realitycheck44

Study Problems

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I'm starting my sophomore year at a little engineering college starting Monday. This last year went fairly well, but I would like this next year to go better. In an effort to facilitate this, I am setting goals and trying to fix some problems I have. I will attempt to explain some of my problems below, but I should state that I have ordered Edwin Locke's book Study Methods and Motivations. But while I wait for it to arrive, I thought it might be a good idea to first define my problems, and perhaps obtain advice from members of THE FORUM.

I. It takes me a very long time to do my work. It can take me two or three times longer than it takes other people to do the same amount of homework. I think this can be broken up into three categories.

a. Times when I get distracted. I procrastinate by going online, talking to other people, or just daydreaming. Although I have not been diagnosed, I think I may have a slight form of attention deficit disorder. (But I'm not interested in taking the medication, so let's not go there.) There are times when I really don't want to start an assignment, but there are also times when I just cannot keep myself on task. I think I can fix the first case this year by attempting to recognize when I do not want to complete a task and forcing myself to do it first. But I'm not so sure how to fix the other one.

b. Times when I'm doing work that is not due for a few days. For some reason, it can take me hours and hours to do work if it is not due the next day. Psychologically, I cannot force myself to work efficiently unless I'm forced by a deadline. I can spend all weekend in the library, and only accomplish one day's worth of work. I'm not sure how to trick myself into working quicker. I know that I can work more efficiently, but I don't know how to make it happen. I spend a lot of time doing nothing – I’m neither relaxing nor getting homework done.

c. It just takes me longer to do things. For instance, although I have always been good at math, I could never do my multiplication tables quickly. In elementary school, we had timed tests on fifty multiplication problems, and I always failed even though I knew how to do the math. Whenever I take a test, I run out of time. Whether it was an in-class essay (timed-write) for a high school AP English class or a college Calculus II test, I never, ever have enough time. This problem is something that I have struggled with for years and years. In high school, I dealt with it because it was just the timed tests that I struggled with. Now that I have so much work to do, it's hard to finish my homework on time, as well as my tests. This is the most difficult of the problems. I would like to solve the other problems first because I think I will see the greatest improvement with less effort, but I would LOVE to learn how to work faster. I was talking about this with my mom when I made the following analogy, and I think it fits: when you first learn how to downhill ski, you learn how to turn. Once you get proficient at turning, you start gaining speed until you eventually learn how to be in complete control with minimal turning. The same is true of thinking. First, you learn how to do (math) methodically. But at some point, it should be possible to be both methodical and fast. I can't seem to ever increase my speed.

II. I am very inconsistent. I have been this way in sports, and I was this way last year at school. To illustrate this, I will use examples from sports because I think they are easier to understand. I used to play soccer games when I felt like I owned the field - times when the pace of the game, even the ball, slowed down, but I didn't. The next game, however, I could be completely out of it: no matter how hard I tried, I could not control the ball, my passes would be inaccurate, and people seemed to be running circles around me. Eventually, I went on a streak my senior season (of high school) where I was "on" every game, but I couldn't understand what I did differently. The same thing happens with rock climbing. Sometimes I feel amazing - the route is at my physical limit, but it feels easy and I feel safe. Other times, the same route can feel impossibly difficult and insecure. These days can happen back-to-back. And sometimes it's the first day that I'm out of it, and sometimes it's the second day. Obviously my problem is mental, but I can't figure out what it is or how to fix it. Last year, the same thing happened at school, but on a lengthier time frame. Sometimes (lasting from a day to multiple weeks), I would feel like I was the brightest person in the room and that I could do anything. Other times (for a month or two, even), it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard I studied, I wouldn't get the grades I wanted (and thought I was capable of) achieving. The problem is, I truly do not understand the difference in my mental state between when I’m performing well and when I’m not. When I get into slumps, I find it hard to break out because I just get down on myself, but at the same time, it is depressing when no matter how hard you try, you end up with a B or a C, when you think you’re capable of getting an A.

So those are the problems, defined for you as best I can right now. Any advice or comments are greatly appreciated. If anything was unclear, please let me know so I can clarify.

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It looks like a motivational issue to me. I would suggest you concentrate on two things: positive goals and structuring the situation.

1. Positive Goals. When you don't know what's in it for you, it is pretty hard to do something and very easy to get distracted. Before you begin a task, take a few minutes and write down what you, personally, have to gain by finishing the task. Write down as many reasons as you can. Then, if you get stuck or "distracted," look at your list.

(If you can't come up with any reasons good enough to motivate you to do the task, don't do it.)

2. Structuring the Situation. Break down a big project into bite-size pieces. Break down a reading or writing assignment into sub-tasks of an hour or 15-minute duration. Base the time estimate on what is reasonable and do-able for you. I happen to be a slow reader, so I alot a minute a page for reading fiction and three to five times as much for non-fiction.

Then keep score using a clock or a timer as necessary. Check off each sub-task as you complete it. If you get ahead of your pace, reward yourself. For instance, you wanted to be on page 60 by 8 PM and you finished the page by 7:45, you could watch TV or read e-mail for 15 minutes.

Having reasonable concrete goals and keeping score makes studying manageable and even fun.

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One quick recommendation would be to not internalize poor study habits as being part of your personality or the way your mind works; every human being is capable of proper study habits, so you shouldn't just say "well this is how I work".

I used to have horrible study habits in college, regularly procrastinating difficult physics assignments until the night before, then staying up till daylight in a mad rush of work. I was never willing to start my work in advance, and even if I did I wouldn't get much done.

After receiving terrible grades one semester I decided that like it or not something had to change, and it turned out to be a wonderful change!

I began considering studying physics as a lifestyle: I would start my assignments the day they were given to me, and work small portions every day until the due date. By working small portions every day, I was able to approach it at a slow, leisurely pace that was both effective and fun. I also completely stopped studying in my apartment, favoring instead coffee shops or the university (which promptly solved the distraction problem caused by tv, internet or video games).

