you.
  8. Jul 11, 2016 #7
    Your avatar is Emmy Noether...:smile:
  9. Jul 11, 2016 #8
    If you go see a professor and ask a specific question that you randomly picked from the 1st year differential calculus text book, he/she would not answer you the question immediately. (Unless the prof is teaching the 1st year calc course)

    I stopped by a math professor who teaches DE in math department but she had a hard time to recall PICARD'S ITERATION! Then She booked me an appointment in the MIDTERM EXAM WEEK which was a month after the day that I visited her office.

    Probably she did not want to care about extra work since I was an engineering student.. To be honest I didnt bother to actually show up for the appoinment too.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
  10. Jul 11, 2016 #9


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    The last sentence was conceivably meant as humor. The rest was understandable.
  11. Jul 11, 2016 #10
    I'd say, it was my kind solicitude ;)
  12. Jul 11, 2016 #11
    I am surprised that, so far in this thread, responders have not suggested that you learn more by teaching a subject to a class that will ask awkward questions. Therefore get a group of critical friends together and teach yourselves something you really want to know and retain.
  13. Jul 11, 2016 #12


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    Or answer questions elsewhere, like in online forums.
    Great to repeat the things, and you can help others as well.
  14. Jul 11, 2016 #13
    Oooops, Didn't notice that mistake XD

    Thank you everyone for these great comments. It was really beneficial to read all these comments and see that what it needs is just practice. We weren't born to do such things and we have to practise our brains to learn it.
    " "if you don't use it, you lose it""

    Also, I do always ask really awkward questions to justify my understanding of the topic. It really helps if you teach someone the topic and see how well you understand it.

    Thanks again.
  15. Mar 1, 2017 #14

    Stephen Tashi

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    Did you take any history courses? Do you remember all the dates and names? If students could participate in history competitions the way they participate in math competitions, they might be trying to remember much more detail than the material in a typical history course. You might be forgetting more about math than about other subjects just because you are studying math more intensely than other subjects.
  16. Mar 1, 2017 #15


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    I used to know the answer to that question, but I have forgotten it.
  17. Mar 1, 2017 #16
    My English teachers in the 1980s taught me that "his/he/him" were the proper pronouns for the singular case of a person of unknown sex or gender.

    That's the lesson that stuck. I tend to forget the more recent lessons of political correctness that prefer different pronouns.

    Referring to people of unknown sex or gender as "they" (or another pronoun than the singular masculine) for singular antecedents of unknown sex or gender incurred the red-ink wrath of Ms. Feugi, Ms. Beauford, and every other English teacher. The forms "s/he", his or her, etc. also incurred red ink and lost points.

    When I remember to use them, I still fear their red ink in the last few years as I've transitioned to "they" and "their" for singular pronouns.

    (The change in Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" occurred in the 4th edition not published until 2000. Perhaps we should cut people slack for adhering to the longstanding earlier conventions.)
  18. Mar 1, 2017 #17


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    The point you make although good, is off-topic somewhat at least. But, I am with you about the way grammar is used. Applying "They" for a variable third person singular or plural seems like a good way to go; and changing to that seems like a natural development in how English is used. Unfortunately, we are taught differently. Get the linguists to tell us about this. Something to remember, is that grammatical gender is not the same as sexual gender.
  19. Mar 1, 2017 #18
    The "on topic" point is that the last thing learned is the first thing forgotten. Under time pressure or stress, we tend to revert back to how we learned things when we were young. The point driven home by the red ink of English teachers over 8 years of high school and college trumps the more recent invention.

    Since my wife and I learned it that way, our children learned it that way also (home schooling and an older generation of teachers in their public and private schooling experiences). Only since they got to college have they been exposed to the revised thinking of the 21st century Strunk & White. It would not surprise me if most of the points they lost on their composition mid-terms were to grammar Nazis enforcing the newest version of Strunk & White (Elements of Style) rather than the way they learned from their middle and high school teachers (3rd Edition of Strunk & White).

    I wonder, would a physics teacher take off points for a perfect solution according to an earlier version of Halliday, Resnick and Walker? Would a calculus teacher take off points for a perfect solution according to an earlier version of Stewart? We can all agree how stupid that would be. And yet most accept it when an English teacher does it. I think we should all be happy when a student remembers enough to execute an assignment perfectly according to any standard, classic text, even an older version.
  20. Mar 1, 2017 #19
    Well it isn't normal for a person to accurately remember the details of everything that ever happened to them.
  21. Mar 1, 2017 #20


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    In my really early version it's just Halliday & Resnick -- no Walker. It's such an old version that they have F = mb. :oldbiggrin:
  22. Mar 2, 2017 #21
    I'd forgotten that! :^)

    Bottom line: it is normal to forget without constant use or some kind of reminder.

    In my college days, I used layered techniques to help put things more reliably into long term memory. The curriculum and assessment of my profs was also structured to help that.

