Why do I have no retention?

  • Thread starter blu3boy
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  • #1
This is sort of a plea for help.

I feel as if I've depleted any kind of intelligence I had.

Freshman and sophmore year, I had no dreams, and nothing to aspire to. Because of that, my GPA was complete crap. I think it was barely higher than 2.3ish. Junior year, I took physics, and my physics teacher said words to me on the first day that really changed my views on my future.

"You're a brilliant mind, son. You just don't have anything to aspire to, and that's no good. Remember that guy who aspired to nothing a while back? Exactly."

I decided to pay attention in physics, and I found it to be incredibly easy. I ended the year with a 109 in physics, and he had to take AWAY 4 points. I got my GPA up that year to a 2.755, and after doing the math, I discovered that I can get it up to a 3.1ish this year.

The problem?

Well, I feel brain dead in everything I do. I decided to take 6 AP classes to challenge myself. I'm passing with an A in everything but regardless, I've learned that it doesn't represent what I'm learning. I have no retention - I go to AP Calculus every day and I find it annoyingly hard. This coming from that guy who had absolutely no problem in physics.

I feel as if I'm only passing because my teacher is really easy on us. Everyone has at least a high B.

I pay attention in class, and when I go home, I have trouble doing the problems, because I don't remember anything at all. The next day, in class, when he asks us questions about the homework, I look at it and I think to myself, "How the hell did I do this?"

Does anyone have any methods of improving retention, or do you think this is just a problem of motivation(That's what my guidance counselled told me)

Answers and Replies

  • #2
I think you hit the nail on the head; it is probably just motivation. There are methods you can try that may help solidify your comprehension of the material. For example, before I start a new chapter in a textbook, I try to remember as much as I possibly can from the last chapter, particularly the definitions of the key terms. If I feel there is a significant hole in my memory, I go back and review, because if I didn't remember it, it is likely that I didn't fully understand it at the time.

Ultimately, however, if you aren't motivated, it's going to be hard to excel.
  • #3
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Something else to keep in mind is not that you've decided to start challenging yourself, you're going to find out where your limits are. There's nothing "wrong" with you because you're struggling to remember things. Everyone struggles with this as some point. Your struggles likely have to do with the fact that you're getting new information at higher rate and higher degree of complexity than you ever have. Your old methods for absorbing it aren't as efficient.

The good news is there are a lot of things you can do about it. These include:

(1) Take a hard look at how you're studying. Is there anything you can do to improve your tehnique? Do you simply have to watch less TV and put more time in? Do you need to review topics more frequently? Do you need to solve more problems? Simpler or harder problems?

(2) Have you over-extened yourself? You may have to gut it out for the rest of this year, but next year you'll know that this many intense courses keeps you from funtioning at your mean. Do you have any committments you can put off for a while while you focus on your studies (but still maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle)?

(3) How much of your time are you spending on unimportant things? How much of the noise in your head is devoted to unimportant things? What can you do to reduce these?

(4) What are the goals and motivations of your friends and the people you spend the most time with?

(5) Do what you can to live as healthy as possible. Get enough sleep (don't underestimate this one). Eat healthy. Exercise. Avoid unhealthy activities like smoking.

Good luck.
  • #4
There are methods of improving retention. Pretty simple ones.

First of all, I always learned mostly from the textbook, until I decided I should probably make the most of the lectures, since I was there anyway. Anyway, if I didn't remember the lecture, I would usually be fine because I have the textbook.

As far as remembering the lectures goes, I do have some tricks. I got this idea from when I had physics or electrical engineering labs in my undergrad and the TA would go over the procedures at the beginning. Sometimes, there was really no choice but to pay very good attention and remember everything, so that I would know what to do.

Part of it is motivation. You can pretend like you are going to be beheaded if you don't remember everything in the lecture. I recall imagining that. Haven't done it in a while. So, then, what I did was try to keep summarizing everything that had been said up to that point in the lecture in my mind, while still listening to what was being said. It takes some practice to get good at it. Also, it's really hard to do it if you have to take notes (and if you have a good textbook, usually, you don't need the notes). So, when I did it, I generally wouldn't take notes, or else I would just write down only the main points or things that seemed like they would be hard to remember. Then, after the lecture, you have to keep doing that in your mind. Summarize everything that was said. Of course, like any good tool, you should use it only when it's applicable. In calculus, there are a lot of calculations that might be better written down, rather than remembered. It might be better just to try to see if you just follow why everything is being done, and then go over it again as soon as possible after class.

For any kind of retention, there are four main things you need to know. The first is that you have to practice remembering without looking. It does no good to review things by looking at what's in your book or your notes alone. Try to read one paragraph. Then, see if you can recall everything in that paragraph without looking at it. That's the way to make it stick. Read paragraph, summarize it without looking, read paragraph, summarize it without looking. Pretty simple. Then, review it once more later in the day, again, without looking. If you absolutely can't remember, then look and try it again.

The second thing to know is that you need spaced repetition. An easily remembered guideline is when you learn anything, review after one minute, one hour, one day, one week, one month, one year. Don't take it too literally--you have to experiment. But, if you want to remember anything, all it takes is review. And, needless to say, it has to be done the way I said, without looking.

The third trick to remembering things well is that you need to make them memorable. If you are reading a novel, imagine what's happening as vividly as you can, and then you'll remember it better. When it comes to math, for me, that means understanding it. If I understand deeply, then I remember better. Pictures and using your imagination are very helpful in improving retention. Studies have proven this, by the way, I'm not just saying this. Unfortunately, here, you're somewhat at the mercy of the way the subject is being taught. Your teacher may not be showing you all the pictures that help to remember everything. There are a lot of triangles that you can draw for trigonometry. Finally, some of these tricks are accessible only to people who have very strong visual thinking skills. For example, to remember what the derivative of sine is, there is a picture that flashes before my mind's eye. Part of the trick is that visualization aids memory, but another part of the trick is that I am actually checking that my answer is correct through visual reasoning, not just recalling it by rote. Using pure memorization is dangerous because it's easy to remember it wrong. If you understand it, you can check that it's correct. The sine derivative trick is one particular secret that I think is not known to many people other than myself (Tristan Needham discusses the corresponding trick for tangent in his book Visual Complex Analysis). Even for me, if I teach the typical calculus student, I'm not likely to mention it, simply because I expect that they will find it too foreign.

Finally, the fourth trick to retention is how you structure your knowledge. The underlying principle here is that things are easier to remember if they are related to each other. So, you want to try to relate one thing to as many other things as you can. Again, this can be difficult if it's not already done well for you by your teachers and the curriculum itself.

I should also mention that learning by doing is also a good strategy. Do extra problems. That's another way to improve retention.

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