Psychologically this had a wonderful effect on me: studying in the comforts of my home always felt like a drudgery, yet going to places like a coffee shop or a university made it feel as if being a student were my career for now and I was simply going to my office to work.

It also worked wonders in terms of motivation, because by exposing myself to Physics every day I discovered new things that excited me, and it transformed subjects that were already interesting to me to subjects that I was almost in love with.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that values will diminish in importance to you if you don't give them attention, and the opposite will happen if you do. So by having this change in lifestyle I nurtured my value of physics, and from that my motivation to study grew even larger.

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I'm starting my sophomore year at a little engineering college starting Monday. This last year went fairly well, but I would like this next year to go better. In an effort to facilitate this, I am setting goals and trying to fix some problems I have. I will attempt to explain some of my problems below, but I should state that I have ordered Edwin Locke's book Study Methods and Motivations. But while I wait for it to arrive, I thought it might be a good idea to first define my problems, and perhaps obtain advice from members of THE FORUM.

I. It takes me a very long time to do my work. It can take me two or three times longer than it takes other people to do the same amount of homework. I think this can be broken up into three categories.

a. Times when I get distracted. I procrastinate by going online, talking to other people, or just daydreaming. Although I have not been diagnosed, I think I may have a slight form of attention deficit disorder. (But I'm not interested in taking the medication, so let's not go there.) There are times when I really don't want to start an assignment, but there are also times when I just cannot keep myself on task. I think I can fix the first case this year by attempting to recognize when I do not want to complete a task and forcing myself to do it first. But I'm not so sure how to fix the other one.

b. Times when I'm doing work that is not due for a few days. For some reason, it can take me hours and hours to do work if it is not due the next day. Psychologically, I cannot force myself to work efficiently unless I'm forced by a deadline. I can spend all weekend in the library, and only accomplish one day's worth of work. I'm not sure how to trick myself into working quicker. I know that I can work more efficiently, but I don't know how to make it happen. I spend a lot of time doing nothing – I’m neither relaxing nor getting homework done.

c. It just takes me longer to do things. For instance, although I have always been good at math, I could never do my multiplication tables quickly. In elementary school, we had timed tests on fifty multiplication problems, and I always failed even though I knew how to do the math. Whenever I take a test, I run out of time. Whether it was an in-class essay (timed-write) for a high school AP English class or a college Calculus II test, I never, ever have enough time. This problem is something that I have struggled with for years and years. In high school, I dealt with it because it was just the timed tests that I struggled with. Now that I have so much work to do, it's hard to finish my homework on time, as well as my tests. This is the most difficult of the problems. I would like to solve the other problems first because I think I will see the greatest improvement with less effort, but I would LOVE to learn how to work faster. I was talking about this with my mom when I made the following analogy, and I think it fits: when you first learn how to downhill ski, you learn how to turn. Once you get proficient at turning, you start gaining speed until you eventually learn how to be in complete control with minimal turning. The same is true of thinking. First, you learn how to do (math) methodically. But at some point, it should be possible to be both methodical and fast. I can't seem to ever increase my speed.

II. I am very inconsistent. I have been this way in sports, and I was this way last year at school. To illustrate this, I will use examples from sports because I think they are easier to understand. I used to play soccer games when I felt like I owned the field - times when the pace of the game, even the ball, slowed down, but I didn't. The next game, however, I could be completely out of it: no matter how hard I tried, I could not control the ball, my passes would be inaccurate, and people seemed to be running circles around me. Eventually, I went on a streak my senior season (of high school) where I was "on" every game, but I couldn't understand what I did differently. The same thing happens with rock climbing. Sometimes I feel amazing - the route is at my physical limit, but it feels easy and I feel safe. Other times, the same route can feel impossibly difficult and insecure. These days can happen back-to-back. And sometimes it's the first day that I'm out of it, and sometimes it's the second day. Obviously my problem is mental, but I can't figure out what it is or how to fix it. Last year, the same thing happened at school, but on a lengthier time frame. Sometimes (lasting from a day to multiple weeks), I would feel like I was the brightest person in the room and that I could do anything. Other times (for a month or two, even), it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard I studied, I wouldn't get the grades I wanted (and thought I was capable of) achieving. The problem is, I truly do not understand the difference in my mental state between when I’m performing well and when I’m not. When I get into slumps, I find it hard to break out because I just get down on myself, but at the same time, it is depressing when no matter how hard you try, you end up with a B or a C, when you think you’re capable of getting an A.

So those are the problems, defined for you as best I can right now. Any advice or comments are greatly appreciated. If anything was unclear, please let me know so I can clarify.

A couple of points if I may:

Work out when you are intellectually most efficient. For me this is between 9.15am and 11.45 am it maybe different for you. Do your most demanding tasks then.

Work out how long you can hold concentration for and segment work, much as Betsy has suggested.

Get yourself in a positive frame of mind before starting work. Don't think "Oh bloody hell, homework" Listen to some uplifting music or workout (or both) and focus on why this is a good idea. Think "okay I do this as a step towards being a lawyer/engineer/whatever so lets do it" and try making your physiology positive, smile, shoulders back, head high etc. It sounds corny but it really works.

When you finish, give yourself a mental "high five" rather than thinking "thank god that's over" to again reinforce positive behaviour

And again from Betsy, small tasks towards an overall goal make something difficult seem easy, indeed inevitable.

I have a few of these motivation type posters in my office with some Ayn Rand quotes ~ I had to make them as they don't seem to be commercially available, but I found a website.

I would wish you good luck, but follow the various contributors advice and you won't need it.

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...

I have a few of these motivation type posters in my office with some Ayn Rand quotes ~ I had to make them as they don't seem to be commercially available, but I found a website.

I would wish you good luck, but follow the various contributors advice and you won't need it.

What website was it that you used for the posters? is it free? and could you share the posters you made (if they were free)?

I definitely would want such posters...

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I'm starting my sophomore year at a little engineering college starting Monday. This last year went fairly well, but I would like this next year to go better. In an effort to facilitate this, I am setting goals and trying to fix some problems I have.

...

