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I have a general question about physics homework after the first year. It is a mix of bewilderment and apprehension. I'm doing very well in my first semester of calc-based physics, and I knock off the problem sets in a few hours. But I hear that the first year is relatively mild, and things get crazy in years two and three. My professor said, for example, that in upper level mechanics he gives 3 problems a week and it should take me around 18 hours to do each set of 3 per week. Now if that is the general case I have a few questions:

What is meant by 18 hours (I understand the exact number 18 isn't definite, but loosely speaking from what I research a 3 course physics load takes around 40-50 hours of work/week)? Given that the solutions are generally a few lines, or a page at max - it must be the time spent thinking about how to solve the problem, yes? Does this mean 18 hours of thinking about the solution,

*including all the time you take breaks or are just spacing out because you're clueless*? Or is it 18 hours of nonstop mental labor to the solution?

Is this time length a result of having to become familiar with the physics/math you are being taught while you solve the problems, so some of those 18 hours are studying, and not really working on the homework? Or even when you are familiar with the mathematics and the physics, solving the problem still takes 18 hours?

Forgive me if these concerns sound naive or cowardly, I just cannot currently fathom how 3 problems can take 18 hours. Sure, I'd be lying if I said there was no lazy streak in me, but at the same time I really do like physics and I want to take the upper level stuff (i.e. major in it), I just cannot currently fathom why a 3 problem set would take 18 hours of time?

Does it also vary tremendously from student to student, or in the upper level stuff is everyone struggling to stay afloat?

The more detailed the better, but any clarity would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance to all who can help

p.s. - if all else fails, there is always biology for me :)