How to Study Physics

Think beyond pencil and paper
Andrew Jordan, College Sophomore
Sierra College, Rocklin, CA

I wholeheartedly agree with what Chapman says about reviewing a problem and solving several related problems. Try to solve the same problem a couple other ways. Is the problem about work and potential energy? Try to solve it with kinematics. You can MASTER a whole topic just by carefully delving into two or three difficult problems, and creating variations of them. Make sure you have a way of finding out what the real answer is though - otherwise you may think you understand and you don't.

I think I can add to what Chapman has to say with a brief word on problem organization. I am a physics tutor, and sometimes I am astounded by the complex problems people attempt in illegible writing squeezed into margins. They very seldom succeed in getting the right answer.

When you start on a problem, make sure you have ample room for it. Use a pencil, not a pen. Start by drawing a large diagram with everything labeled. Then start NEATLY writing out the problem in symbols. Don't write into your equations ANY quantities given in the problem, even if it's a simple number like 2mph, 3 ft, or 2.5 joules. You will have a horrible time working backwards finding a mistake if your work is a mess of numbers.

If you've neatly written out all relevant formulas and pondered the concepts, and you're still stuck:

-Look at the answer key! I encourage students to obtain a solutions manual for the problems they do. Don't make it a crutch, but if you get stuck it can get you back on track and teach you something in a second that it would have taken you countless frustrating hours to figure out on your own. You may even want to look over a few similar worked out problems before you start on your homework. Looking through the problems you've done already is also a great way to review.

-Get help from a tutor. A tutor can give you hints and ask you questions that can get past your road block on your own.

Take a break. When I finally work out how to solve a really difficult problem or understand a really tough concept, it's generally not while staring at a paper. It's while I'm taking a walk, laying in bed, in the shower, or even daydreaming in class! People may think you're a nerd for always having schoolwork on the brain, buy you will become a much better and more efficient student if you take time to deeply ponder hard topics. Think beyond pencil and paper!

Not Just Word Problems
Josh Barker, College Sophomore
Sierra College, California, United States

I have to agree completely with the study methods that are proposed in this document. Studying for physics is always best done a few minutes every day rather than a few hours once a week. People might be surprised to find out how simple physics can be if they take the adequate steps to prepare for the course and the material that they're learning.

One of the most critical steps to learning physics is to draw out the diagram. Like the study guide suggested, physics is about describing why things are the way they are, and it's best to understand it if you have a clear picture of what's going on. Otherwise, you might try to use formulas and equations that you think applies to the problem you're on, when it actually doesn't, simply because you read the problem wrong and assumed it's one situation versus another. Always attempt the problem on your own first before contacting help or reading the solution. You probably won't be able to solve it, but at least when you make a conscious effort to trying, you'll learn from your errors when the solutions manual or tutor points it out.

Phyisics Tutoring
Jose Fidel Salgado, College Freshman
Ca?ada College, United States

Physics is the basic physical science. The science of why things work. Studying physics is to try to solve real life problems. Studying physics has no shortcuts, it takes time to learn it. Each student has their own effective way to learn physics, finding it and perfecting it is the challenge. As students are outlining the course, revising lecture-notes, reading the text, or doing problems, occasionally students will come upon things they simply cannot understand. They should go to the teacher office hours or ask him before or after classes or ask a tutor.

Going to a physics lecture is not /about taking the best notes. The main goal of going to lecture is to learn something new. Students should always keep that in mind.

In working problems, it is very important to do the work in an orderly fashion: 1. Read the problem carefully twice. 2. Reduce the problem to its essentials. 3. Draw and label a suitable diagram. 4. List the given quantities and the required quantities. 5. Put down some relevant principals. 6. Analyze the problem, thin about it, correlate the various factors, grind out some useful ideas. 7. Solve algebraically as much of the problem as possible. 8. Complete the numerical solution. 9. Check the problem. 10. Check the units. 11. Look critically at the answer. Does it seem like a reasonable answer ? Develop your technical judgement by making a decision. 12. Look up the answer in the answer book. 13. If your answer is correct, review the problem; otherwise correct the problem and then review it. In either case, be sure to review it.

I really liked this old fashioned way this articles points. In my experience, these steps are really useful in solving physics problems. Physics takes time, and these steps are really good in approaching the answer of the physics problem. It its a really useful steps that a student should know before taking a physics course.


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