I. It takes me a very long time to do my work. It can take me two or three times longer than it takes other people to do the same amount of homework. I think this can be broken up into three categories.

a. Times when I get distracted. I procrastinate by going online, talking to other people, or just daydreaming. Although I have not been diagnosed, I think I may have a slight form of attention deficit disorder.

...

LOL!! If you had any idea how familiar your story is to me. I also thought I have attention disorder. But, miraculously, I observed that when I am doing a project that made sense to me, there were no concentration problems at all. Indeed, weird, selective disorder!

Thanks to a person very close to me, I started to discover the reasons for what I started to consider as my severe vices.

The vices were primarily laziness and inability to act to achieve my chosen goals (I was aiming at a very high average to get into a certain program).

While other, "normal" people got the business done in time, and efficiently, I delayed everything and could not concentrate.

What this person helped me realize is that this was not a sign of laziness, but a sign of mental health. I could not focus on those things, because they were not worth focusing on. It's not abnormal for a rational person not to want to study tricks and formulas to succeed in tests. It is very normal.

When knowledge was taught correctly, or when I did some project which allowed me to use my mind properly, I focused without any problems.

So my advice to you is learn to be more critical of what you are taught and less of yourself.

(Here is one good blog post about that by Oleksandr. He really deserves all the credit for what you're hearing from me now).

Then the question becomes: how to deal with having to study crappy things. My own style and personal answer is: in big, condensed doses. Reduce the pain and compact it in time, and devote the rest of your time to something you enjoy that engages you. Also, TV helps after long periods of studying. And always remind yourself that if you do not have motivation, it is (most likely) not due to some problem that you are having - but the problem is with bad approach to knowledge/ teaching.

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Just to give you a small part from the blog post, and how perfect it is for your question:

While I concluded that college is impractical for my programming career, I did not apply this idea fully. I had still viewed college assignments as something that belonged to reason. I still saw college as it ought to be – an educational system that teaches one how to live and work, and so I had proceeded to accept college assignments as something I had to complete correctly and on time. And when I failed to do so, even by a minute, I felt like I had failed at something.

I no longer feel so.

(and then he explains why)

http://reflectionsbyoleksandr.blogspot.com/

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There's no better advice than what Betsy said about structuring. The first part of an assignment is understanding the logical steps you need to take to complete it. If you skip this step, it will seem an impossible task and that's a good reason not to want to do it. Sometimes the problem you're asked to solve is itself unclear, and in that case you should do a little preliminary research or ask the teacher or a classmate to help clarify it for you. If you don't understand what you're being asked to do, then you can't do it.

In the classes I'm taking at the moment, most of my assignments are reports. I always being by formatting the report and creating all of my headings. This helps to structure my thoughts, and also ensures that I answer each issue. If possible, don't restrict yourself to answering the questions in the order they were given. Start with the ones you know, and as you go you will probably find you're getting in the right mindset to tackle the others. Also have at the ready any reference material or assigned reading that will remind you the of principles you should be applying. Allow yourself to look things up as you think of them, don't rely on what you remember. A big part of problem-solving is research.

As far as time management, I would say learn how to monitor and respond to your mindset, rather than try to force it. Don't try to sit down and do the whole assignment at once if that means a lot of unproductive time being distracted by other things. Work whenever your mind is on the subject, and if you start to get stuck or bored, either stop or move to a different subject. I find that keeping things fresh helps my motivation. Also, if you know you're not going to be able to get anything done, don't sit and obsess over it, just go out and have some fun. As long as you start early and not at the last minute, this means you can work and play guilt-free and finish everything well and in time.

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One quick recommendation would be to not internalize poor study habits as being part of your personality or the way your mind works; every human being is capable of proper study habits, so you shouldn't just say "well this is how I work".
Yes, Carlos, I agree. One reason for posting this was to try and change those study habits. But everybody reads at a different pace, and it is just how you work. I am trying to differentiate between that which is poor study habits, and that which is simply "the way I am".
I used to have horrible study habits in college, regularly procrastinating difficult physics assignments until the night before, then staying up till daylight in a mad rush of work. I was never willing to start my work in advance, and even if I did I wouldn't get much done.
Why did you not get much done? What did you do to change this?
After receiving terrible grades one semester I decided that like it or not something had to change, and it turned out to be a wonderful change!

I began considering studying physics as a lifestyle: I would start my assignments the day they were given to me, and work small portions every day until the due date. By working small portions every day, I was able to approach it at a slow, leisurely pace that was both effective and fun. I also completely stopped studying in my apartment, favoring instead coffee shops or the university (which promptly solved the distraction problem caused by tv, internet or video games).

Psychologically this had a wonderful effect on me: studying in the comforts of my home always felt like a drudgery, yet going to places like a coffee shop or a university made it feel as if being a student were my career for now and I was simply going to my office to work.

This is what I tried last semester. I tried thinking "This is my career. I'd better start acting like it is". I would go to the library on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. And still, I would end up doing the majority of the work on Sunday night. I tried to immerce myself in subject, but still found myself struggling to keep up. And frankly, it ruined my life. All I did was study, and still it felt as if I got nothing done. My grades certainly didn't improve. My question is HOW did you do it? What specifically allowed you to "trick" your mind (for lack of a better word) into wanting to start the work earlier. Because no matter what I do, I cannot seem to keep myself from thinking
It also worked wonders in terms of motivation, because by exposing myself to Physics every day I discovered new things that excited me, and it transformed subjects that were already interesting to me to subjects that I was almost in love with.

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that values will diminish in importance to you if you don't give them attention, and the opposite will happen if you do. So by having this change in lifestyle I nurtured my value of physics, and from that my motivation to study grew even larger.

I believe you are right in that values diminish when you don't give them attention, and increase when you do. But even working all the time for me was not enough. It simply didn't work.

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It looks like a motivational issue to me. I would suggest you concentrate on two things: positive goals and structuring the situation.
I agree. It is definitely a motivational issue.
1. Positive Goals. When you don't know what's in it for you, it is pretty hard to do something and very easy to get distracted. Before you begin a task, take a few minutes and write down what you, personally, have to gain by finishing the task. Write down as many reasons as you can. Then, if you get stuck or "distracted," look at your list.

