Reflection: HOW I Keep Active Learning

If you ask me the most critical secret to achieve excellent academic performance, I would say active learning. Active learning is the most important habit I learn in my study.

Active Learning: The Treasure I Gained in High School

I had the habit of active learning starting from high school. Before high school, I am primarily a passive learner who only learns what teachers taught me. Comparing to learning, I prefer playing games like most boys.

I still remember my physics teacher Mr. She who taught me physics in my last two years of high school. One of his instructions is to finish the exercises before having the lecture. In the beginning, I felt confused and pressured. I was a diligent student who would finish homework as soon as it is assigned, and I planned my study schedule every day, the habit I learned in junior high school. Still, I was a passive student.

So when I heard my physics teacher required us to finish all exercises before the lecture, I was reluctant. I felt lots of difficulties learning the formula and theorems and did the homework by myself. It was really a hard time. Fortunately, I gradually adapt to active learning: I can finish most exercises before the lecture and learn most knowledge by checking the exercises’ solutions. Consequently, I can easily catch up with the teacher and feel more comfortable in class.

Although active learning does not grant me an extremely high Gaokao score, it becomes the most essential key in my university. It totally changes my study, especially when I learn my exciting subjects.

Active Learning: The Key To High GPA

Many people ask me how I achieve a relatively high GPA in university. Actually, there are lots more students having a higher GPA and IQ than me. But I believe my suggestions would be beneficial for most ordinary students.

In my opinion, studying in university is totally different from studying in high school. We do not have tutors to push us to do prevision and revision and finish our homework. Moreover, what the professor teaches may only be some concepts but not exercises, meaning even if you understand everything in the lecture, you may still fail in the exam. Even worse, almost nobody cares about your study since your friends will call you to hang out rather than do homework together.

The sooner you realize this fact, the earlier you can start to change, and consequently, the better you can do. I choose CUHK(SZ) because it uses English as its main teaching language and CS is a subject requiring an English context to study; for example, most latest methods and technology are initially published in English. Therefore, I start learning academic English quite early.

After Gaokao, I also applied to HKUST and received an interview invitation. To get prepared for it, I borrowed several SAT textbooks in math, physics, and chemistry and tried to learn it by myself, since obviously no one could teach me in 2 weeks. Although I failed in that interview, I was admitted by CUHK(SZ), so I continued finishing all these textbooks. This is my first touch to foreign textbooks in English.

In that summer, I mainly did two things. One is teaching two students math and physics as a home tutor. Another one is learning calculus, physics, and chemistry by myself. I bought the three heavy textbooks from the university bookstore and mailed them home. With the vocabulary I learned in SAT textbooks, I felt no difficulty to learn these subjects, and consequently, I have learned the knowledge at least for half term in that summer, even finished some exercises.

The good news for me is that, in the first term when some classmates were still struggling for English, I had no difficulty in catching up with lectures and had lots of free time while keeping a high GPA. I used the free time to preview the second half of the textbooks, so I was always ahead of others. I became more and more confident and felt more comfortable in university.

One thing I regret is I did not get my driving license in that summer. I started learning driving in the spring of 2019 and failed once in the second test (科目二). Then, COVID-19 came and my driving study was postponed for almost one year. Finally, I got it in the spring of 2021.

NO Active Learning, NO Computer Science

If you have not decided your major, the most important advice is that, if you cannot learn actively and independently, please do not choose CS major. CS is one of the subjects that mostly require active learning because of its low bar of information access and its rapid update of knowledge.

Unlike most subjects that professors may teach you all the theorems and tools and as long as you pass the exam, you are ready for the job market, CS professors cannot teach you much.

The first reason is because CS changes so rapidly, while professors only teach knowledge on textbooks. What is on the textbook is the proved theorems or methods; however, most of them are correct but outdated. Definitely you can have a fundamental understanding of CS by following professors, but your upper bound would be limited by textbooks if you do not learn by yourself.

I have asked one professor why he still taught PHP in 2020, while there were many easy and useful alternatives for web development. And he answered that because the textbook used PHP and he was required to follow the textbook. Another reason may be because as a professor, his focus is on research, so he does not know much about web development stuff.

However, using those basic knowledge of PHP, will you feel confident to find a good position in the job market? I believe that you may even perform worse than those who graduate from a professional school with systematic CS learning nor a CS degree.

Besides, CS has the most friendly bar to access information. With one laptop and the internet connected, you can easily learn everything in CS and try everything out on your own laptop. Especially thanks to the university network, you can access Google, so you should be able to search for everything you need for active learning. However, if you want to study chemistry reactions, you need a lab and lots of chemical solutions, isn’t it much more difficult?

I have witnessed dozens of students struggling for CS because they never learn actively. If you are a student who is unwilling to learn by yourself, but always tries to copy others answers and prepare for the final in one week, you should consider other majors because you may not be able to graduate. Even if you could graduate, you can hardly find your desired job.

In the next few posts, I will share my learning process in CS, especially how I learn CS actively. I hope this post is useful for every college student.

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