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As a Computer Science student, I have to deal with a lot of new information every day. While learning new concepts, we also have to learn multiple programming languages at the same time, learning mathematics and a lot of other stuff. I am a very committed student, and i invest almost all my time into university, so my Grades are really good.

The problem that i encounter all the time, is that i am overloaded with information, that i can't process as i would like to.

Five days a week, for about 8 hours a day, we get presented a lot of material. At my university, it is common practice to present about 50 to 100 slides per class each week. So at the end of each week, 300 or often more new slide are given to us students.

Me, as a writing and communicative type of learner, I try to summarize all the content, that we study every week.

But with the semester going on, the stack of unprocessed slide (and taken notes) grows bigger and bigger. And it really freaks me out. (And from experience I know, that at the end of the semester, the pile of notes is put into a folder and never looked at again...)

I feel more stressed each week, i can't really focus on all the assignments, that are also given to us every week, because i know, i have to summarize all the information for the upcoming exams at the end of the semester. I often have the feeling, that, if i don't sum up the content and make a lots of notes, i will forget the things i´ve learned in class.

I have tried a lot of things, to minimize the efford of summarizing: I tried using Tools like Evernote or OneNote, creating Documents for each topic, I even created my own InDesign-Summaries (which looked admittedly really nice ;D). But at the end of the day, the problem seems not to be the way, i summarize information, but the way i process and consume the information.

For programming, as a computer science student you need not that much knowledge of the languages, you can just google it. But for the rest of it, there's a lot of stuff to know.

Question: What could I do to reduce stress from my studies and become a more effective learner?

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    Actually, there is nothing special about CS here. Students of other fields also have a lot of things thrown at them constantly and it is an effort to sort it out. That doesn't deny or lessen your problem, of course. – Buffy Oct 20 '18 at 18:36
  • Are you really in lectures 5 days a week, 8 hours each day? I studied engineering and we had the highest contact ratio of any course : 24 hrs per week, Law or marketing had 8 hours per week... – Solar Mike Oct 21 '18 at 0:42
  • @SolarMike You are probably right, some days we have 11 hours of classes and on other days we have maybe 4 to 5. I also included the time, i stay at university for preparation, learning and breaks. I just counted all my classes and we have about 25 to 30 hours classes in total. – Tobias Oct 21 '18 at 5:48
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It is hard to diagnose a problem at a distance and I'm not sure I have a good sense of the core issues, but one thing seems to stand out in your post. I wonder if you are trying to treat every fact and bullet point as of equal weight, value, and importance. That normally isn't true, even in technical subjects like CS. A good lecturer will come to class with a few (about 3) important points that need to be made. Everything else will support those. You want to walk away from the class knowing what those are.

Of course, some professors will walk in with a big powerpoint deck and just run through the slides as if they are all important. Those lectures may sound good, but a more focused approach would be better for them and for you. You can't affect that, of course. But if it is possible for you to do it, try to get the professor to distribute those slides prior to class. My strong advice is to print them out on paper, maybe 2-up or 4-up, and take notes directly on the printed slides. No more than a few words per slide. Don't try to capture every word.

I also wonder what you mean by "summarizing" your notes. Some people would, again, mean trying to capture every thought. Capturing them by typing them isn't actually very effective in getting it into your brain, as opposed to your computer. What you want is to distill the notes into the few key ideas that make the rest of it easier to grasp.

However, don't neglect to do the assigned exercises. That is where real learning occurs. Focus especially on the assignments.


If your university/professor permits, it might be worth forming a study group with some (three or four) of the other students. Get together a few times a week and exchange ideas about what is important and also ideas about how to learn the stuff.

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    Upvote for the exercises! – Oleg Lobachev Oct 20 '18 at 22:18
  • When i summarize the content, i try to gather the important information of each slide and write them down for later reading. But this leads, like you already guessed, often to me, copying the same content in different sentences and a different language. Because we have that many slides/information (which are btw. all distributed online at the beginning of the semester), it's often hard to tell, what information is really worth remembering. I almost always do understand the key ideas, while other students have sometimes problems with. The additional information is what gives me headaches. – Tobias Oct 21 '18 at 5:22
  • There are universities that disallow forming a study group? – koalo Oct 21 '18 at 6:16
  • @Tobias I upvoted this answer for print them out on paper, maybe 2-up or 4-up, and take notes directly on the printed slides because it's more efficient than using computers. It's slow to type some CS/Math stuff than other fields like humanities (in plain English texts). – scaaahu Oct 21 '18 at 7:58
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Good for you for trying to analyze and improve your process. In some sense, in that way, you are already thinking like a Computer Scientist.