(If you can't come up with any reasons good enough to motivate you to do the task, don't do it.)

This is good advice, except that all my classes pertain to my major. The two classes that I did the worst in last year were materials science and marine engineering. These are two classes that I KNOW I'll use every day in my profession. (And I do love my profession - changing majors not a question for me.)
2. Structuring the Situation. Break down a big project into bite-size pieces. Break down a reading or writing assignment into sub-tasks of an hour or 15-minute duration. Base the time estimate on what is reasonable and do-able for you. I happen to be a slow reader, so I alot a minute a page for reading fiction and three to five times as much for non-fiction.

Then keep score using a clock or a timer as necessary. Check off each sub-task as you complete it. If you get ahead of your pace, reward yourself. For instance, you wanted to be on page 60 by 8 PM and you finished the page by 7:45, you could watch TV or read e-mail for 15 minutes.

I would agree if we were talking about big projects here. I seem to do okay on those. But what take me forever are things like math problem sets or statics problems. Three or four statics problems could take me seven hours or more to complete. Each problem is its own "bite-sized" peice - being between an hour and two long.

Before I respond to the other posters (which will have to be later today), I would like to say that

1. I have alot of work. I'm taking 6 math or science classes and 1 humanities class each semester. We just have alot do alot of work. 6-10 hours a night is the average for every student. I seemed to be doing more than that - around 12.

2. I still get decent grades. First semester I got a 4.0 and last semester I got a 3.95 or something like that. My grades are okay, I just want to do better in each class, and have it not ruin my life. I was going crazy last year doing 12 hours of homework a night and still not doing as well as I though I should.

That's all for now. I'll keep responding later. Thanks everyone for so many replies. I appreciate it.

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1. Positive Goals. When you don't know what's in it for you, it is pretty hard to do something and very easy to get distracted. Before you begin a task, take a few minutes and write down what you, personally, have to gain by finishing the task. Write down as many reasons as you can. Then, if you get stuck or "distracted," look at your list.

(If you can't come up with any reasons good enough to motivate you to do the task, don't do it.)

This is good advice, except that all my classes pertain to my major. The two classes that I did the worst in last year were materials science and marine engineering. These are two classes that I KNOW I'll use every day in my profession.

That's too long-range and abstract to motivate you now. Instead, look over the assignment and think concretely: Today I will learn why ______ and how to ______ which I can use when I want to _________.

But what take me forever are things like math problem sets or statics problems. Three or four statics problems could take me seven hours or more to complete. Each problem is its own "bite-sized" piece - being between an hour and two long.

If that's what it takes, that's what it takes.

When my late husband Stephen was a student, he once spent two months trying to get a precise answer to a structural mechanics calculation after his professor urged him to settle for the easy standard approximation. The result was that he discovered a unique method that was eventually published in Civil Engineering Magazine (read the story here), and brought him to the attention of Mario Salvadori who got him into Columbia and helped launch his career (read the story here).

The moral of the story is that some people take longer because they give a damn about doing it right. If that's you, accept that, be proud of it, and give yourself the time that you need. I made it through college by giving up just about everything except school and sleeping only four hours a day.

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(And I do love my profession - changing majors not a question for me.)

Why do you love your major? I mean this as a serious question.

2. I still get decent grades. First semester I got a 4.0 and last semester I got a 3.95 or something like that. My grades are okay, I just want to do better in each class, and have it not ruin my life. I was going crazy last year doing 12 hours of homework a night and still not doing as well as I though I should.

These are very important statements for you to think about. Somehow your outstanding grades do not translate in your mind as doing well enough. I strongly recommend looking closely at your standards of value and related premises. What is a concrete demonstration of doing "as well as I should" for you? What would you have to achieve in reality to think and feel you have done your best?

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2. I still get decent grades. First semester I got a 4.0 and last semester I got a 3.95 or something like that. My grades are okay, I just want to do better in each class, and have it not ruin my life. I was going crazy last year doing 12 hours of homework a night and still not doing as well as I though I should.

Quick question: does your school grade on a 4.0 or 5.0 scale? Most colleges use 4.0 for A, 3.0 for B, etc., in which case your characterization of your grades as "decent" is quite an understatement. :) But there are some who use 5.0 for A and so on, which is a different story.

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R...C..., everything you describe is very common -- except your willlingness to work so hard. Ifatart isn't the only one who can say "If you had any idea how familiar your story is to me." If you had attention deficit disorder you wouldn't have gotten into a top private engineering school and be doing so well. To the extent you find yourself wasting time rather than focusing it is more likely a case of restless energy you need to learn to deal with.

From your description of your grades, what are you complainging about on that front? A 4.0 used to mean straight As. Is that what it is at your school? What else do you want at a very difficult engineering school? You will always want to understand things better and be able to do things faster. I still do -- and I was never satisfied with my study habits and understanding in a college (similar to yours) either. It is good that you are at a school where there is always more to stretch for.

Some students appear to be able to do things very quickly, but no matter how fast they catch on and have a knack for solving problems, it doesn't necessarily mean they are seeking or getting the depth of true understanding you demand for yourself. All that work you are putting in is going to pay off.

The problem of "procrastinate by going online, talking to other people, or just daydreaming" is a matter of self-discipline. The fact that you have identified it through introspection is the important first step. Just stay out of the dorm room bull sessions. Getting into the subject matter and staying focused is more a personal matter. I don't think you lack the motivation, just the way to implement it the way you want. Sometime the excitement of the material can itself be a distraction causing you to wander and "daydream". Be aware of that and learn to cut it off at a certain point and get back to the near term goal. Maybe you should read a book on dealing with procrastination. (I have one here but can't say much about it because I never got around to reading it.)

