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The Secret to Remembering Engineering Formulas: Analyze not Memorize

Formulas are the core of almost every engineering subject. They represent the applications of different mathematical and scientific principles, in the form of equations, derived to simplify calculations. Because they are essential knowledge, engineering students are bound to learn them.

For many engineering students, learning formulas equates to memorizing them. This is a common pitfall.

Top engineering students would agree that one of their secrets in handling all those formulas in their minds is to understand the concepts behind the formulas rather than memorize the equations as boxed in textbooks. After all, engineers make use of analysis far more than memorization. 

While there are indeed equations which are simplified by their discoverers to spare the learners from the lengthy derivations, many formulas do not need to be memorized. Instead, engineering students only have to rely on the principles behind them.

Take for example the Bernoulli’s Principle, a formula commonly used in fluid mechanics. It is shown below:

Unless born with photographic memory, engineering students will find it hard to remember in the long run this equation as it is including its corresponding symbols. It appears to be a complicated formula with many variables. An abomination.

But look at this illustration bellow:

When it is remembered according to this much detailed explanation, the Bernoulli’s Principle is actually simpler than it seems. Using the principles “in=out” and the different energy per unit volume existing inside the tube under ideal conditions, the formula is easily understood.

It only needs to be dissected. Notice the labels for pressure energy, kinetic energy per unit volume, and the potential energy per unit volume, which constitute the ideal energy conditions per unit volume inside a tube – meaning it does not count losses and turbulence.

An important note of this approach is to remember dimensional analysis, especially in the dissected parts, when the variables are thought to be mixed up. The only way to verify that the unit the problem is looking for is the one you are solving is to study the relationships between the different physical quantities, by identifying their fundamental dimensions and units of measure.

With this kind of method in remembering formulas, engineering students should be able to free up memory for other exact formulas like the Darcy-Weisbach Equation because that formula for loss due to friction is close to impossible to be remembered with this technique.

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