Learning in college ends up different from high school

Frequest transitions from topic to topic discourages retention of material, diminishes feeling of achievement

As I continue to trudge through the mid-semester lull of RPI, right before exams start, on the brink of stressed but not getting panic attacks, I’ve come to the conclusion that my experience at RPI is really starting to feel like the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it”.

In high school, there used to be a tangible effort I could feel myself putting into essays and calculus homework. I would get an assignment, think about it, go to my teachers for help, write the paper or do the problems, look over them, watch videos if I didn’t understand the material, go to my teachers for help or critiques again, and so on. I could feel myself learning, and applying my knowledge to assignments. Even though I took 5–6 classes per semester, there always seemed to be ample time to put full effort into everything.

Obviously, that’s just not the case at a school like RPI. You can’t put 100 percent effort into all of your classes sometimes; there are simply not enough hours in the day. Even though I still go to office hours, edit my work, and learn/study on my own, there’s always too much stuff going on in my studies to actually sit and feel like I learned something. Even if I go to office hours and finally understand a concept, or finally find a huge bug in my program, once I have that small victory I move on to the next thing on my list, and keep going and going until the weekend when I at least get a small break. However, on that small break, my list just shifts from school work to home and social work. Clearly, being social is more fun than doing homework, but there’s still not a moment to sit and relish the small achievements of the week.

This is why I constantly feel like I’m faking it until I make it. I study, and study, and study, and do homework, and study more, and I take a test and, hopefully, the grade turns out okay and then I move onto the next topic or the next class. How I got from that first study session to, hopefully, doing well on an exam is pretty blurry, and that’s why it feels fake. It doesn’t feel like my mind is absorbing anything, but rather just taking in knowledge temporarily, spitting it out onto a test paper or essay, and then slowly drifting out of my brain.

This definitely is not a good thing, and of course I do retain some knowledge. But as that knowledge gets pushed further back into my brain to make room for new topics, I feel like I’m faking it ‘til I make it when I complete a course and wonder how I did all that and how I passed all those exams.

I wish I could end this with some hopeful conclusion and practical advice, like take an hour out of your day after every class day and go over your notes, but honestly, who has the time? All the scheduling in the world can’t create more hours in the day. If anyone has figured out how to feel like they actually know things, please enlighten me with your wisdom.

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