As for your statement, "It can take me hours and hours to do work if it is not due the next day. Psychologically, I cannot force myself to work efficiently unless I'm forced by a deadline", it is captured by the old saying, "Work expands to fill the time allotted to it", and that is not restricted to college homework. The better you learn to deal with this now the more it will help you in everything you do in the future. When you have more time you can afford to explore things you otherwise couldn't, but that's not an excuse to be inefficient unless there's nothing else you want to do with the time. :) Once you are on the job you will find that speed is not the main issue; you will have to go over and over your assumptions and calculations because they have to be right. But you will not be given much time to go back over your background and improve and fill in your basic understanding. Take advantage of the time you have to do that now while you still can. Once time is gone, it is gone forever.

As for legitimately not having enough time, as on a test, it is almost always that way. You have to know the material cold going into a test because you can't afford to spend time bringing things back or figuring out things you could already have at your immediate disposal. I worked out a strategy for that early on. It wasn't enough to have done the homework and understood what I read. I made sure the night before the test that I knew how to do all the problems in the homework and the examples, so it was explicit, not just vaguely implicit from understanding it when I read over it. I made sure I understood the basic principles to apply to each one (not just memorize the steps), and I could reproduce the derivations of the formulas needed, just in case I forgot something -- that also increased my confidence and my focus on what the principles were. As I went through the material the night before a test I made a set of abbreviated summary notes and hints to myself for a page or so of things I wasn't sure I would remember but thought I should. I went over those brief notes the day of the test right up to the beginning, in effect giving myself a running start going into the test. A also dealt with an early problem of "choking" under time pressure, doing worse than I knew I could have, by telling myself to forget the pressure -- I could only do whatever I could do, knowing that panicking over the time was guaranteed to make it worse. It all worked and I immediately started doing a lot better, improving my first term average from barely making the dean's list to gradually moving up to near the top of the class by the time of graduation with High Honors.

You will find that you will develop your own habits for taking tests effectively, even though you will never like the pressure. But also never forget the difference between grades on tests and the knowledge you need to fully understand. Don't get into the habit of sacrificing either for the other by not worrying about one and not spending time on it because you don't need more time for the other.

As for the time it takes to do problem sets, you may be able to improve with a more systematic approach in terms of thinking explicitly of what principles are to be used and connecting them with each specific problem until you get the patterns down. The Locke book on studying and motivation is rather general and does not deal with science and engineering in particular, so you will have to work out these things on your own. Part of what you are learning is how to do the whole educational process and how to think about the subject matter, its applications, and problem solving. There are no one-liners answering your questions.

You say you are inconsistent, giving an example from soccer? There is another old saying, "Inconsistency is the bane of amateurs". That is true for sports, music, art and just about everything else. By your last year you said you were more consistent in soccer. That is what you are learning how to do in engineering. If someone could tell you in advance you wouldn't need the experience, would you? Automatizing the proper mental processes is a complicated affair that only comes with time. Your four years there are for learning how and making that second nature, not just a sequence of material.

No matter how frustrated you may become when you don't do as well as you think you could have, your high standards, commitment to honesty, and consistent efforts to do things right with no 'shortcuts' will pay off more than you know. And so will your efforts at introspection and thinking about how to do all these things.

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Why do you love your major? I mean this as a serious question.
First of all Scott, I really appreciate your questions. They are good ones. But to me, this is like asking Roark why he loved architecture. First of all, I should state my major is marine engineering and naval architecture. I'll quote an essay I wrote a few years ago:
I was first introduced to the world of remote operated vehicles (ROVs) while attending the National Student Leadership Conference’s engineering camp at the University of Maryland two summers ago. During that camp, we built three ROVs based off the MIT “Sea Perch” design, modifying them with our own design ideas to complete our fairly simple objective – collect balls from the surface and pool floor. The last day of camp, we toured NAVSEA Division Carderock, attended a lecture on marine engineering, and tested our ROVs.

I was so excited about my future as a marine engineer that after I got home, I could not wait to get started on it. During the lecture, we had received a folder with a bunch of fliers for ROV and AUV competitions, along with information on schools with marine engineering degrees. It took a while to convince my schoolmates and get the information needed, but the following winter I started a marine engineering club at my high school with our goal of competing in the AUVSI competition. For the next four months, almost all of my time outside of school was spent researching, designing, and developing an AUV for the competition. I worked harder than I have ever worked in my life. I spent countless hours researching embedded computer systems, ways of propulsion, passive sonar systems with hydrophones, underwater navigation, and much, much more. I talked with engineers about control theory, acoustics, and the over design. I tested photocells, transponders, and embedded computer elements. And to be honest, I had the best time of my life.

That summer, I continued my experience with AUVs by interning for the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, RI. Most of my work was on the solar-powered autonomous underwater vehicle (SAUV). This introduced me to a whole new world. I actually got to play with…excuse me, work on, a real, live AUV! Actually, the SAUV was more like a combination between an ROV and an AUV because it was controlled by radio frequency and tracked with an acoustic transducer. Besides being solar-powered, the main idea of the SAUV was to implement a new control-level software called DICE. DICE would allow one SUAV to communicate autonomously with anther SAUV. It was very exciting work.

Working on the SAUV introduced me to an interesting aspect of AUVs and ROVs that has yet to be exploited: the way they communicate with one anther. It fascinates me that a school of fish can turn or dive as one; the fish keep the same distance from one anther throughout, almost as though they are reading each other’s minds. The future of AUVs and ROVs lies in their ability to communicate to one anther, and I think we can gain valuable insight by looking into certain aspects of biology, the way schools of fish communicate, for example.

As you can see, quite a bit has changed since my first encounter with an ROV. I have learned more about ROVs and AUVs, but it seems the more I learn, the more I want to know. I truly do believe that the underwater world is truly the last frontier. It is here on earth, and yet we know less about it than much of space. As Dr. Robert Ballard said, “We went to the moon and even played golf there before we went to the largest feature on the planet. We have better maps of Mars than Earth.” I want to discover that world, the undersea world, and I want to let other people see it too.