All evidence points to the fact that your "summarise all the content" strategy is simply not working. Perhaps this was a strategy that you were taught in high school (U.S. age 15-18), and worked for you previously. I'm sure this was of benefit, and allowed you to digest and think about the material in your own way. But now this is clearly (a) taking more time than you can budget for it, and (b) making you extremely unhappy about falling behind on your accustomed process.

Consider this: The lecture slides presented by your professors are already significantly summarized/cut-down versions of a textbook or other written presentation of the material. So one can argue that maybe it's not really worth having a summary-of-summary on hand. Other options could be: (a) Read the slides closely enough that you simply understand what they are saying on the first pass. (b) Focus during the lecture closely enough, and ask any questions, such that you walk away mostly knowing what was covered. (c) Read the associated textbook for the desired second-perspective, ideally before the lecture.

Two personal anecdotes:

  • Late in my own college career, I finally discovered that I was personally better off not taking notes during a lecture, and simply watching/listening with full focus, and relying on the book to fill in any details later. Nowadays you have the lecture slides as an added middle-ground resource that we didn't have ~30 years ago.

  • As a lecturer, I was told to use a certain process for grading homework that, guess what, I constantly fell behind on, felt anxious and guilty about, built up during the semester, etc. It was critical for me to redesign the homework process in a way that was tractable and productive. Find a study process that makes you feel joy, excitement, and curiosity about starting it. (Or conversely: Take whatever makes you excited and curious and energized and build your study process around that.)

  • I find it usually easy to get, what the class/slide are saying. With that said, I totally aggree with you, focussing on the class. I used to take a lot more (handwritten) notes in the previous semesters. The first thing that i noticed, was that i was sacrificing my attention to class for taking notes. What I think won't work for me, is reading the related textbook to the slides, since they often are 1000 pages or more to read. Although I really like to read related and unrelated articles online and CS-books. – Tobias Oct 21 '18 at 5:32
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I'll take a broad swing, there is nothing CS-specific in my answer. In fact, my own experiences are from mathematics, I know of people who had similar experiences with medicine.

I'll go from a generic view to more personal specifics.

Epiphany

You learn, learn, and learn, keep on collecting information. It seems unneeded, forced, and definitive too much. Then, at some moment, you have a satori.

You suddenly release that all those loose factoids fit together, there is a system behind them. This system makes it easier to understand and "make fit" further factoids and even whole methodic approaches and design patterns in the later studies. You suddenly find out, you can learn faster and gasp the material with more speed.

Actually, in the later life (if you keep on doing this), your learning speed increases further, the famous "ability to gasp complex concepts" that many job adverts want is just miraculously there, etc. Mostly it's not connected with such a cathartic "now I know how the world works" moment, it's the first breakthrough that is so hard. But it's always a nice feeling when it finally happens.

What to do

Keep on. Stay at ball. Continue learning.

You are not the first, and not the last, who has difficulties in understanding "why do we keep learning all this". As far as I know, little can be done to help you understanding the "why", because it actually makes perfectly sense to the lecturers. It just needs to do a "click" in your head. It can take years. No, really.

So, what immensely helps, is to get another perspective. Read a yet another book, possibly: one being touted as a "different view on things". Talk with your fellow students. And please, please, listen to professors and tutors. In many cases the spoken, informal description of things facilitates much better understanding than a fully correct formal description, typically found in books.

Learning types

Aside from "not understanding why are we doing this" you seem to have a somewhat related problem. You are not getting the information into your head fast enough.

It is related to the "epiphany" thing above. When you finally have a "system" behind the facts and methods you are learning, it is much easier to store more (conforming) facts in your head.

But the minutely problems with learning might suggest that you use different "learning type" approaches than you are. Two things from my personal experience, but you might be radically different in this regard.

