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  • Digesting information quickly?

    I'll be heading back to school in a couple months and will be taking a full-time course load while working a full-time job. As a former English major who earned his bachelor's nearly 20 years ago (ack, that went by fast! ), I'll be taking chemistry, biology, physics and calculus over the next three years...so these subjects will be a bit of a stretch for me.

    What will also be stretched is my study time. I'm also an age-group triathlete who needs the training to keep me sane from my desk job. That sanity will be even more important while I'm in school.

    So...to pull all of this off, I'll need to be extremely organized and able to power through text books fairly quickly and effectively. I'd appreciate any study/power reading tips.

    hak

  • #2
    In my experience (two engineering degrees, lots of technical reading for my work), technical subjects are much more difficult to "power through" than nontechnical subjects. If your technical core isn't solid, you'll find yourself in deep trouble when you start on advanced subjects.

    That's not saying you shouldn't strive for efficiency, just suggesting you should be aware that there are limits to what efficiency can achieve. As you probably know from your triathlon training, there's no substitute for putting in the miles.

    The load you are contemplating would be too heavy for me, so my suggestion would be to consider how to trim it back. But I'm not you, so I don't know what you are capable of.

    Katherine

    Comment


    • #3
      hak,

      I want to echo what Katherine said. My experience (PhD scientist) is that trying to "power through" scientific subjects generally leads to serious problems. I learned that relative to reading literature I need about five to ten times as long to read the same number of pages of scientific text because the effort required for comprehension is so high. Also, because mathematical and scientific skills build on previous skills, if you don't learn something properly, the next subject will be much harder.

      My advice is then to try to learn each subject well at the time. Since everyone is different, what exactly you will need to do will depend on how you learn.

      A good resource for specific study strategies that I stumbled across recently is

      http://www.learningcommons.uoguelph....trategies.html

      Have fun,

      Tornado

      Comment


      • #4
        As someone with a maths degree who also spent about 10 years teaching at the university, I've got to say you're overloaded, friend.

        First up, I can't speak for American universities, but here in Oz both Biol and Chem have fairly heavy experimental time committments. Physics does too, but not to the same extent. To be specific, in first year I think the rule is one 3-hour session per week in first year, rising to 9-12 in third year subjects. That's in addition to lectures and tutes, and that's a whole lotta time that you just can't get around, and it has to be done in their time.

        Second, maths is by its nature very conceptually dense: that is, the content of a calculus textbook doesn't have a flow or rhythm, because there are a lot of concepts packed into the text. So you have to stop and think and digest, and maybe try some examples, as you go along. Physics is very similar. Which means that it's basically impossible to 'speed read' maths or physics.

        And of course the most important part of maths is not the reading of text, but the understanding of principles, and the ability to apply them in the appropriate situations (and recognising which situations are appropriate is another skill that takes time to acquire).

        That said, I do have one friend who has just completed a second degree while working full time, although she was doing subjects heavy on the reading. I doubt she'd have been able to manage a full science load while working full time.

        So my advice would be that something's got to give. If you're still determined to try, then consider reducing your workload. A science degree isn't like an Arts degree: the books are a lot heavier for a start. And they can be very time-consuming. Most of the people I've known who've gone back as mature-age students (including myself, for a second degree) have taken either the study or the work part-time. And I've known a lot of such people, because one of my jobs was bringing returning students up to speed.

        Oh, and that's another thing: maths and physics have pre-requisites. You'll really need to know that stuff before you start, otherwise you'll be lost completely. In the case of calculus, for example, you'll need to know all your algebra and a bit of geometry.

        Are you scared yet?

        Comment


        • #5
          I don't have the credentials of the others who have responded (I'm more a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, with only a bacelors, a masters, and a whole lot of random here-and-there study on my own) but I want to echo what they've said from a different perspective.

          Having studied many things, I've found I have greater skill in math and science than in literature and English. However, I still find that math and science courses, reading, etc I need to take much more slowly than non science/math courses. The "flow" is not contained in the texts or teaching themselves, but rather comes after you've gone over the material repeatedly in depth and practiced it repeatedly as well.

          But I'll do my best to answer the question that you actually asked-- which is if that one is going to try to "power through", what would be the best way of doing it.

          When reading textbooks, scholarly articles, etc:
          • Skim first.
            • begin by reading the abstract if there is one, the introduction, and the conclusion.
            • Then read all the topic headings, and the captions to the illustrations and diagrams if any.
            • Then read over it fairly quickly, not really trying or expecting to understand it, but just giving your brain a preview of what's coming next.
          • Then the slow reading: Read the first lines of each paragraph in the first section, then read the first section slowly, working out examples if you need to. Then read the first line of each paragraph in the second section of the chaper/paper/etc...
          • you will probably want to read through the chapter again after you get through the slow reading.
          • take frequent breaks-- I've found ten to fifteen minuites an hour works well to reset the brain. It helps a lot to spend this time doing an activity that is physical rather than mental.

