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Styles of learning

  1. May 7, 2010 #1
    I have a passion for pretty much all scientific subjects and I gladly spend all day accumulating knowledge relating to it but I still find the exams in university pretty hard. I wonder how people that don't have a passion for these subjects manage to pass tests. I can't just go to lectures and read notes if I do that I don't understand anything what I have to do is approach the concepts from all different angles until I truly understand it, and this requires learning all sorts of stuff not covered by the course and I like doing this but it takes time. At night I usually spend 1 or 2 hours thinking before I fall asleep so I like to contemplate the concepts I've learned and I always uncover new information this way and you'd think some that does all this would find exams easy in college but thats not the case at all.

    The trick I've found is I just get a load of past exam papers and I practice them then when I take the test its a joke. Got 100% on my last physics test that way. Do you think its better to keep learning and college separate meaning for college you just learn how to pass the tests but for actual learning you do your own thing?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2010 #2

    I posted this on another thread, but I think you will find the link useful. Practice is how you learn. "You don't know physics unless you can do the problems." (Freedman) This concept is true, so keep practicing from old exams and try do do as many exercises as you can. You learn by doing, it helped me in algebra 1 and still helps in calculus 2. It helped me in physics as well. I'm currently self studying physics; doing the problems, *learning from your mistakes* is where the true learning comes from.
  4. May 7, 2010 #3
    Dead true. I've been learning magnetism lately and since its hard to visualize I find it pretty hard but using the equations to solve problems I started gaining a mathematical understanding too which reinforced the hazy understanding I had of the concepts. Practicing also seems to permanently integrate knowledge into your memory banks pretty fast.
  5. May 21, 2010 #4

  6. May 21, 2010 #5
    But being able to do the problems do not mean that you know the physics. As above poster said if you focus a bit too much on just doing old tests you are not learning for life, just for the course.

    The deal is that once the understanding is there the problems gets trivial, in my opinion doing problems should just be used as a way to see if you understand the material.
  7. May 21, 2010 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    What I find striking in your post is the lack of other people. Do you not have 'study buddies'? Have you gone for tutoring? Have you taken advantage of office hours?
  8. May 21, 2010 #7
    being able to do the problems is the bulk of knowing the physics.

    for all intents and purposes, physics is a discipline of math. You could understand conceptually how something works, but if you can't work it out yourself mathematically, what good is it?

    This is the reason I have gone into physics. I read so many lay persons' physics books, and understood concepts.. but then I had a big "now what?" moment. Without knowing the math well... how could I build anything off of that.

    I'm not sure how anyone could think that understanding and doing the problems out is not important..
  9. May 21, 2010 #8
    I didn't say that the maths wasn't important, I'd say that you don't fully understand the physics if you don't understand the maths. But what do this have to do with practicing problems?
  10. May 21, 2010 #9
    practicing problems leads to understanding the math(s)?
  11. May 21, 2010 #10
    It depends, partly it leads to understanding the maths but mostly it leads to memorizing the maths which is a bad alternative in my opinion. I think that this is the biggest problem with peoples approach to maths and physics, the tests should be seen as tests to see if you have understood the concepts, not tests to see if you have done this kind of exercises before.

    As a simple example take matrix multiplication, tests in linear algebra often asks you to multiply matrices. Now, do they do this to gauge how well you have trained your ability to multiply matrices together or is it to see if you have understood what matrix multiplication is? It is obviously the later since being good at multiplying matrices is a useless skill to have outside of that course. If you understand the process there is no need to do any exercises on this.
  12. May 21, 2010 #11

    yes but to flip it over, would it be good if you knew what matrix multiplication is, but didn't have adequate practice into actually being able to calculate it?

    I feel this is a dumb argument lol, as we both know that understanding the concept is JUST AS important as being able to calculate it...

    I just feel that practicing calculations makes the calculations themselves second nature to the person, and that is the goal of learning anything.
  13. May 21, 2010 #12
    what in the blue hell is matrix multiplication other than what the hell the name is; if you want to waste your time on a test and expand it into multiplication of the elements of row and column vectors be my guest
  14. May 21, 2010 #13
    I just realized after rereading the OP's post that he didn't mention anything specific at all..

    what is your major anyways? I think all of us just kind of assumed physics.

    or do you have an unrelated major, and are just taking science classes for credits?

    It sounds a bit off, and I don't quite understand you regarding learning as simply "accumulating knowledge" because what good is accumulating said knowledge, if you don't know how to use it.

    I could memorize the periodic table, but what good is it if I don't know anything about the elements themselves? Maybe a nerdy party trick, but what else?

    and I'm not understanding your connection between rigorously redoing old test questions in preperation. I don't see how that is just studying to pass tests, as it is basically you going back and learning well how to do the calculations.

    Also, most people can't sit in on a lecture and understand everything fully. It's all about the outside work. I generally feel that the nature of physics and mathematics IS the work you put into it outside. This isn't high school where simply going to the classes is enough. College is about learning things vital to what YOU want to learn about.

    To put it simply, you are speaking in somewhat a twisted manner. I love going home and pondering the subject matter of my class. I actually enjoy doing the calculations over and over, because I know that that is the only way I can get used to using them.

    if all of that seems unnecessary, or that you feel you neeeeed to do that stuff, maybe rethink your topic of study?

    Believe it or not, this field is a bit more than just a "sit and absorb" in its education.
  15. May 22, 2010 #14
    If you can't calculate it you don't really know what it is.

    Edit: Btw, I am not the OP, but I am currently halfway through a double masters in theoretical physics and maths.
    Last edited: May 22, 2010
  16. May 22, 2010 #15
    exactly ; )
  17. May 22, 2010 #16
    But I'd say that you should get that knowledge through understanding what problems the operations are supposed to solve and why they are defined like they are, not through mechanical repetition.
  18. May 22, 2010 #17
    but see, you're embellishing. we never said "mechanical repetition"

    but again, we're going around the same thing...

    the two are both needed.

    a conceptual understanding however, is a luxury that is not always possible.

    most quantum theory can't be conceptualized well, but one can gain a great understanding of it mathematically.

    And understanding it mathematically, is nothing if you don't know how to use it mathematically, and this comes from practice.
  19. May 22, 2010 #18
    I'd argue otherwise, if you understand the maths properly you can use it and there are no practice requirements for it. The thing is that people in general don't understand that much about maths, like this guy:
  20. May 22, 2010 #19
    There is actually a learning technique called Overlearning which is most commonly used in maths and I suspect physics as well. It basically is where you practice something beyond the point where you know and understand it. A bit like what Klockan3 said "mechanical repetition", I used it without knowing it was an actual learning technique.

    I passed my maths exam last year by just doing problem after problem after problem. I understood the maths work fine and the repetition got me used to the formulas and how to use them in solving questions. So I can't really see why this repetition would be bad, I mean you have to concentrate on the problems and you are learning how to apply the relevant questions as you do so. Where is the pitfall?
  21. May 22, 2010 #20


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    Well, I guess there's a point when repeating the same problem over and over again wouldn't be useful anymore.
    From what I have seen past the years after some solving problem sets with increasing level of diffuclty if you understand every solution of problem you have done, then repeating solving them or similar problems wouldn't change much your grade in the exam.

    But everyone has his own habits for learning, whatever works for you.
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