>Author: Ian McAllister
Puzzles and Sorting
Imagine your friends know that you like doing difficult jigsaw puzzles. They get together and give you a 5000 piece puzzle, but just to make it more difficult they collect all their own jigsaw puzzles that have missing pieces and mix them in with your new puzzle.
This is just like an examination. While you are preparing for the exam you are gathering bits and pieces of information here and there. During an exam you are picking out pieces from the jumble in your memory, that will fit in with the questions.
If you were assembling your mixed up puzzle, you would not pick up one piece, then try to fit it to the second piece that you found. Yet that is how most people try to learn. Instead you look at the box to see how big the puzzle is, and choose a table large enough to do it on.
Next you study the picture to get an overall idea of what is involved so that you can select pieces that probably are from your puzzle.
Don’t throw away the pieces that you think are from other puzzles, but sort them according to the dominant colour. Then organize the pieces you think are from your puzzle into borders, corners and colours.
Start with the straight border to give a sort of external skeleton to your picture, and fit the other pieces in. When you come to a difficult bit leave it till later. Eventually the most difficult bits will fit in.
You might have to get other pieces from the discarded piles that are already sorted so that you can easily find what you want.
I discovered this method of approach to reading a book the hard way, when I first read a book about microprocessors. It was like a dictionary that says “Cyclones… See tornadoes”. “Tornadoes… see cyclones”.
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Learning the hard way
I had to understand RAM, ROM, BYTES, BUS, HANDSHAKE, PROGRAM COUNTER, INTERRUPT, etc. to understand memory, clocks, interfaces, hexadecimal notation etc. but I could not understand the former either before I understood the latter.
It seemed hopeless, but I stubbornly skimmed through to try to find something I understood. Then half-heartedly, I started at the beginning again, and found to my delighted surprise that I understood quite a lot the second time. My mind had somehow “Got the picture” the first time through.
The third time through I knew the outline well enough to jump back and forward to check up on points that were unclear, just like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. I should have developed an overall view first.
Practice studying a book as you would make the puzzle. First see how big it is. Then “Look at the picture” by reading the title, the index, the preface and introduction. Look at the date to see its relevance to modern times.
Now “Build your border” by making a tree with the help of chapter headings, subheadings, words and italics or bold letters, summaries, footnotes, and bibliography. Study all the illustrations such as graphs in a physics book, or woodcuts in an antique English literature book.
Next you can “Put in the easy bits” by reading the book with your fastest speed reading. (Learn about speed-reading by clicking here) Even if you feel that you are missing most of it, you will gather plenty of extra information to fill out the tree.