Daniel Mai

Understanding, Not Memorizing

One of the best ways to learn new things is by understanding the material, not just knowing definitions and cramming facts into memory.

That’s why I don’t do well in history classes; at least, I’m not fond of them. I don’t really understand why things happen, and I try to get by solely with memorizing. History isn’t supposed to be that difficult if you understand why people acted the way they did when key events happened.

I take so many notes in history class, not putting much effort into understanding what people did. I just write whatever’s on the slide and whatever my profressor is talking about. I try to jot down most of what happens in class, but it doesn’t mean I retain it. Suffice to say, I’m not confident on history exams.

From what I learned in history classes (or, rather, from the lousy way I’ve tried to understand the material), most of human history involves racism, sex, greed, and war. It’s all the same thing, but different. There are lots of dates to remember, people to know, and rationales to connect the dots with.

On the other hand, I don’t take much notes in my CS courses. What I try to do in those courses is understand the material. Because understanding something allows me to get that information practically instantaneously without needing to refer to my notes.

If I’m going to consider myself competent in this computer stuff, I need to understand, not just memorize.

So if it takes me many hours to understand something, so be it. So long as I can shove the logic into my brain so I can comprehend it. One of the hardest things about learning something hard is being overwhelmed by all the details. It’s better to digest the new information slowly.. Try to understand the little parts and not think of the big picture.

In fact, my statistics professor told us just that two days ago:

Be patient, do each step one at a time, pay attention to the assumption you make at each step and you’ll get there.

If I could just remember to take things slow, I would be better off.