Stop Trying to Memorize Concepts

By Amelia Lipcsei

Unlike many other subjects, math and physics require little to no memorization. Because of this, flashcards, quizlets, and notes often fail to adequately prepare people for success on tests. I remember studying for hours for my first physics test and still getting a 50% on it. Although a humbling moment, the experience forced me to broaden my idea of “successful” studying—which often consisted of looking over notes and trying to memorize concepts—and find new ways to learn and understand information. To spare others the unfortunate incident of failing a test after putting in too much effort, I’ve created a list of my favorite ways to study for math and physics classes. 

Form study groups:

Although this sounds like it requires a lot of effort, creating a study group can actually make learning material much more approachable and enjoyable. During both my years of taking AP Physics, I found that talking through problems with other students allowed me to understand the concepts at a deeper level. Usually, some people struggle with different concepts more than others, so the people who better understand certain parts of the material can help explain it to others. This teaching method improves the understanding of both the person explaining and the person learning. Often, answering questions forces people to catch which concepts they still don’t fully understand. At the same time, hearing another student’s perspective on a problem benefits the person still trying to figure out the main idea. Additionally, study groups can help hold people accountable. Setting meeting times, either in person or over Zoom, forces people to actually show up and make an effort to understand the material. 

Utilize verbal review:

Although I recommend this study method for all classes, I find it especially helpful for physics and math courses. Just sit down with somebody and talk through all problems and concepts—even the ones that seem completely understandable. Trying to explain something out loud allows people to catch their mistakes. Sometimes, students think that they fully understand a notion until they begin trying to put the idea into words. Utilizing verbal review allows people to understand the material at a much deeper level. At the same time, it also makes studying much more enjoyable than just sitting in silence. 

Do practice problems:

After learning as much of the material as possible, find an online AP workbook (or another workbook with similar questions) and do practice problems. Working on new problems related to the concepts being taught can aid students in realizing what questions they still have about the material. Often, I’ve found that doing questions ahead of time increases my performance during tests. Personally, I tend to struggle the most with time management during tests, so working on practice problems and finding quicker ways to approach them has helped me succeed in allocating the right amounts of time per problem on test day. Practice problems also benefit people in seeing where they need to improve. 

Ask teachers for help:

I highly recommend students make a list of questions to ask teachers while they work on homework, practice problems, and other materials. Sometimes, trying to figure out a particularly difficult problem can make studying truly painful. To avoid this, I advise students to skip the problem, write down what they don’t understand about it, and ask their teacher for help during study hall. Rather than wasting hours figuring out a concept, students should utilize their teachers, who will probably be able to explain it in less than ten minutes.