These are very important statements for you to think about. Somehow your outstanding grades do not translate in your mind as doing well enough. I strongly recommend looking closely at your standards of value and related premises. What is a concrete demonstration of doing "as well as I should" for you? What would you have to achieve in reality to think and feel you have done your best?
This is very interesting. I think this is a major problem, and something that I have strugged with. To answer Piz's (and ewv's) question as well, a 4.0 is an A average at Webb. So my grades are good. But I don't think they are good enough because I think I could do better. It's not that I'm not doing well. I know that I am. But I think that I have the ability to get a 95 average, instead of a 90 average (for instance). I also think that I have the ability to learn more - to have a more thorough understanding of the material. However, more than, that's there is a feeling that accompanies doing one's best. To draw from another sports example: there's no harm in losing to a team that is better than you if you think you played your best. But if you think you didn't, if you think you could have done better, you feel like crap.

It's not really the understanding of the material that I'm hoping to achieve. It's more that I waste too much time to relax. The main reason I want to learn how to work more efficiently is so that I can have time to sleep, workout, etc. I want to improve the quality of my life. If I spend three hours on a task that I could/should have accomplished in one, I lose that time I could have spent sleeping, working out, watching a movie, etc. It's not that I procrastinate by relaxing, it's that I spend the time neither working nor relaxing. I also think that with more sleep, I could potentially raise my grades.

ewv, you made alot of good points. I'll respond tomorrow. To everybody participating in this thread: I appreciate it.

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These are very important statements for you to think about. Somehow your outstanding grades do not translate in your mind as doing well enough. I strongly recommend looking closely at your standards of value and related premises. What is a concrete demonstration of doing "as well as I should" for you? What would you have to achieve in reality to think and feel you have done your best?
This is very interesting. I think this is a major problem, and something that I have strugged with. To answer Piz's (and ewv's) question as well, a 4.0 is an A average at Webb. So my grades are good. But I don't think they are good enough because I think I could do better. It's not that I'm not doing well. I know that I am. But I think that I have the ability to get a 95 average, instead of a 90 average (for instance). I also think that I have the ability to learn more - to have a more thorough understanding of the material. However, more than, that's there is a feeling that accompanies doing one's best.

How common is a 4.0 average in your class? At my college it was extremely rare and did not occur for all four years for anyone. Graduation required a 2.0 average and no course could be failed without retaking it and passing. At graduation the class average was 2.3 and half the entering freshman class didn't make it at all. There were very few of us up in the high 3.x range. Today it isn't at all like that there anymore and I wonder if the meaning of '4.0' at your school is giving us a different perspective.

From what you describe I'm sure you can be more efficient and do even better, but you should also realize that it takes time for abstract concepts and knowledge to sink in no matter how fast you might read it or hear it in lectures. Your understanding will continue to improve over time as you gain more experience with it, think about it more, and encounter it again from different perspectives. One way to do that is to take a job as a teaching assistant in a course you have already had. You will learn much more of it as you go over it again and figure out what it takes to explain it to others.

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...

I have a few of these motivation type posters in my office with some Ayn Rand quotes ~ I had to make them as they don't seem to be commercially available, but I found a website.

I would wish you good luck, but follow the various contributors advice and you won't need it.

What website was it that you used for the posters? is it free? and could you share the posters you made (if they were free)?

I definitely would want such posters...

Make your own posters website

It takes a while to get exactly what you want, but 10 minutes or so and you should be able to master it.

I used some stills from Fountainhead and some photos of Miss Rand for the image. Her quotes are of course available from various sources.

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I don't have a comprehensive strategy to offer, but when I was in business school, I discovered that swimming in the evening for 45mn - 1 hour yielded 90 minutes afterwards of incredibly focused attention. I don't know why, but right after swimming I would rush to the library and be able to focus like a laser on even the most abstract concepts. It was very useful to incorporate some finance concepts.

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R...C..., everything you describe is very common -- except your willingness to work so hard. Ifatart isn't the only one who can say "If you had any idea how familiar your story is to me." If you had attention deficit disorder you wouldn't have gotten into a top private engineering school and be doing so well. To the extent you find yourself wasting time rather than focusing it is more likely a case of restless energy you need to learn to deal with.

It's not about "restless energy" at all. The inability to focus comes from having to focus on something that cannot be learned properly.

You will always want to understand things better and be able to do things faster. I still do -- and I was never satisfied with my study habits and understanding in a college (similar to yours) either.

It is not your fault at all, and not a matter of your study habits. From every post of yours that I read it is clear to me that you are eager to understand. Consider the fact, that getting good grades and understanding the material taught often conflict.

The problem of "procrastinate by going online, talking to other people, or just daydreaming" is a matter of self-discipline.

I disagree. "Self discipline" implies that the problem is with him (or you), while it is not. This is exactly the "Rearden mistake" of working too hard and not looking around, taking man made facts as facts of nature to deal with. Olex explains it superbly in the blog post that I linked. It seems like nobody read or commented about it - big loss.

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Olex explains it superbly in the blog post that I linked. It seems like nobody read or commented about it - big loss.
What Olex explained in his blog post does not apply to every college - most perhaps, but not all. And I don't think it applies to Webb. The curriculum at Webb is revised every other year to reflect changes in the professional world. Often feedback from employers who work with graduates is used. The goal at Webb, through and through, is to produce the most competent naval architects and marine engineers in the world. We have to take one "humanities" class a semester so we can learn how to write effectively, which is used in the profession. They could care less about producing "proper, cultured" naval architects. Now, I admit there are certain projects that I feel have no bearing on my future, but those are few and far between, and I could care less about whether I do a good job on them or not (and this is the view of most of the class).

While Olex's solution may have worked for him and you, it is not a universal solution. I think ewv's post is more what I'm looking for. (I'll try to respond soon, ewv.)

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Olex explains it superbly in the blog post that I linked. It seems like nobody read or commented about it - big loss.
What Olex explained in his blog post does not apply to every college - most perhaps, but not all. And I don't think it applies to Webb. The curriculum at Webb is revised every other year to reflect changes in the professional world. Often feedback from employers who work with graduates is used. The goal at Webb, through and through, is to produce the most competent naval architects and marine engineers in the world. We have to take one "humanities" class a semester so we can learn how to write effectively, which is used in the profession. They could care less about producing "proper, cultured" naval architects. Now, I admit there are certain projects that I feel have no bearing on my future, but those are few and far between, and I could care less about whether I do a good job on them or not (and this is the view of most of the class).

