HELP! I Don’t Understand What I’m Studying

We all have this problem. When we study, we run into situations where we don't understand what we read. Perhaps you experience this way right now.

There are several things you can do.

Let's have a look at them and help you out of this situation.

HELP! I Don't Understand What I'm Studying

11 Ways to help you understand what you study

Most of the time you understand what you are studying. You can connect different concepts. You can understand the details and how they relate to the big picture.

Sometimes things get tough. You don't see the Why, What, or How in your studies.

I would like to give you 11 ways to deal with this. The most important thing to realize is that this is a good situation. When you occasionally feel this way, you know you are growing. You are expanding your knowledge into new areas.

When this happens all the time, you are probably not ready right now to study this field. Luckily there is a solution for that too (have a look at the first solution).

Let's go!


1. Make sure you have the right background knowledge

You can only understand something new if you have enough background information. Have a look at a mind map with concepts near the center and details at the outside of the map. You can learn about details all day long. But when you can't connect it to the concepts, you won't understand everything.

So taking up higher calculus probably isn't a good idea when you haven't gone through calculus 101.

TIP: Make sure you have enough background information to expand your knowledge.


2. Don't ask others!

Sure, you can run to your professor or other students. They might know the answer. They could even give you the solution to the problem you are working on. 

But... what have you learned from the problem? You didn't do the thinking or hard work yourself.

TIP: Grow by taking at least half an hour to find a solution before you ask others.


3. Use a Mind Map

Yep, here we go again, our good old mind map. For me, a mind map is a different way to look at the same information. 

Take information from a book. Create a mind map. Visualize your information and you will perceive the information differently. You will connect the concepts and details in other ways. This creates new insights.

The result is improved understanding.

The beauty of the mind maps is also that you can reorganize the map. Take one of the ideas discussed in the map, and build the map around that idea.

For example, your main map is about the different emotions people feel throughout the day. Create a new map that explains everything by using the pituitary gland as the center of your map. You create new insights this way.


TIP: Change your perspective to get new insights and understanding


4. Find a different angle to study your topic

We touched upon this in the previous tip (about the mind map).

People get stuck in their studies because they are too rigid. They keep looking at information from the same angle.

Do you remember the famous scene from Dead Poets Society?

Exactly, that's my point 🙂

TIP: Change your perspective, change your view. This helps you grow your understanding


5. USE your information

Don't make studying something you can only do sitting at your desk! To benefit the most from your studies, you have to go out there and use the information.

When you don't understand what you study, start experimenting. Take a part of your problem and do a small experiment. See what happens. Learn by doing. You will see and feel what happens.

Even if you fail, you learn new things that help you use to grow your knowledge.

TIP: Everything is an experiment when you study. Go out there and experiment!


6. Go back to basics

When you don't understand what you study, you might have gone too fast. You may have skipped the basics. If that is the case, don't be afraid or ashamed to go back.

I often had this, especially in studying mechanical engineering. The basics were easy. I understood forces and what happens in those situations.

What I wanted to study were more complex problems. But... it often was too complex and I didn't understand what was going on. So I stepped back and studied less complex problems.

This boosted my confidence and knowledge and I could move forward again.

TIP: Don't skip the basics! Understand the basic concepts and build on them.


7. Find an answer on Youtube or quora.com

There are so many solutions to problems out there already. You can probably find a Youtube video solution in your native language.

You can also ask your question on quora.com and receive a detailed answer from experts all over the world. 

Make sure you don't go too deep into this rabbit hole! Often one video leads to another, and another... Get your solution and continue with your studies on your own.

I feel like most of the progress I've made is by learning on my own. I may have received tips, but the real work had to be done by myself.

TIP: Use Youtube or Quora.com for a breakthrough when you get stuck


8. Connect with your inner child

Did you make your problem too complex? If so, you need to simplify the problem.

Can you explain your problem as if you are talking to a child? Can you break down all the difficult and big words into words a child uses?

When you can do this, you may have found the solution to your problem. We often tend to make things too difficult. We do this by using big, fancy, important-sounding words.

Physicist Richard Feynman used this method. He used it to understand and teach topics like quantum physics. His lectures are online (and they are famous):

TIP: Explain your problem as if you talk to a child to simplify what you don't understand.


9. Go to the expert

Yes, I know that method number two was that you shouldn't ask others. I also said that you first have to try for 30 minutes. But after that, you can ask your professor.

You can also send a message to the author of the book you study. In these times you can often easily connect with authors and experts.

When you ask them politely, they probably answer your question. I know I like it when readers and students reach out to me. Might even be the same for others 🙂

Make sure you ask your question as clearly as possible. The experts are not there to solve your problem. They can help you find your solution by giving advice.

TIP: Ask your professor or the author of your book to help you (after you tried and tried it yourself first)


10. Start with the end in mind

When I talk with students, they often start at the beginning of a new chapter. They go through each page and every little detail. Somewhere between the first page and the end of the chapter, they lose track.

Most of the time, this is because they get lost in the details.

The best way to stay focused on the outcome is to know the outcome. Go through the summary of the chapter first. This tells you what is important. After that, you go through your chapter.

Because you know your outcome, you can take important ideas and terms and remember them. Less important information can be treated accordingly.

TIP: Start with the end in mind and work your way back to simplify your studies (or projects)


11. Walk away

Sometimes the best thing to do is walk away. Let is sink in during a good night of sleep.

I often found that I am too tired, my head is too full, or I need to stop overthinking. A sweet solution is to walk away.

Don't try to cram everything into one study session of a couple of hours.

Don't study too long. It is better to focus on your studies for 2 hours than study for 8 hours. Study sessions of 25 minutes may even be better. You have to give yourself time!

Going through a book of 200 pages is difficult to do in two days.

But when you give yourself 3 weeks things get easier. It is the difference between reading 100 pages per day or 10 pages per day. What is better for your understanding you think?

Walking away clears your head. It allows different ideas to form.

Perhaps you can walk away. Do a little practical experiment on a different idea you've been studying. This may open up your brain for other ideas.

TIP: When you don't understand what you are studying, it is a good idea to walk away and clear your mind

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How you can use this

Here you go, 11 ways to create more understanding and clarity in your studies.

My advice to you is that you try some of them to help you in your studies.

It is all about finding other perspectives on your problem. Reframe the information and find a new angle or solution.

My question for you is: What did you use to improve your understanding?

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