Posted by: changheuk | August 11, 2009

My limits are being tested again

First of all, above all else, if you’re in college, I highly recommend reading this (from here)

8. Learn material the very first time it’s presented.

One of the biggest time wasters in school is having to relearn something you didn’t learn properly the first time.  When students say they’re studying, most of the time they’re making up for a previous failure to learn the material.

In software development it’s well known that bugs should be fixed as soon as possible after they’re introduced.  Waiting to fix a bug near the end of a project can take 50x as much effort as it would take to fix the bug the first time it was noticed.  Failing to learn what you’re supposedly taught each day is a serious bug.  Don’t try to pile new material on top of an unstable foundation, since it will take even more time to rebuild it later.

If you don’t understand something you were taught in class today, treat it as a bug that must be fixed ASAP.  Do not put it off.  Do not pile new material on top of it.  If you don’t understand a word, a concept, or a lesson, then drop everything and do whatever it takes to learn it before you continue on.  Ask questions in class, get a fellow student to explain it to you, read and re-read the textbook, and/or visit the professor during office hours, but learn it no matter what.

I was normally an ace in math, perhaps because my mother is a college math professor who was taking calculus classes while I was in the womb.  Plus my father was an aerospace engineer, so I’ve certainly got the genes for it.  But there were a couple topics I found incomprehensible when they were first introduced:  eigenvalues and eigenvectors.  I’m a highly visual learner, which is normally a strength academically, but I found these abstract concepts difficult to visualize.  Many of my classmates found them confusing too.  I invested the extra effort required to grasp these concepts and earned an A in the class because I treated my confusion as a bug that had to be fixed immediately.  Those students who allowed their confusion to linger found themselves becoming more and more lost as the course progressed, and cramming at the end couldn’t bestow complete comprehension.  Just like programming bugs, confusion multiplies if left untreated, so stamp it out as early as possible.  If you’re confused about anything you’re being taught, you’ve got a bug that needs fixing.  Don’t move on until you can honestly say to yourself, “Yes, I understand that… what’s next?”

Ideally there should be no need to study outside of class, at least in the sense of relearning material you didn’t learn the first time.  You can review old material to refresh your memory, but you shouldn’t have to devote a minute of your time to learning something that was taught a month or two earlier.

During finals I was probably the least-stressed student of all.  I didn’t have to study because by the time the final exam came up, in my mind the course was already over.  The test was just a formality.  While everyone else was cramming, I’d be at the arcade playing video games.  I’d already learned the material and completed all the assignments (at least the ones I was going to complete).  At most I’d just spend some time reviewing my notes to refresh the material the night before the test.  Isn’t this how academic learning is supposed to work?  Otherwise what’s the point of showing up to class for an entire semester?

During each semester ask yourself this question:  Am I ready to be tested right now on everything that has been taught up to this point?  If your answer is ever “no,” then you know you’re falling behind, and you need to catch up immediately.  Ideally you should be able to answer “yes” to this question at least once a week for every subject.

Falling behind even a little is an enormous stressor and time waster.  First, you have to go back and re-learn the old material when the rest of the class has already moved on.  Secondly, you may not learn the new material as well if it builds on the old material because you lack a solid foundation, so you just end up falling further and further behind.  Then when you come to the end of the semester, you end up having to re-learn everything you were supposed to learn.  But because you cram at the last minute, after finals you forget everything anyway.  What’s the point of that silliness?  It’s like overspending on a credit card that charges you 25% interest.  Eventually you’ll have to pay up, and it will cost you a lot more time in the long run.

Put in the effort to learn your material well enough to get As in all your classes.  It will pay off.  Much of the material you learn will build on earlier material.  If you get As in your freshman courses, you’ll be well prepared to pile on new material in your sophomore year.  But if you get Cs that first year, you’re already going into your second year with an unstable foundation, making it that much harder to bring your grades up and really master the material.  Make straight As your goal every semester.  In the long run, it’s much easier.  I found that C students tended to work a lot harder than I did, especially in their junior and senior years, because they were always playing catch up.  Despite my packed schedule, it wasn’t stressful for me because I kept on top of every subject.  Consequently, I had plenty of time for fun while other students experienced lots of stress because they constantly felt unprepared.