  • Focus on listening to the lecturer and understanding. Too many students are preoccupied taking notes. (I have a feeling, it is even worse digitally. Pen and paper, anyone?)

    You might be able to find the material in its formal form online, in a book, or where not later. You might not be able to find an understandable informal explanation of the issue the lecturer gave you orally, when you were to busy coping the formal thing down.

    I would say that your goal in a lecture is not obtaining enough learnable material for later revision, as funny as it may sound. Yes, you'd need to obtain it later. But your (minor) goal is to find out, how to obtain it. Your major goal in a lectures is to obtain understanding. "Listen to the music, not to the song."

  • Taking handwritten notes works best for me. You might be different. I can remember much better the things I have written down. When revising for exams I was writing notes of my actual course notes with book knowledge thrown in. Even worse, for final revision I had notes of the notes! It helped.

    It might be hard to listen to the professor and to make notes simultaneously, especially in early semesters. It is a learnable skill, however. You'd become better with time. My personal suggestion is to prioritise listening and understanding to making notes. You will always be able to pull that proof, that exact statement of a theorem, that corner case, and that exact taxonomy from a book or online lecture material. Conjuring understanding is harder.

You seem to be on a right way. Experiment more and find out what works better.

An old (and may be not-so-appropriate nowadays), but quite true statement is that freshmen rather learn how to learn than learn something useful yet. It's in the later semesters when the actual knowledge is transferred. You'd still have trouble both ingesting it, if you are not fast enough, and understanding it, if you missed the foundations from the freshmen years. So, take this saying with a grain of salt.

  • I do take handwritten notes in class, that i later-on try! to summarize on my computer. You won't believe it, but all my classmates take handwritten notes or no notes at all, except one guy. But my own notes + the slides provided + any additional information are so much information, that i can't really process. At the end of the last semester, I had about 300 to 400 handwritten Din-A-4 notes, that i have never touched again since I wrote them. I really like learning new things, but I feel like i will forget all of it over time again. – Tobias Oct 21 '18 at 5:41
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    @Tobias My suggestion: don't type them. What you need to do is to review those hand-writing notes to see if anything wrong (You might misunderstand the lecturer's words). Don't waste your time re-typing them. – scaaahu Oct 21 '18 at 8:25
  • @Tobias Definitely don't waste your time re-typing them. I think I also tried that for one semester and it was, I agree, a total waste. (If the issue is storage/archiving then just scan your handwritten notes.) – Daniel R. Collins Oct 21 '18 at 14:11
  • @scaaahu, Daniel R. Collins My notes often are really chaotic, and i really can't figure out what they were about a few weeks later. – Tobias Oct 21 '18 at 17:19
  • @Tobias: Well, I did a full-fledged typed-up script of a base lecture basing on my (and other's) notes. But if not a good friend of mine, whose idea it was and who, frankly, did most of the work, an overhelming majority of it, actually. Well, if not him, I wouldn't make it then, it was just too much load for that time. I still learned TeX, that's an upside though. What should this tell you? Well, cooperating with fellow students might help! – Oleg Lobachev Oct 21 '18 at 20:31
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I would like to give a slightly different perspective. You already say that your grades are really good and that you have no problems with the understanding, but you seem to invest too much time to try to remember all details. You definitely have to think about your goals in university!

Do you want to become a walking knowledge base? Then continue with your approach. Do you want to have the best possible grades? In my experience, the step from the second best to the best grade takes the most time to study because it requires you to answer all the most detailed questions (something that might be mentioned briefly on a single slide). But usually remembering all details is not necessary for achieving good grades on average, because many questions are more about basic concepts, the application of an algorithm or sometimes even slightly modified exercise questions. And in the end, a degree with some worse grades is better than no degree because you abort university due to burn-out and depression. I have a friend who went the second way after having only top grades...

You want to be a good computer scientist? Then there are other skills that are more important than knowing details from lectures. And you learn those by doing an interesting and fun side project. Maybe you program a game or get a Raspberry Pi to build some cool stuff. Mentioning this later in an interview can even give you an advantage over someone with a better grade in discrete math IV, unless you want to do a PhD in discrete math.

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