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Reading science books

  1. Sep 1, 2009 #1
    So I'm a pretty smart guy, I can do lots of abstract thinking, I have great memory, and am quite capable at forming conclusions and hypotheses on my own, but maybe I'm a slow reader or something, but whenever I study physics it seems to take forever to get through anything. I took anatomy and physiology once and could read the book without taking notes rather quickly and permanently retain 90% of what I read (temporarily 98% prolly) when my classmates would stay up until 3 in the morning a few nights a week trying to learn the stuff and still not get over an 85% on the test. When I wanted to be really serious I would take notes on what I read and would basically write down a paraphrased version of what I read and I could remember anything that way. But this was not so in physics...or math, now that I think of it.

    I realized that physics would be much more difficult to understand than A&P, so I tried to study my way at the most serious way I could, but I just couldn't retain much and it would take twice as long, and even the people in my class that were quite unintelligent seemed to learn it better. So what I'm wondering is, Is there a studying habit or way of taking notes that anyone has done that has better results than this? Cuz it's really annoying and I really would like to be able to learn this stuff in a timely manner and have better comprehension. Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2009 #2


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    You're talking about two different sides of the thinking spectrum. A&P is memorization. Physics is problem solving. The techniques that work for learning one subject don't necessarily translate over to the other.

    Learning physics isn't so much about taking notes and memorizing concepts. There are a few key concepts that you have to learn and understand and then the trick is figuring out how to apply them in situations you haven't encountered before. The key for most people is practicing solving problems. To be really successful you have to do more than just the assigned homework problems. You have to come up with your own questions and figure out solutions.
  4. Sep 1, 2009 #3
    How did you judge them unintelligent? Some people just don't like to show off, and others may be bad at memorizing lots of facts, but good at understanding physics and math concepts. Skills in A&P doesn't necessarily translate to skills in physics, and similarly lack of skill in A&P doesn't necessarily translate to lack of skills in physics.

    I think everyone has to find their own way to learn. Some simply need to solve almost every problem in the textbook while others need to discuss it with others. Personally I often read over stuff at least a couple of times (not at first, but I keep revisiting subjects a bit later). This allows me to get a rough impression at first and then progressively gain a deeper understanding. Many textbooks have fairly profound observations, but you may not notice the profoundness till you have applied the concepts or thought a bit about it. For this reason I also like to keep a couple of books on the same subject (Dover books are good for this as they are often excellent and pretty cheap) to get alternative explanations. For instance a bit after learning some abstract algebra from Hungerford I picked up Basic Algebra by Nathan Jacobson and I was surprised how he made things fit together. I had been unsure about how some concepts related to each other and then suddenly I would stumble upon a casual sentence that would put the relationship in a completely new perspective.

    Another practice I like is to wait at least a week after reading about some subject and then try to write up a description of the subject (not simply paraphrasing based directly on the text, but actually write it up as you understand it; not necessarily as the book presents it). This will allow you to understand the subject much better. I feel that when I do this I often spot similarities and patterns, and then go on to write a bit about that. For instance while writing up some topology notes I noticed that I was able to generalize some facts about [itex]F_\sigma[/itex] and [itex]G_\delta[/itex] sets by defining new kinds of sets. A while later I read about the Borel hiearchy which is based on the same idea that own constructions were (though the Borel hiearchy is a bit more general).

    Also as Choppy mentioned: The assigned homework simply isn't enough if you want to gain a deep understanding.
  5. Sep 1, 2009 #4
    Hmmm...I guess I should have elaborated on what I was actually having a problem with, I was saying that I can read A&P pretty easily and understand what is being described, but in Physics I can't seem to read at the same fluency as with A&P. The problems are pretty straightforward most of the time, I don't have any trouble understanding the concepts or relating them to other concepts and the math is usually easily done, but all I'm saying is that I take forever to read the subject matter for some reason and I was wondering if anyone had another study method for reading Physics books faster, so...no problem with the exercises or the math or understanding the concepts, just that I take forever to read it, my guess is that I'm not familiar enough with the wording in Physics yet so it's like learning a new dialect or something. Oh well though.

    and the people who are unintelligent are the people who are just not able to think on their own. I took AP Physics in high school, this is the class I was referring to, it was very interesting and challenged me mentally and now I'm just starting college and will be taking my first physics class in a semester or two (my school has weird prerequisite policies...you need calc before physics). The people in this Physics class gave me the impression that they were unintelligent because they either couldn't or wouldn't think on their own, like every little question that came to their head they had to ask the teacher instead of trying to find out on their own.

    Also, I felt that you were trying to say I might be a show off...I try not to be, (I mean I've never been the person who confronts the teacher and asks them about their opinion on some theory just to impress the teacher, I get my recognition from results...or at least try to (= ) I might have been a bit of one then, but oh well, learn from our mistakes right?
  6. Sep 1, 2009 #5


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    from ObHassell original post:
    Anatomy & Physiology is about animal and human shapes, form, and function, and often much high-level stuff. Physics is different by being much intricate low-level ideas. You must learn the meaning of concepts and understand their mathematical formulations. You must think analytically and must learn to trust your Algebra and other symbolic reasoning. You can very well expect in the introductory physics classes and maybe also in the beginning S.E.M. lower division course of Physics that many students will do as you are seeing - asking questions before having done enough of their own thinking, thereby bringing responses from the professor which are not always as well-taken (probably a common stress placed on physics professors teaching at this level).

    About your slowness in your own reading, maybe you find rereading the same material the fifth and sixth times are easier to do with clearer understanding, although still not always fast enough; but is this really a problem, or just something to which you are not yet accustomed?
  7. Sep 2, 2009 #6
    I will give you props on that answer, very clear, thank you. I believe you to be right about it all, my teacher detested most of his students because they just didn't care about the class much. I'm sure college level classes will be different though.

    I see what you mean that reading something 5 or 6 times through will make things easier, but by then I'd probably be able to teach it! Lol...not very well, but nonetheless... It probably isn't going to be a problem though, so it's not too important for me that I can speed read since once I'm able to get to university level physics I'll only NEED to take four classes per semester sometimes only 3 (I won't, but I'll put less strenuous classes in my schedule). Okay, so I'll just have to experiment with ways for me to study better
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