          Also, the best time-saving tip I can give you is to take the time to really understand the material-- if you move on as soon as you kind-of-sort-of-get-it, you WILL get burned later, and it will take you a LOT more time to catch up.

          Comment


          • #6
            Not to beat a dead horse, but I went back in my mid-thirties after getting a business degree when I was younger. As an adult student, I studied computer science. I worked a full time job and was married with no kids. I took one class at a time and felt fully loaded with that. I maybe could have handled two classes if one were an easy class and I let my grades slip a bit, but I would have been pretty ragged.

            A full-time job and full-time classes is going to require a superhuman effort. I would think you could only make a run at it if you have no spouse/social life and no other responsibilities and are willing to basically eat and sleep those two things (work and school) 24x7.

            Good luck, I admire your ambition.

            Comment


            • #7
              I'd appreciate any study/power reading tips.
              With the above replies as a given, and seconded from my side, I do want to share a tip. It's not specifically study related but I think it might help out anyway.

              Whenever I research a new subject of field I use MindManager to set up a growing tree of knowledge. Of course you can also make a mind map on paper or use other, sometimes free, software to do so.

              As the mind map and my understanding of the subject grows I start to recognize new groups, common concepts, main topics, relations, etc.

              Sometimes I then regroup material. This is easy with mindmapping software: you grab a bunch of topics or a complete branch and move or copy/paste it elsewhere.

              Comment


              • #8
                Earned my Bachelor of Mathmatics when I was MUCH younger and while working 35 hours a week. But I was working in jobs that were not mentally challenging and where you didn't take anything home, even mentally. I was scheduled for 16-19 hours a quarter/semester. I don't think I could do it with a mentally intense job such as I have now.

                Some recommendations:
                If you take an approach as LJM recommends, do the preview, then take a break, then do the read through, take a break, then do the review. You will retain more than if you try to do these activities back to back.

                Read the material (at least the preview) before the lecture. Identify your questions as you are reading or working problems. Don't let the professor gloss over things. The "and from x to y is obvious" remark in class often becomes the "explain how to get from x to y" on the exam. If you don't know how to get from x to y, make the professor show you.

                Take advantage of any graduate assistant workshops/ help sessions/ study periods, or whatever they're called. Do your homework in these environments if they exist. If the graduate assistant works through the problem with you/for you, do another alone to show yourself you understand it.

                Do the problems as soon after the lecture/reading as possible. For me it was always working the problems that showed me what I didn't know and what reinforced what was being taught so that I remembered it. Following what the instructor shows in the class does not equal understanding it and being able to do it yourself.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Thanks for the suggestions and the warnings.

                  I have no illusions that this will be an easy path to follow and just trying to get the classes scheduled around my 9-5 job has been quite a challenge.

                  To put this in perspective, I'm entering a post-bacc program for pre-med. Part of the "game" is to demonstrate to the med schools that I can handle a heavy course load.

                  When I used the term full-time student, I meant as the technical bare minimum of 12 credits per semester. Fortunately, due to the scheduling hassles, it looks like I'll be maxed out at two classes per semester so I'll have some time to adapt.

                  I can appreciate that the physics, chemistry and calculus subjects will not be that easy to "power through." However, it is my understanding that the biology courses are mostly about memorization and for the sake of time, I thought a bit of "powering" through the material may be of some value. I am certain that at some point over the next few years, at least once, I will have not had the time to study appropriately and will have to call on all of my Jedi skills to get the job done with shortcuts.

                  hak

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ruud View Post
                    With the above replies as a given, and seconded from my side, I do want to share a tip. It's not specifically study related but I think it might help out anyway.

                    Whenever I research a new subject of field I use MindManager to set up a growing tree of knowledge. Of course you can also make a mind map on paper or use other, sometimes free, software to do so.

                    As the mind map and my understanding of the subject grows I start to recognize new groups, common concepts, main topics, relations, etc.

                    Sometimes I then regroup material. This is easy with mindmapping software: you grab a bunch of topics or a complete branch and move or copy/paste it elsewhere.

                    Thank you for this tip Ruud!

                    I myself have been using MindManger to do mindmaps of lectures in peparation for exams. I have found them very useful. Having said that, could you please share with us some of the specifics on how you use MindManger in researching a new topic. That is, do you read and take notes in MindMap, read and then take notes later, read underline, and then make MindMap. In other words nuts and bolts of the process you use?

                    Thanks again

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by webhak View Post
                      I can appreciate that the physics, chemistry and calculus subjects will not be that easy to "power through." However, it is my understanding that the biology courses are mostly about memorization and for the sake of time, I thought a bit of "powering" through the material may be of some value.
                      Do what you can, certainly. And the more you can familiarise yourself with the material beforehand, the better off you'll be. "Beforehand" means either before the term starts, or before the lecture. Repeated exposure to the material, even if you're not following it completely, helps a lot.


