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Understanding VS grades

  1. Apr 16, 2006 #1
    I'm a third year student in EE (here in Egypt EE is finished in 5 years) my problem is that i tend to understand to much, i mean when I'm taking a course like electromagntics i tend to try to understand the theoretical aspect of the subject to much rather than start solving the problems, however here in Egypt colleges are not textbook oriented they are rather problem sets and lecture notes oriented.

    Here reading the lec notes and solving the problem sets given to you, will get you excellent grades but the problem is (in my eyes) that you will graduate like an ass without true understanding of what you know.

    That's why I try to read the textbooks and understand the subject, the problem is while doing so i waste a lot of time trying to understand stuff rather than solving the problems which ends with me getting grades less than I think I worked for.

    I have a GPA of 3.5 now and I think I can graduate with something like that if I keep my current work but my question is should I try to understand the subject and graduate a 3.5 GPA or should I just solve the problem Set's and get straight A's like most of my friends with min. understanding of the subject.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2006 #2
    I'm probably going to say something that is equivalent to what many others would say but a lot briefer...I would much prefer to understand the material such that even if right now my present knowledge won't get me high marks..I would always be able to get high marks in the future...

    The opposite is getting high marks now for doing exactly as I'm told whilst I can still remember them telling me, and forgetting most of it a few months later...and finding that these high grades don't really carry much weight because everyone can see that I know very little.
  4. Apr 16, 2006 #3


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    Greg pretty much nailed it.

    What you do in school is never enough. Everyone should be reading (supplementary) textbooks outside of the classroom. You must however be able to manage your time properly.

    It makes no sense to have a degree in EE and you dont know what the hell happened. If you can maintain that 3.5 GPA and grasp more theory, by all means do it - 3.5 GPA is pretty good.
  5. Apr 16, 2006 #4


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    You mean solving problems don't help you to understand the subject better?
    Sounds a bit strange to me!
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2006
  6. Apr 16, 2006 #5
    I would say it wouldn't help you understand the subject in its most general form.
  7. Apr 16, 2006 #6
    I know many people that can solve many of the problems and don't have a clue what is going on. It's all about memorizing procedures and equation hunting to many people.
  8. Apr 16, 2006 #7
    Gotta agree with everyone here...(sorry Lisa!) I can say from experience that you can successfully answer questions and solve problems whilst you're *in the zone*...but a few months down the line and its different.
    Am self teaching myself and tried to leg it through A-level maths (because I wanted to learn bigger things as quick as possible)...often found bits where I was uncomfortable but just pressed on with the attitude that I *think* I know why such and such a thing works and just getting on with it, and sure enough I was able to solve most of the problems...I am now at a stage where I cannot proceed elsewhere because of what I have forgotton.

    I suppose I could *revise* and be back up to speed pretty soon but whats the point? I'd simply be regurgitating what the book says without reason again, and I'd probably forget again down the line...Because of this I'm reworking and reading around the material from different books, going a lot slower, and trying to figure out *why* things work in my own terms instead of blindly doing as I'm told.

    No one is doing themselves any favours by being happy with just the right answers.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2006
  9. Apr 16, 2006 #8
    So is it possible to have a great understanding and not be able to do problems? Or at least not be able to do them quickly?
  10. Apr 16, 2006 #9


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    Thats the case for me with a specific topic right now. I spent too much time on theory. I can do the problems, but slowly becuase I havent been practicing. I plan to fix that though.
  11. Apr 17, 2006 #10


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    In research, it's important to both understand the material and know how to do the problems, but the former is more important for coming up with good research projects and analyzing them in a useful way. The latter, though it's part of the process in getting to a result, is easier to learn as you go and is less important for getting jobs down the road (employers and advisors seldom watch how you perform detailed calculations).

    On the other hand, they need to judge your worth as a student, so don't skimp too much on your grades. If you maintain a 3.5 GPA, you should be fine for grad school, but don't let it dip much below that. They want you to understand the material, but they also want you to be responsible and fulfill your obligations.
  12. Apr 18, 2006 #11
    Thank you guys, so you'll agree that understanding is better, feels so good to find people that share my way of thinking.
  13. Apr 18, 2006 #12
    I my opinion, there are three levels of understanding:

    1. You read the book AND work on problems--
    So you actually know what's going on when you work on problems. Textbook reading is the first thing to do, but never underestimate the importance of working on problems yourself. Most of the time, you will 'think' you understand the material after reading the chapter, but working on problems and trying to figure things out with your own reasoning reveals *much* about the details that you hadn't realized by reading textbook. You think you can swim by reading a book about swimming?

    2. You read the book, but don't work enough problems--
    What you have done is follow what someone else has laid out for you. You will understand the subject quantitatively, but most likely you will have much trouble when you actually need to do anything on your own.

    3. You only do the problems (with friends)--
    This is how you 'get by' in school. You will have wasted your tuition money when you get your 'fake' degree.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2006
  14. Apr 18, 2006 #13


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    But Lisa does have a point, and the issue need not be reversible. If one understands the material, one SHOULD be able to solve problems. However, if one can solve the problems, it does not necessarily mean one has understood the material. It isn't reversible.

    I have heard many students come to my office and ask me a question, and when I show them how to solve it, they often say "Oh, it looks so easy when you do it!", or they'll say "I understand the concept, but I just can't seem to know where to start when I try to solve a problem".

    These cases show that the understanding is only superficial. Physics, mathematics, and engineering isn't a "reading" subject, where one can get a complete idea simply by listening to lectures or reading a book. You have to sit down and work through problems after problems until you get the feel for the subject matter being taught. Only THEN can you say you have understood the material.

  15. Apr 18, 2006 #14


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    My experience is that you can thoroughly understand the concepts and the material without being very successful with the exercises. One perfect example of this is my networking class. The topic of networking has many concepts and definitions that you must know, like TCP, UDP, IP plus all kinds of application level protocols not to mention routing algorithms and their analysis. I follow the book very closely, it's a very interesting read for me because i finally get to understand how some of my web applications work and i get the feeling that all my knowledge is getting unified and complete. However, most of the examination exercises involve simple calculations and equations to compute network throughput, usage, all sorts of questions on timing, etc. In this class the theory and the exercises get to be very separate and if you don't memorize the equations and the process by which to arrive at a solution you will most likely miss something, even though your thought process might be correct. You are always bound to miss some tiny thing and get the wrong answer because you didn't get enough practice even though you understand how networking algorithms and protocols function.
    Examination time is not the best time for you to "discover" the process & equations that are necessary to solve a problem, because of time constraints and stress. So if you know the material very well and don't practice the exercises you will not get a very good grade.
    There are two key requirements to be successful at doing something, understanding and experience. The exercises are meant to give you the latter.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2006
  16. Apr 21, 2006 #15
    My experience is that you should make use of graphics to aid in your studies. This will boost your learning :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 9, 2014
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