    I took careful notes in every class. Since these notes tended to be messy and disorganized, I recopied a more organized and neat version of the notes shortly after every lecture while the lecture was fresh in my mind. Every day, every class, every year. Writing things down and then recopying them is a great memory tool.

    I worked every assigned homework problem. Since my original written solution was often messy and disorganized with erasures and less than a linear progression as there were blind alleys and so on, I recopied my solution very neatly before turning in the problem set. Preparing a neat copy of every problem before turning them in had the effect of better cementing the solutions in my memory.

    As each test neared, I re-read the material in the book, reviewed my notes, and selected a subset of the assigned homework to re-work in preparation for the test. About half my time in test preparation was dedicated to reworking homework problems (without looking at original solutions) as practice to recall how to do them.

    As the final exam neared, I began my preparation about a week or two beforehand. I would re-read the most challenging chapters, re-work all the test problems I had missed, pick new problems from the test to work, and prepare for myself a "practice final exam" from which I drew about twice as many book problems as problems on most tests, put myself under time pressure and the authorized resources of the real exam, and did the best I could. After the allotted time was over, I spent as much time as needed to work each problem correctly (visiting profs during office hours as needed), and assessed how prepared I was by how I did under pressure of time and authorized resources.

    On the whole, my preparation required 2-3 hours of real hear work for each hour I spent in class. Most of that time was spent with my pencil moving and my mind fully engaged. No mind wandering. No distractions. No Facebook, phone, or TV. In total, college was a 60 hour per week full time job for a 14-16 credit hour course load. The reward: I graduated first in my class, summa cum laude, with a 3.95 GPA and admission and fellowship offers to MIT, Standford, Princeton, and Stonybrook. I was done washing dishes in seedy New Orleans restaurants and flipping burgers in fast food joints.

    Subsequent courses tended to reinforce pre-requisite material from earlier courses through practice and repetition in the assigned homework. It was my Calc 1 course where I practiced enough algebra to finally have those techniques cemented into long term memory along with really understanding what a function is. Calc 3 finally cemented many ideas and techniques of Calc 1 and Calc 2. The upper level E&M sequence cemented many ideas from 2nd semester freshman Physics, and so on.

    Still when I got to MIT (grad school) I spent most of my first year re-taking key undergraduate courses, including Mechanics, E&M, Statistical Mechanics, and Quantum Mechanics. Forgetting is normal. Mastery and longer term learning requires repetition.
  23. Mar 2, 2017 #22


    Staff: Mentor

    @Dr. Courtney : You really did that? I'm impressed!

    I had to work 20+ hrs a week to pay for school and do my homework. I didn't take as many notes as you did because I learned in high school that for math and science sometimes too many notes was a bad thing.

    I had a friend who wrote down everything the teacher said in every course and did well in English and American History but totally fell down in math especially when the teacher would overwrite a graph or formula causing him to rewrite it down again and made it impossible for him to follow the logic of the presentation.

    In grad school, I remember being a quite lost in a Theoretical Mechanics course on stress and strain. I couldn't follow what the prof wrote until I read Landau and discovered that the prof couldn't write greek letters legibly. He would write his ##\xi## and ##\zeta## variables so that they both looked like squiggles.
  24. Mar 2, 2017 #23
    Yes, I really did that. It was ... hard.

    My approach to note taking was to write down everything the professor wrote on the board with only enough narration from his verbal dialog to connect the dots, adding or subtracting in the recopying process to best create a logical flow.

    This worked very well for my learning style in math, physics, and chemistry courses. Humanities were more challenging, because professors were much less consistent in representing an organized logical flow on the board. The note recopying process often became an exercise in trying to reconstruct their intended organization and outline from the limited information in my notes and memory. Fortunately, most humanities classes came easy for me and were easy As - opportunities for my mind to rest between the real meat of math and physics courses.

    At some point just before college, someone encouraged me to look at college as my full time job, and my scholarship as my compensation. Internalizing that very deeply resulted in a wholehearted effort that worked well for me.
  25. Mar 2, 2017 #24


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    A modern approach that I wish I had was the Notability app on iPad. You can basically record a lecture while you are taking notes freehand and the notes are linked to the moment you touched the screen. I figured I could simple make a mark when something important was said and continue to watch and listen.

    Later, when reviewing the notes, touch them to position the recording to the same spot while playing it back. It provides audio and visual feedback which can be quite a powerful memory recall tool.
  26. Mar 2, 2017 #25


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    Now things make more sense. Practice, and repeated practice, and studying what you studied more than just once. Repeated restudy. As the level of advancement of course increases, the effort required for restudying it also increases COMPARED TO LESS ADVANCED COURSES. Why do the professors know what they are teaching so well and seem so very fluent in it? They are still restudying what they are currently teaching, as well as practicing what they are teaching. They appear to have not forgotten , but really, they have long restudied what they had forgotten and it is no longer forgotten. The student then asks, "How do you keep all this knowledge in yourself so well?"
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