How to Learn Anything

It’s New Years, and a lot of you are currently making resolutions and setting goals for the coming year. If one of your goals is to learn something new, or something that you’ve always wanted to learn, this post is for you. If that’s not you, keep reading — this is a cool story.

The hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn is Calculus. Specifically, it was calculus as taught in a horrific course I was forced to take in University called Calculus 2 for Engineers.

The marking was brutal. Here’s how it worked:

There were three midterms and a final exam. Each midterm was worth 15% of the final grade, the other 45% was the exam. No assignments, no labs, just midterms and an exam. And were those midterms ever vicious! Each one had only seven questions, and they were multiple choice. It was common to have pages of formulae and calculations for any given answer, and if you made even one tiny mistake — a flipped minus sign, a minor addition error, etc — then BAM! There goes 2% of your final grade.

It was awful, and probably the most feared course in all of Engineering at U of O.

One of the most vivid memories I have of University is sitting in class after getting our second midterm back. I failed it, just like I failed the first one.

The guy next to me, a friend of mine, was in the same situation. He turned to me, and he said:

“Dan, we can pass this course. All we have to do is one hour of calculus every day for the rest of the semester. It’ll work. I’m sure of it.”

I probably said I’d “totally do it”, and I might have even stuck with it for the first week or two. But I didn’t follow through, and much to my disappointment (but hardly a surprise), I failed the third midterm, and the exam.

This is the only course I’ve ever failed.

That friend of mine stuck with his plan. He did one hour of calculus every day for the rest of the semester, and passed Calculus 2 for Engineers with a B+. Not bad, considering he failed the first third of the course.

So if you want to learn anything, whether it’s calculus, how to juggle, or how to speak Italian, all you need is discipline. You don’t need to be smart, you don’t need fancy tools or textbooks or courses, you don’t even need a teacher or mentor. All you need is discipline.

Do it for an hour a day.

What are you going to learn?

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6 Responses to “How to Learn Anything”

  1. Jeannot Langlois Says:

    Nice way to put it Dan!

    I find it amusing that this is also the only course I’ve ever failed at first try too.
    I definitely had more discipline the second time around :)

  2. dan Says:

    Hey Jeannot! Long time no see!

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggled with it :)

  3. Johnny B Says:

    Not to nitpick, but I’m pretty sure it was just Calculus 2, I don’t remember it being “for Engineers”.

    That being said, I’ve only failed 3 midterms and Calc 2 had one of them. It wasn’t difficult material per se, but somehow the course ended up being quite difficult. I don’t remember why…

    Was the friend Speranzini? I think he did 1 hour a day for that course…

  4. dan Says:

    You are correct about Speranzini!

    You may also be right about the course title, but I know it’s not the same as the watered-down calculus Leah took for her paltry science degree.

    The problem with Calc 2 was partly that the material was difficult, at least compared to most courses, but I blame the marking scheme. Multiple choice is a stupid way to grade math.

  5. Alex Says:

    I completely agree with your message, though it did remind me of this demotivational poster that I saw originally way back at about cal2 time..

    http://www.despair.com/incompetence.html

  6. dan Says:

    Haha I love that picture. Nails are lame :)

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