While Olex's solution may have worked for him and you, it is not a universal solution. I think ewv's post is more what I'm looking for. (I'll try to respond soon, ewv.)

This is the school Zak is attending, with this curriculum and this course schedule. It specializes in naval architecture and marine engineering, but it emphasizes, perhaps more than Zak fully realizes, the broad fundamentals of engineering in an integrated, hierarchical fashion. I can relate to what he is experiencing because I attended a similar high quality engineering school as an undergraduate, though it wasn't as small and included more specialties.

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Zak, reading your post (#15) I get the impression that if you had gotten a 95 you would still be unsatisfied and would be thinking you could/should be able to get a 98 or 99 or 100. There is a danger in this "could/should" thinking, however. "could", meaning logically possible, does not in fact mean "should" (in the sense of a moral dictate). The only proper meaning of "should" here (as regards your studies) is that you learn the material as best you can according to your current ability. You cannot do more than that. Numbers, like 90 or 95, are irrelevant. And, the attempt to find a more efficient way of studying should only mean a more efficient way of learning, irregardless of grade average numbers. Even here, "more efficient" should not necessarily mean "faster", but "more thorough", more integrated.

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R...C..., everything you describe is very common -- except your willlingness to work so hard. Ifatart isn't the only one who can say "If you had any idea how familiar your story is to me." If you had attention deficit disorder you wouldn't have gotten into a top private engineering school and be doing so well. To the extent you find yourself wasting time rather than focusing it is more likely a case of restless energy you need to learn to deal with.
This makes alot of sense. I think that one problem is I stopped playing sports because I decided to focus on school. I've been dealing with some injuries from soccer, but now I think I can start swimming and biking. Perhaps this will allow me to focus my energy elsewhere for a while and be more productive when I work. There is a fine line though - if I work too hard, I'm too tired to do school work and even more distracted.

From your description of your grades, what are you complainging about on that front? A 4.0 used to mean straight As. Is that what it is at your school? What else do you want at a very difficult engineering school? You will always want to understand things better and be able to do things faster. I still do -- and I was never satisfied with my study habits and understanding in a college (similar to yours) either. It is good that you are at a school where there is always more to stretch for.

Some students appear to be able to do things very quickly, but no matter how fast they catch on and have a knack for solving problems, it doesn't necessarily mean they are seeking or getting the depth of true understanding you demand for yourself. All that work you are putting in is going to pay off.

The problem of "procrastinate by going online, talking to other people, or just daydreaming" is a matter of self-discipline. The fact that you have identified it through introspection is the important first step. Just stay out of the dorm room bull sessions. Getting into the subject matter and staying focused is more a personal matter. I don't think you lack the motivation, just the way to implement it the way you want. Sometime the excitement of the material can itself be a distraction causing you to wander and "daydream". Be aware of that and learn to cut it off at a certain point and get back to the near term goal. Maybe you should read a book on dealing with procrastination. (I have one here but can't say much about it because I never got around to reading it.)

