I'm a sophomore student in Engineering, and searching for ways to improve the way I study, I've been reviewing how I studied last year, trying to improve my methodology where I can.

Being a somewhat gifted student, I never had to study during high school (nor did I ever want to), leading to me having to not only having learn the new concepts in my classes (like any student), but also teaching myself how to study efficiently. Amongst other things, I looked at the way I handle the exercise sessions.

The way these work is every student is put into a small group of 7-8 people for a semester, and for every class they have to work together in order to do these sessions, as well as some other projects which aren't entirely relevant here. Being used to other students always telling me stuff along the lines of "wow you're so smart" during high school classes, it hit me pretty hard when all of a sudden doing exercises for school wasn't a walk in the park anymore. That's when I decided to basically write over sample solutions (thinking about what was in them), instead of ploughing through the exercises like the other students.

While my results last year were decent (I think I was around 60th out of 530 students in my course), I feel like this can't be the best way to do these exercises (seen as at least 60 other people managed to get higher grades than me).

I'm fairly sure they aren't more intelligent than me, yet they consistently get higher grades than I do, which is somewhat frustrating to a competitive-minded person like me.

So tl;dr my question would be : "Should I keep on trying to understand the sample solutions provided by my prof or should I instead settle on ploughing through them like everyone else?".

  • 6
    First, you should stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. – ff524 Oct 24 '17 at 22:56
  • @ff524 I get that, but a lot depends on how my grades are compared to the rest of the students'. By that I mean the exchange programs we have with other universities, btw. – Peiffap Oct 24 '17 at 23:09
  • 2
    @Peiffap Your grades are not as important as you think they are. Establish relationships with your professors and pursue opportunities to show your skills outside of class. Most professors would prefer a solid "B" student who is a "good student" than an "A" student they never see or hear from. Those professors are the key to good recommendations, and those will take you much farther than grades will. Bad grades can disqualify you from something, but good grades vs. really spectacular grades will not often be the difference between success and failure. – David Oct 25 '17 at 3:24
  • @David Thanks, I'll definitely keep that in mind! – Peiffap Oct 25 '17 at 7:18

Excuse my frankness but, this sound completely normal. One of the best things about University is the lesson that no matter how brilliant or 'gifted' you were in high school there is always somebody at University who is better and will perform at a higher standard than you. As a start, get out of the mindset that you're 'better than everybody else' and superior as that attitude won't get you far.

You can't fast track learning how to learn. It's something you need to develop yourself over time as not everybody studies, retains information or understands things in the same way.

Got a bad mark on your exam? Maybe don't study the same way next time. Try something else. Maybe start a study group with your 'lesser' peers who did better than you on the test and you might learn something from them.

Don't try and diminish the successes of others because you feel you are smarter than them. Maybe they had to work hard their entire lives to get to where they are and they're well equipped for a University level environment.

  • First of all, thank you for answering! Second of all, I feel like I might've worded it badly. I'm not trying to diminish their results. Quite the opposite actually; I'm impressed and intrigued by how they manage them, and want to know how they achieve them. I'm not sure if that makes it any clearer but with that "they're not smarter than me" part, I just wanted to express that I feel like I can still improve the way I work a lot, giving me a tiny bit of hope of not being doomed to be the eternal "good but not great" student – Peiffap Oct 25 '17 at 7:24
  • Well are you impressed or are you frustrated about it? You don't need to convince me of anything, but you need to decide for yourself what you're feeling about the situation. To me, it sounds as though you're feeling less 'special' than you did during high school. That is, essentially, academic life however. You aren't the smartest person in the room/institute/field and the sooner you can accept that the sooner you can improve on yourself. Also, be mindful of how you word things. Despite intents, saying 'this entire cohort is less smart than I am' can come off snobbish and elitist. – Eppicurt Oct 25 '17 at 9:36

If you are reading sample solutions instead of first going through the exercises on your own you are indeed hindring your learning progress. Understanding solutions and finding them yourself require quite differents skillsets.

In particular, during the exam you will have to come up with your own solutions and so you need practice doing just that. I would usually recommend first trying to find the solution on your own and then if you found a solution or have spent an appropriate amount of time trying to find it, compare it to the sample solution. This will also make sure that you don't trick yourself into thinking you understand more than you actually do.

Considering the rest of your post I agree that you should not focus too much on comparing yourself to other students and you should not worry about taking some time to really find the best way for you to study, but I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to improve the way you learn.

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