Let $F$ be a commutative field, and let $U$, $V$, and $W$ be finite dimensional vector spaces over $F$. How can one prove $(U \otimes V) \otimes W \cong U \otimes (V \otimes W)$ without using the universal property?
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Note that you only need to show they have equal dimensions.
Then, you can use the fact that $U \otimes V$ has basis $(u_i \otimes v_j)$ when $U$ and $V$ are vector spaces where $(u_i)$ and $(v_i)$ are bases for $U$ and $V$.