                      Originally posted by webhak View Post
                      I am certain that at some point over the next few years, at least once, I will have not had the time to study appropriately and will have to call on all of my Jedi skills to get the job done with shortcuts.
                      I wouldn't advise it, but it is possible. But cramming an entire semester of work for exams is highly unpleasant, and yields poorer results. And for maths, once you slip, you tend to miss everything that follows.

                      A couple of general tips, from a lazy person. The more senses you use to learn something, the more it will stick in your head. So for example, if you're trying to understand a calculus proof, if you read it out loud, checking yourself at each step to make sure you know how they got there from the previous step, you'll remember it better. You'll feel like a complete fool, but I'm sure that builds character.

                      Using a GTD approach will help, too. What I mean here is that you should always have an NA of "Do easy bits of assignment/questions/whatever". Make the most of the scant time available with teaching staff by doing everything that's easy before you see them: that way, you can get help with all the hard bits. Most students don't do this: they go along to tutorials without having done anything, and waste that time doing the easy stuff.

                      Also, much of maths and physics, and probably Chem and Biol, consists of technical terms. My favourite example of this was a Hydrodynamics question in third year: every year, students (including me, when I did it) flocked to the tutors for help. The question was only two lines and one graph, but no-one could do it. When the tutor went through it, we all felt very stupid, because it only required looking up about five definitions, then writing three lines. Easy. But you need to know how to attack, so remember, if a question doesn't make sense, look in your notes for definitions of terms and work from there.

                      Also, write as much as you can. So many students are reluctant to write more than the barest minimum, and more reluctant to write anything unless they know the whole answer. Don't be afraid: use as much detail as you need to, because you'll look back over it at some stage, and if you haven't explained everything that gave you trouble, you'll have to do it all over again. And start even if you don't know how to finish, and when you get stuck, write down what the stickiness is. This gives you a GTD-like point to resume your work, like a Next Action. It might be "Look up definition of differentiability" or it might be "Ask tutor about properties of esters" or whatever, as long as it lets you resume where you left off.

                      Also, don't throw away errors. Instead, slash a big line through it, and write down quickly why it was wrong. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from not making them.

                      That's probably more than enough for now, although I could wiffle on interminably. Hope it helps.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Post data you need to remember

                        if there are formulae or definitions you need to learn, write them on cards or extra sticky post-its in really nice pens (maybe thick black pen or bright colours) and post on the bathroom door, at the end of the bath and on the maybe on the fridge.

                        When you see them, just repeat them once to yourself.

                        I did this for company accounting definitions some years ago, and when my then flat mate started learning the same info at her work, she found she already knew it!

                        Hx

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          One of the "tricks" I do plan on using is index cards. We used them when I was in Officer Candidate School. It seemed like 99% of what we learned was pure memorization being thrown at us from a fire hose. Volumes of information in a short time frame.

                          We often had index cards with terms, definitions, etc. that we would carry in our pockets. We would look at those cards while standing in line for chow, or any 30-second period of down time. Cards you knew went in one pocket, cards you didn't stayed in another.

                          Since I'm all about the "Amish" or Hipster PDA, I figure on having a stack of cards handy for notes and as a home-made study guide. Although even the 4x6 index cards may be too small for taking notes.

                          When I was in college in the late 80s, we didn't use laptops as note-taking tools like the students (I'm assuming) do today. However, since I'm on a computer all day at work, probably the last thing I want to do is type on a laptop in the evening. Then again, I'm a far faster at typing than writing in longhand.

                          At least I'm hope I've gotten a bit smarter over the last 20 years!

                          hak

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            crank problems

                            I studied electrical engineering & math in the US & the UK. My experience is that learning technical subjects is almost entirely a matter of cranking through problems. Sit in lecture, try to make some sense of it, & go ahead & take notes, but put the emphasis on trying to understand, not on taking well-structured notes.

                            Then, crank problems. And keep cranking problems. If the problems you are assigned are too hard, pick some easier ones. My experience has been that as I crank problems, the fog eventually lifts & I understand. Once you get a clear understanding, it sticks with you. Plus, since the understanding seems simple, your head can stay pretty empty.

                            So, I'd say most of your next actions would involve solving the next problem, or identifying the next problem to solve. Wish it were easier...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by unstuffed View Post
                              A couple of general tips, from a lazy person. The more senses you use to learn something, the more it will stick in your head. So for example, if you're trying to understand a calculus proof, if you read it out loud, checking yourself at each step to make sure you know how they got there from the previous step, you'll remember it better. You'll feel like a complete fool, but I'm sure that builds character.
                              To expand on this, I've found singing (yes, out loud) information I'm trying to dig through to be even more effective (and to stick in memory MUCH more), if you can get over the silliness of it.

                              Comment

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