Friday, 12 October 2012

Persistence is the key to learning


In our professional careers and lives we have to continuously learn new things. Whether it’s learning a new programming language or playing a guitar for fun. This process can be daunting and uninspiring in some circumstances. It can also be easy and fun; that it is if it all comes natural to you.

However it is when you can’t seem to understand whatever it is that you are learning that’s very important for today’s discussion.

It’s really frustrating to be unable to learn and understand something  you really like and need. This disappointments can tempt you to think that,  maybe you are just not intelligent or talented enough to learn and understand whatever you want or need to learn. This might lead you into giving up.

I remember quite well the shock I felt when the school authorities told me I had to do Mathematics at A-Level. A lot of students where shunning the subject; the school needed to meet a certain number of students. They ended forcing students who had good mathematics results at o-level to study it. The truth of the matter is that I had struggled with mathematics at ordinary level, but in the end I had pulled myself together and ended getting on the best results.

The problem was advanced level mathematics was a different ball game. I had seen a lot of bright students fail. I begrudgingly took the subject. Unfortunately advanced level mathematics did not disappoint; it was just difficult as I thought before. I worked very hard to improve myself in mathematics but unfortunately I couldn’t quite do it. I failed most of the tests that we were given.

I began to think that maybe I wasn’t just cut off for this. I couldn’t  get what  other bright student easily picking up what I couldn’t just understand. If I had been given an opportunity, I would have given up. Fortunately there was no way out; I wouldn’t have discovered an important lesson. It was barely two months and I was already feeling like giving up; very weak.

The other subjects that I was studying, economics and management, were going incredible well for me. Actual I was the top student in both of them, constantly scoring the highest marks in the tests. Only mathematics was threatening to spoil the party. I wanted excellent results at the end of the course and it wasn’t going to happen if I  continued to fail mathematics.

After a lot of soul searching, I decided that I wasn’t going to fail no matter what. I was going to work very hard to turn this around. I just told myself I wasn’t going to give up if I fail to understand something. So if I fail to solve a certain mathematics problem, I would do it again until I got it right. It was really matter of firing lot of bullets until you hit the target. Whatever natural ability I lacked, I compensated with sheer determination and persistence.

Time passed and I was improving slowly but not enough to say I was now really good. By the second term I had improved greatly but I still thought I wasn’t good enough. I would even surprise myself when we finally sat for the end of term exams. Everyone was complaining how difficult the exam but I hadn’t felt it. I just thought maybe I had gotten comfortable writing the wrong answers to the extent that I hadn’t felt the difficultiness  of the paper.

When the results finally came, I got the biggest shock of my life then. I had scored a cool 80% and the next best student had 65%. I was the highest and the best mathematics student in the class by a wide margin. The paper we had wrote was by admission of the teachers, one of the most difficult papers they had seen. The paper did not follow the standards which were supposed to be used. This was mostly because our teacher was just starting out having recently graduated a year before.  Nevertheless I had scored a mouth-watering mark in a paper three quarters had failed. It felt really good; I would never forget the feeling.

I became quite confident and mathematics just felt natural to me. I never had problems again with it again; instead I was constantly pushing its boundaries. I would later use this technique when I was learning C++ and any other thing that I found difficulty, and worked with much the results. It’s now quite clear to me that persistence is what is required to learn anything that’s difficult.

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