9. Master advanced memory techniques.

One of the keys to learning material the first time it’s taught is to train yourself in advanced memory techniques.  I used them often in classes that required rote memorization of certain facts, including names, dates, and mathematical formulas.  If a teacher wrote something on the board that had to be memorized verbatim for an upcoming exam, I’d memorize it then and there.  Then I wouldn’t have to go back and study it later.

I’m sure you’ve encountered simple mnemonic techniques such as using the phrase “Every good boy does fine” to memorize the musical notes E, G, B, D, and F.  Those kinds of tricks work well in certain situations, but they’re so grammar school.  There are far more efficient visual techniques.  The two I relied on most in school were chaining and pegging.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain these techniques in detail, but you can simply visit this site to learn all about them.  Or you can pick up a book on memory improvement, such as The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne.  I recommend learning from a book because then you’ll build a solid foundation step by step.

These techniques will allow you to memorize information very rapidly.  For example, with pegging I could usually memorize a list of 20 items in about 90 seconds with perfect recall even weeks later.  Experts at this are faster.  Anyone can do it — it’s just a matter of training yourself.

I still use these techniques today.  Chaining allows me to memorize my speeches visually.  When I give a speech, my imagination runs through the visual movie I’ve created while I select words on the fly to fit the images.  It’s like narrating a movie.  My speech isn’t memorized word for word, so it sounds natural and spontaneous and can be adapted on the fly to fit the situation.  Memorizing visually is much faster and more robust than trying to memorize words.  If you memorize a speech word for word and forget a line, it can really throw you off.  But with a series of images, it’s easier to jump ahead to the next frame if you make a mistake.  Our brains are better suited to visualize memorization than phonetic memorization.

I don’t recommend memorizing by repetition because it’s way too slow.  Pegging and chaining do not require repetition — they allow you to imbed strong memories on a single pass, usually in seconds.  The downside is that pegging and chaining require a lot of up-front practice to master, but once you learn them, these are valuable skills you’ll have for life.  I also found that learning these techniques seemed to improve my memory as a whole, even when I’m not actively trying to memorize.  I think this practice trained my subconscious to store and recall information more effectively.

It’s a shame these techniques aren’t normally taught in school.  They would save students an enormous amount of time.  Do yourself a favor and learn them while you’re young.  They have a lot of practical applications, including remembering people’s names.

I find that advice very good, judging its also off the fingers of Steve Pavlina, who graduated college in 3 semesters after a heavy turnaround of self-realization and self-development.

Yesterday was indeed a very rough day. Got hit hard mentally by something in the morning – which I would not like to disclose at the moment – and the math final was indeed very rough. I wasn’t prepared for it, in the sense that I was expecting it to be as easy as my last midterm. But it wasn’t – it was challenging. Nervousness took on, and I made some stupid, blatant mistakes.

There was a question where I was supposed to write the “rate-out” as a fraction. But instead, I wrote it as a decimal, and then I forgot how to solve it. I tried to factor it, but nothing worked. I couldn’t believe, after looking at the solution of doing problems like these, what a big f***-up I have done.

Luckily its going to be scaled quite hard, since the professor has stated it is too hard a final (I don’t think he wrote it?).

And I pretty much had a breakdown yesterday. That sad realization that I was behind in everything, and was hardly efficient, and no technical skills to boot. Sort of that same motivation that made me type up the first post of this blog, but in a way where I wish I could just reset my pains, troubles, emotions, and have a nice nap, wake up and feel relaxed. And no I’m not on the verge of being “emo” either, just those times when the world feels like its crashing down.

A good thing is whenever you push yourself past your limits, you will gain something, just like muscle training. Stress means that you’ll grow more in the end.


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