As for your statement, "It can take me hours and hours to do work if it is not due the next day. Psychologically, I cannot force myself to work efficiently unless I'm forced by a deadline", it is captured by the old saying, "Work expands to fill the time allotted to it", and that is not restricted to college homework. The better you learn to deal with this now the more it will help you in everything you do in the future. When you have more time you can afford to explore things you otherwise couldn't, but that's not an excuse to be inefficient unless there's nothing else you want to do with the time. :) Once you are on the job you will find that speed is not the main issue; you will have to go over and over your assumptions and calculations because they have to be right. But you will not be given much time to go back over your background and improve and fill in your basic understanding. Take advantage of the time you have to do that now while you still can. Once time is gone, it is gone forever.
Not to be rude, but I simply don't know how to deal with this. You understand the problem and explain why it's important to solve it, but offer no solution to it. I wish I could just force myself to do work like the deadline was the next day, but I have yet to figure out how to trick my mind into forgetting that I have time to do it. Perhaps the reason is that I was a long-time (and proud) procrastinator in high school. I could do any assignment in a night, no matter how large and always get an A. It just wasn't that hard. I guess I shouldn't expect to break that habit overnight.
As for legitimately not having enough time, as on a test, it is almost always that way. You have to know the material cold going into a test because you can't afford to spend time bringing things back or figuring out things you could already have at your immediate disposal. I worked out a strategy for that early on. It wasn't enough to have done the homework and understood what I read. I made sure the night before the test that I knew how to do all the problems in the homework and the examples, so it was explicit, not just vaguely implicit from understanding it when I read over it. I made sure I understood the basic principles to apply to each one (not just memorize the steps), and I could reproduce the derivations of the formulas needed, just in case I forgot something -- that also increased my confidence and my focus on what the principles were. As I went through the material the night before a test I made a set of abbreviated summary notes and hints to myself for a page or so of things I wasn't sure I would remember but thought I should. I went over those brief notes the day of the test right up to the beginning, in effect giving myself a running start going into the test. A also dealt with an early problem of "choking" under time pressure, doing worse than I knew I could have, by telling myself to forget the pressure -- I could only do whatever I could do, knowing that panicking over the time was guaranteed to make it worse. It all worked and I immediately started doing a lot better, improving my first term average from barely making the dean's list to gradually moving up to near the top of the class by the time of graduation with High Honors.
Yes, you are right. All of that is great advice. One of my goals this year is to prepare for each class like there is a test every week. That way when I'm reviewing for the actual test, I'm not trying to learn any material, just review the material that I already know I've learned.
You will find that you will develop your own habits for taking tests effectively, even though you will never like the pressure. But also never forget the difference between grades on tests and the knowledge you need to fully understand. Don't get into the habit of sacrificing either for the other by not worrying about one and not spending time on it because you don't need more time for the other.
Thanks again. Good advice. I generally think I understand the material better than my test scores show, and that works as a good psychological deterrent when a test does not go as well as I wanted to.
As for the time it takes to do problem sets, you may be able to improve with a more systematic approach in terms of thinking explicitly of what principles are to be used and connecting them with each specific problem until you get the patterns down. The Locke book on studying and motivation is rather general and does not deal with science and engineering in particular, so you will have to work out these things on your own. Part of what you are learning is how to do the whole educational process and how to think about the subject matter, its applications, and problem solving. There are no one-liners answering your questions.
No, you are right. I think I will benefit from studying Mr. Locke's book, as well as just experimenting to see what works for me. Understanding that these things take time will also help me not get down on myself for not affecting an immediate change.
You say you are inconsistent, giving an example from soccer? There is another old saying, "Inconsistency is the bane of amateurs". That is true for sports, music, art and just about everything else. By your last year you said you were more consistent in soccer. That is what you are learning how to do in engineering. If someone could tell you in advance you wouldn't need the experience, would you? Automatizing the proper mental processes is a complicated affair that only comes with time. Your four years there are for learning how and making that second nature, not just a sequence of material.
Yes, well, I have been playing soccer since I was like four. I played on a Premier team since seventh grade and started on the team since ninth. We went to the quarterfinals of state both my junior and senior year. Perhaps it was lack of experience, but somehow I think it was something else. I just don't know what.
No matter how frustrated you may become when you don't do as well as you think you could have, your high standards, commitment to honesty, and consistent efforts to do things right with no 'shortcuts' will pay off more than you know. And so will your efforts at introspection and thinking about how to do all these things.
Thank you.
How common is a 4.0 average in your class? At my college it was extremely rare and did not occur for all four years for anyone. Graduation required a 2.0 average and no course could be failed without retaking it and passing. At graduation the class average was 2.3 and half the entering freshman class didn't make it at all. There were very few of us up in the high 3.x range. Today it isn't at all like that there anymore and I wonder if the meaning of '4.0' at your school is giving us a different perspective.
I'm sorry if I was misleading. A 4.0 here at Webb is defined a little differently: an 88-100 average is a 4.0. Every class does not need to be a 88, just the average. I was ranked 8th in my class of 25 with an 88 average. One reason I said I have decent grades was not to understate it - I really do just have decent grades. I should have clarified that earlier, but I don't want the discussion to be about my grades. They're okay, but no amazing.
From what you describe I'm sure you can be more efficient and do even better, but you should also realize that it takes time for abstract concepts and knowledge to sink in no matter how fast you might read it or hear it in lectures. Your understanding will continue to improve over time as you gain more experience with it, think about it more, and encounter it again from different perspectives. One way to do that is to take a job as a teaching assistant in a course you have already had. You will learn much more of it as you go over it again and figure out what it takes to explain it to others.
We don't have any TA's here, but perhaps in graduate school this would be a good option.

Thanks again ewv. I appreciate your help.

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[...] I wish I could just force myself to do work like the deadline was the next day, but I have yet to figure out how to trick my mind into forgetting that I have time to do it. Perhaps the reason is that I was a long-time (and proud) procrastinator in high school. I could do any assignment in a night, no matter how large and always get an A. It just wasn't that hard. I guess I shouldn't expect to break that habit overnight.

Do you know if the "other marine facilities" field trips will include visits to places like manufacturers of methacrylates, or an insurance investigator who manipulates GHS and Mathematica to explain machinery failures? For your visits I suggest you bring a camera or at least a voice recorder with you regardless of whether the trips are detailed or cursory. If you get to not only look at the leak tests in the vessel logbook, but also get to see what gives the vessel its max astern speed, if you get to look at an actual feeder circuit and motor controller in a "real" ship, you'll get a chance to apply the school materials in a way that will boost your enthusiasm for homework and reinforce your resolve to stick to a self-timing routine as Betsy suggested. If the field trips are cursory/general where you only get to see the sensors and hull but aren't told to turn x-ray vision on, I would still try to squeeze as much learning out of the trips as possible by being a keen questioner and photographer, and discuss with an equally enthusiastic friend what tools one could use to validate those sensors compatibility and fitness during installation, and compare cabling costs of various steering systems you see, etc.

About those 12 hours per night, it depends what you are doing exactly during that time in the statics problems you gave as an example. If you are (for example) connecting shipyard observations to a homework question/a concept touched on in a lecture, and musing how a sensor could self-calibrate to account for vessel movements where the tank has a funny shape so that the sensor gives accurate fluid level measurements, I would not call that daydreaming at all but productive integration. Perhaps you've mentioned what it is you do in those 12 hours, and if you have I'm afraid I've missed reading it in this thread. Active involvement in your fieldtrips should help to improve your response speed academically because it is real experience of applying your knowledge that requires you to be certain of what you know to explain what you see.

In terms of rushing on the verge of a deadline even if you're doing the beneficial integration I just mentioned, have you tried setting yourself your own deadline in advance of the real one and sticking to it? Spending 3 days thinking about something that can be done in 1 sounds like an agonizing waste of time in a library when there's so much in libraries to explore (like naval architecture history). If you use Betsy’s self-timing suggestion, you can learn to stick to your own deadline, which still gives you time on Saturday and Sunday to spot gas turbine air inlets, or better yet, figure out what makes various steering gear components reliable, in a shipyard near you. I realize you'll probably want to watch a movie or go skiing so that your life isn't "ruined", but the point I'd like to add to ewv's comments is that the real world application of knowledge that got you so interested in your field of study in the first place is what maintains that glowing enthusiasm, not "This is my career. I'd better start acting like it is.", so setting yourself your own deadline can give you a bigger slice of time of the time pie to pursue those real world applications in greater and greater detail as you get to the end of your undergrad years.

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Miss Cometmaker,

I spent about an hour replying to your post, but when I hit "Add Reply", my computer malfunctioned and it was erased. Sorry, but I don't have the time or energy to reply again right now.

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