Very slow at getting and digesting things


I am a physics student who will reach his Bachelor's degree by next summer. I've always felt awkward about the way I study and understand things and I wanted to talk to you about that and hear what you think, also maybe to get some advice.

Actually, I have always felt that I am getting and digesting things very slowly. I don't think that's because I am generally slow, but because of a rather inconvenient disposition. I feel that I always need to understand everything as completely as possible. I have always envied people who are able to rush through their lecture, understand them (in part?) and be able to apply (some?) of the knowledge they obtain from them. This way is a very healthy and good way of learning because it is essential to immediately apply knowledge (even if one has not reached a thorough understanding) because of the weekly exercise sheets.

Now, I just hate to learn this way. I actually can do it, and often must do it (if the exercise needs to be handed in by Friday, then it needs to be handed in by Friday) but I hate doing it. Whenever I try to solve excercises with such half-understanding, for me, it's just calculations with no meaning. I performe mediocre when doing that and I don't really like it. I envy the people who have an intuitive approach to this: they just open their lecture notes, copy a couple of formulae, and start solving the exercices by intuition and trial and error. Some are really good at it.

The way I like to learn is very different. I really like reading books and figuring things out myself. My idea of learning is that I have to work with books to understand the lecture notes fully (this usually takes a lot of time for me) and then I actually feel prepared to do the exercices. Unfortunately, over the course of the term, this is just utopia. In the end, it's always the same. I feel unsatisfied with the exercices because I feel unprepared (as I have not managed to work myself through the lecture notes).

But when the term has finished, I have time to revise the lectures before the examn. This is what I'm strong at. I usually have an iron discipline for going through the whole lecture and reading a lot in order to obtain an understanding that feels good, or as good as I can get it. Usually when I have two or so weeks to get prepared for an examn I work every day as hard as I can and, compared to my fellows, obtain excellent results (usually among the best or sometimes best).

When I study for the examns, it's actually my favourite time. I don't have any lectures, the exercices are all finished (though half-understood), and I can fully concentrate on the lecture notes. Our examns are mostly oral examns, but I also perform well in written examns.

But all of this sometimes makes me feel like and idiot. Over the term, I run around just to get this and that hint on how to solve an exercicse and then write it all down, feeling it's just half understood. I am not part of a study group. Unfortunately, we have only one study group worth joining, but they are very proud. They are very good and work regularly, but when you ask them for a discussion or a hint on a solution, they often reply in a stuck-up way which makes one feel humiliated, so I avoid them. I usually ask people, ask them so send scans and provide them with my work in exchange, and that's how it goes. My partner is very lazy and I simply can't grab a better one (we usually hand in our work in teams of two) because all the good ones are engaged in their own teams. So I am doing everything by myself (doing as much of the exercices myself as I can do, asking others for solutions which I can't find myself, doing the entire work on labreports, and doing the entire presentation whenever one is needed. That describes exactly what I have done so far this term. My partner had little part in any of this, because this term he is as lazy as ever).

I don't really like do experimental work myself (although I recognize and respect its fundamental importance and the genius of many individual experimentalists) and I aspire a career in theoretical physics. I have chosen a very theoretical subject for Bachelor's thesis and I want to try as hard as possible to do it well. But still, I sometimes doubt whether I am good enough for a good theoretician. I think that I would need more of an intuitive approach to physics. Whenever doing exercices, I feel I have too, way too much baggage. If I could confidently navigate through a field, then I would not be afraid of having like missed something and could follow my intuition and let my calculations take me wherever they take me. But how can I feel that way when I am just starting to learn a new field? All in all, I feel my very thorough approach to understanding (read may texts first and think about them, try to get an entire understanding of the lecture notes) is inflexible, slow, heavy. When I am heading for an examn, I always feel I have a good understanding (after very much reading, musing and trying calculations on the paper) and I perform well in the examn. But beyond this, I often feel, as I said, slow and heavy.

What do you think about it? Maybe you feel that way to, or used to? Do you perhaps have some advice?

I am really curious what your replies will be!
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I am just like you..but at a lower level. I am also interested in what others will have to say about this.
Your problem is that you think you might have a problem. You don't. Relax, and continue your winning ways...
Agreed. If it works, don't worry about it.
Seems like you might be a little OCD.

I work the same way, and do really well. But I only start studying once my set of notes is complete. I usually end up doing poorly on midterms but always get 100% or close to it on final exams. If I am presented with all the notes for a course, I can finish that course in a week, sometimes less. I hate how they drag it out and only give you little pieces of information. So, I think you might be better off asking your prof for the entire set of notes for the course before the course begins or at least once it starts.

And of course there will be people who say that you learn better over time blah blah blah. Well not everyone does. Guaranteed I have a better understanding than anyone in my course of material that took me only a week to cover while they have been going over it for 3 months.

Look up OCD.
If you think you have it then tallk with your GP.
He'll refer you to a psych.
There's no medication for it, just ways to change your behaviour.

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