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Studying math and physics as a predominantly visual learner

  1. Nov 23, 2015 #1
    I'm in my first year of Electrical Engineering studies and finding a lot of common places in my studying and ways of approaching things that may be leaving me short. I really enjoy my circuit analysis class, I love learning the concepts, formulas and visualizing how they work in my head. I've gone to bed angry stumped with a concept and woke up with answers (its happened twice, but I have no idea how it happened.) I've been doing lots of research on learning styles and left vs right brained people and talked with my school councilling to try and find studying styles that work for me . I find some similarities and some differences with most articles but people are like snowflakes, right? Nothing will really be perfect until I hone in on it myself.

    My problem is this from the physics standpoint: Typically I learn from my textbook, I cannot pay attention to my teacher who writes example after example on the board. so I usually work on assignments throughout his class while peaking up occasionally. After I learn the concepts, I usually try a few practice problems and am able to get them. I just wrote a midterm and lost a terrible amount of marks because my work wasn't "what he expected, or showed in lectures" aka his 5 step process for thevenin theorem or steps for superposition. even though my answers were correct. I realize I do things my own way, because non of my fellow students typically understand how I worked things when they try and copy... but they work don't they? Im just wondering if anyone has encountered similar problems and has any solutions or helpful hints?
    I am very quick to grab the overall concept, I usually can almost immediately see why a formula works and compare it to a circuit and prove my point. Sometimes the small details in questions can take me a long long time to figure out. I'm willing to hash them out, but again if anyone has any tips it would be appreciated.

    My issue in math: Im really good at trigonometry. I just completed a math midterm and was awarded by my teacher with class recognition being in the top 3 marks of our class. After class my teacher came and said "how did you pull that off compared to the first midterm?" and I said "because its not algebra." I need ways to work things that are strictly numbers and no diagrams. Algebra for the most part isn't hard but I have a hard time visualizing it when its just letters and your just applying something or simplifying. If the same question was given to me in relation to say a circuit or as a math equation saying solve for x I would have an infinitely harder time with the math version of the question.

    I'm seeing these little weak links that are costing me marks and causing me stress, so I'm trying to be proactive about finding solutions. The workload is only going to get harder and I really want to be successful as an engineer. I really really enjoy the knowledge I'm getting out of it but I can't help but feel some of these tiny struggles are avoidable.

    Anybody else ever encountered similar issues?
    Thanks and I look forward to your replies!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 23, 2015 #2


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    One comment about solving test problems your way instead of the taught way: Often the test problems are simplified and the real test is whether you know the process so you can apply it to a harder, real-world, problem. Or to prepare you for the next step in the next class. If the teacher's approach is trivial to you, that would be fine. But then you should be able to do it on a test. If you can not do that, are you sure you are learning the concepts he is teaching?
  4. Nov 24, 2015 #3


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    One thing I tell my students is that getting the right answer isn't the most important part of the work. Their intent should be to demonstrate that they understand the material. When I grade, I don't put a lot of effort into deciphering a student's work. If their work is unorganized and I can't tell what they're doing, they're going to lose points. Many of my colleagues concur. As one math professor put it, she's not going to play "Where's Waldo?" when she's grading. It sounds like perhaps something like this might apply to your work since your peers can't understand what you're doing.

    Keep in mind the method of problem solving is important too. If you get the right answer but it took you a lot more work, it suggests you don't actually have a good understanding of the material.

    You need to get over clinging to numbers. You should be focusing on the relationships between variables. This is particularly important in physics, which is why it's often recommended that you plug numbers in only at the end.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
  5. Nov 28, 2015 #4
    Sure, your answers might be correct. There might still be very good reasons why you don't get the points.

    1) Your work was sloppy or incomprehensible. There are two big parts about learning math. One is of course learning how to do math. The other is learning how to present math. Both are very important. If you don't present things well, you will lose points. This is very benign compared to what will happen to you when you don't present things well on a job!

    2) Your teacher asked for a different method. If they ask you to solve an integral using integration by parts, and you obtain the answer using substitution. Then it's fair not to get any points. Exams want to see you can apply a certain method. If you find the right answer without the method, then losing points for it is fair. Of course, if the professor didn't ask for a certain method, then any method should suffice.

    3) Your answer might be correct, but your method wasn't. This sounds very weird but it does happen often that you may follow some fishy or incorrect steps, and end up with the right answer anyway. For example, if you have an integral and you say it is zero because it is an odd function. Then if it is not an odd function, I would not give you any points even if it did result in zero.

    Feel free to upload your solution to some questions to this thread. We will try to comment on whether it deserved points or not. And what you did wrong. I feel this might help you a lot.

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