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As a brand new physics major, I have a question.

  1. Sep 2, 2011 #1
    This is my first semester at uni so, I am also enrolled in my first physics class. It is an honors mechanics class. So far, there have been 2 problem sets of around 20 questions. The questions in the problem sets are orders of magnitude more difficult than anything covered in class. It comes to a point where the material covered in class is almost trivial in aiding one to solve the hw problems. As someone who is an aspiring physicist, this is rather discouraging. Sometimes it will take me an hour to solve a single problem, sometimes I try for an hour and in the end, make no progress towards a solution. Is this a reoccurring trend in all physics classes? Is it only characteristic of introductory physics classes? Has anyone else had similar experiences?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2011 #2
    I have this situation in physics with calc. It takes a great amount of time to solve one problem. In your case, being on one problem for an hour sounds normal to me. If you take more then one hour to solve this problem, skip it and come back later.
  4. Sep 2, 2011 #3
    Get a book of physics problems or a textbook with a solution manual that goes over the algorithm to solving problems. It is hard at first because you have no experience with solving these types of problems but you can get the hang of it if you see the general approach. Also make sure you read the chapter and understand the material before diving into problems; it's more efficient that way. If that fails go to office hours after you complete as much as you can till you get to the end or your professor will be very unhappy.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2011
  5. Sep 2, 2011 #4
    Yes, in many courses. Hopefully, your course follows a textbook to the letter, so rip through it as soon as you can and also look for problems books as Fizex suggests (without cheating yourself). The one by Irodov is huge and it has some tough problems, worth having a look.
  6. Sep 2, 2011 #5
    Sorry to say but this is rather common. It's nearly impossible for professors to go into great depth in a lecture with regards to complicated problems. The best they can do is provide you with the fundamental concepts in detail and then apply them to simple (fast to teach) problems to show you how they are applied. The rest is up to you.
  7. Sep 2, 2011 #6
    Taking an hour to solve a problem in Physics I is definitely uncommon. However, what you said about the professor is very common.
  8. Sep 2, 2011 #7
    In mechanics (or other classes), you generally learn the material as a result of doing problems, where you're able to master the relationships between certain concepts by having done problems where these relationships exist. I'd say it's pretty normal to have tough problems like these in an honors class.
  9. Sep 2, 2011 #8
    Also, I'd highly suggest finding a knowledgeable peer in your class (assuming collaboration is allowed (not the copying kind)) who can explain the concepts in a way a student understands. Often professors forget what it is like to be at that level and may go over your head.
  10. Sep 2, 2011 #9
    There's a good chance that a lot of your struggle comes from being new to university. High school problem sets tend to be "Can you do what the teacher did?" University problem sets tend to be "Did you actually understand what the teacher did and why he did it? Okay, prove it by tackling something you've never seen before." It's tough to get used to at first, but just keep trying. It's tough to transition from being spoon-fed material, but if you keep at it, you'll find that you'll learn loads more than you ever did in high school. Just keep trying and don't give up.
  11. Sep 2, 2011 #10
    One more thing to add: at first, you may be taking hours to solve a single problem. Fear not, however! This will get better with time. Some people are quicker at it than others, and if you're slower don't worry, just keep working hard. Just know that if you spend enough time with it, it will come (though don't work yourself too hard, there's a point where grinding too much will actually hurt your progress).

    Sometimes supplementary sources can be helpful, like another textbook or a quicker/easier introduction to the topics at hand (whether in print, online on an article, or a youtube video). Make use of office hours and student tutors, don't be embarrassed. Lots of aspiring physics majors have this stupid problem with asking for help, because they feel like they should be the best at physics. Don't make that mistake!
  12. Sep 3, 2011 #11
    Thank you everyone for all your replies! I have just found out that the physics department at my uni has a consultation room that is staffed by a grad student during most of the day. I will definitely be utilizing this resource, as my professors office hours are pretty sparse and don't work very well with my schedule. I'm also getting better at working on the problem sets all throughout the week, as opposed to starting them 24 hours before they are due, which helps quite a bit. I've realized that it is better to leave a problem and come back later if you are stuck on it for more than 20 minutes or so. Sometimes the solution will be obvious when you come back to it. I made the mistake of trying to truck through an entire problem set in 1 or 2 sittings, and I wont be making that mistake again.
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