Answer by Rob McQueen:
I've been at MIT for the past four years in course 6 (Computer Science), and I'm currently studying for my last final exam (!!!). Here are some things that work for me:
- Teach it first: To understand new systems / concepts, stand up in front of a chalkboard and act as if you're teaching it to a class. When you get to a point you don't know how to explain, talk it out. Literally, stand up and talk to yourself; it works.
- Diagram / Symbol: Once you understand something, create a visual diagram / symbol. Draw it on a piece of paper. Close your eyes and think about it in your head. Once you have the diagram / symbol, it will be very easy to remember how it works later on.
- Believe everything is easy and simple: You might not understand certain systems at first look, but if you approach it with a simple mind, you will do better. You won't think too much about the details and you will better understand the high-level picture.
- Sleep on it: Read a paper before you go to sleep and think about it as you doze off. When you wake up, it will be at least 50% easier to understand.
- Make sure you get enough sleep: It makes it incredibly easier to understand new systems when you are thinking clearly. If you're studying and things just aren't making sense, take a nap for 20 minutes. It may be just enough to get the lightbulb in your head to flicker.
- Discuss it with friends: Discussions help you gain new perspectives on how others think of systems. It might introduce variables you never thought about.