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Balancing reading the textbook and working problems

  1. Nov 15, 2014 #1


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    Obviously, it is important to work lots of problems when learning math and physics. At the same time, it's useless if you haven't learned the material from reading the textbook sections. I can see two extreme approaches to studying out of a textbook. The first is reading the textbook extremely diligently, understanding every single word and then not working any problems. The other is not reading the textbook at all and skipping right to problems and working them all. What do you think is the best balance between these two extremes when studying out of a textbook, especially when trying to keep up with a fast-paced course? I haven't quite figured out what works best for me yet, so I'm very interested to hear what works best for you.

    Thanks in advanced.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 15, 2014 #2


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    I don't know if it helps you, but I worked the problems and I skipped way ahead of my classmates. Of course this only works if you work the problems correctly.
  4. Nov 16, 2014 #3


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    I think it is a very subjective decision. It depends entirely on a person's learning style. Personally, I found that a light reading of the material followed by working a lot of problems gave me the best understanding of the material, probably much like what Evo is reporting, but I see no reason why my personal experience should extrapolate to everyone. In fact, I'd be VERY surprised if it did.
  5. Nov 16, 2014 #4


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    That's the approach I've been taking recently. However, I have yet decided whether or not it's the best approach yet. To be honest, I just enjoy working problems more than I enjoy reading the textbook passages.
  6. Nov 17, 2014 #5
    As phinds said, this depends on you. I use his approach as well, but if you get stuck on a problem, then it helps to go back to the chapter and reread the area that concerns the problem's concepts. The concept you get stuck on really highlights what you don't know.
  7. Nov 17, 2014 #6
    I try to understand every step they take in the text first, then I attempt the problems.
    For mathematically sophisticated courses this helps me a lot.

    An example is when the other day we got an exercise about electromagnetism in form notation.
    A sub question demanded us to calculate the electric and magnetic charges of the system.
    What did I do? I applied Stokes theorem and said, all is zero in this case.
    I was wrong, because of a more technical requirement.
    The person in charge of the exercise did this to show that some caution is needed.
    That was yet again a reminder of why some understanding is important before you start the problems.
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