Best way to learn - use the solution manual often or not?

  • Thread starter Nikitin
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  • #1
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So what is the best way to learn physics, math etc.:

Do loads of problems by using the solutions manual every time you get stuck?

or

Do few problems but use the solution rarely, rather getting unstuck by thinking hard?

Thoughts?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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Get unstuck by using Homework and Coursework questions Forum...:biggrin:
 
  • #3
Vanadium 50
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How strong do you think you get by watching other people lift weights?
 
  • #4
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How strong do you think you get by watching other people lift weights?
Can get pretty strong if you learn the proper form from said people.

Is it really unreasonable to have a low threshold to use the solutions manual?? Many of my fellow students use it/ask other people almost immediately if they are stuck. To me this seems attractive, as you can spend much less time on problems that way, especially with courses like Fluid Mechanics, where I have little intuition.

But I realize there is allot of value in trying stuff out and experimenting, so I am split.. I'm very tempted in just giving in and start using the solutions manual freely, but I would like to know tips from you guys 1st.
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50
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Can get pretty strong if you learn the proper form from said people.
And never lift yourself?
 
  • #6
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Why would you spoil all the fun by looking at the solution? Why solve anything then? Just read the solutions manual for practice.
 
  • #7
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I definitely would strongly advise a solutions manual just as long as you know how to use it properly.

If you're stupid enough to just copy the answers from the manual, then you're going to fail either way and you might as well just drop the post-secondary education to save some debt.

The most important thing about the solutions manual is that it gives you instant feedback after you have failed to do the question.

While using the Homework and Coursework Questions Forum is probably better for your understanding, if your load is high (such as in engineering), you can't afford to spend that much time since it is much slower than a manual.
 
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  • #8
reenmachine
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I've been told not to check solutions at the end of textbooks , and I agree with the advice I received.Maybe you think "Oh I'm fairly certain that I could solve it if I spent an hour on it so why bother?" , well sometimes this might be true , but sometimes maybe you are selling the problem short and you would struggle for days.
 
  • #9
lisab
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If you're really struggling to learn a technique, I think it's OK to rely on a solutions manual.

But what "really struggling" means will vary from person to person. Towards the end of my university days, it wasn't unusual to spend hours (and hours) trying to "get" something.

It's good to get used to struggling, IMO.
 
  • #10
SteamKing
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It would certain be a lot cheaper, if the OP's thesis were true, to purchase only the solution manual for a course text rather than a bloated, overpriced textbook. Obviously, test taking would be a breeze if you only had to study the answer key.
 
  • #11
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I think it's fine to use to check your work, once you feel you've done all you can. However, getting an answer from a solutions manual is never going to stick with you like it will when you get it yourself. That "eureka" moment is really important for truly understanding something.

So use the solutions manual if you want, but know you're handicapping yourself in the long run.
 
  • #12
ZombieFeynman
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There is no solution manual for anything you will ever get paid well to do. Otherwise, the person that wrote the manual would be doing your job. It's best to get used to this fact early.
 
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  • #13
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If you need to check the SM on a problem that you are very stuck on, it's not bad. But if you immediately go to the solutions manual every time you get stuck, you'll never learn the correct method for thinking the problems through. If the solutions manual helps you to build your understanding of the problem solving methods for that topic, then use it (SPARINGLY). It should be there only to check your final answers, or to discover intermediate steps which you may not have thought to use.

You're friends in school will be in trouble if they don't learn how to think through a tough problem. Tests don't have solutions manuals, and as ZombieFeynman said, there's no solutions manual for problems you'll encounter in industry. Learn to do the problems without the manual. Work through them completely, then check to see if you did it correctly.
 
  • #14
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Guys, keep in mind that I'm obviously not advocating writing straight from the manual. I'm asking whether it's smart to spend a long time on cracking a stuck problem, or just try for 10 minutes and give up and look at how it should be done.

-----

Thanks for the advice though. It seems that the consensus here is to use the manual sparingly - as I feared and as I have been doing throughout my life. Oh well, thanks for the help. Nothing like a free lunch.
 
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  • #15
Evo
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Students aren't even supposed to have the solution manuals... I never used one. But, I never had any really tough courses.
 
  • #16
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Students aren't even supposed to have the solution manuals... I never used one.
Then you probably never had to deal with systems of PDEs.

At some point everybody needs to get a problem explained, or use a solutions manual. At least if they study a scientific/engineering subject.
 
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  • #17
jgens
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So what is the best way to learn physics, math etc.:

Do loads of problems by using the solutions manual every time you get stuck?

or

Do few problems but use the solution rarely, rather getting unstuck by thinking hard?
I would say neither. My opinion is that you should do loads of problems and get unstuck by thinking hard :tongue:
 
  • #18
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Solution manuals are great for letting you see if you did it wrong or right. Of course try to get an answer first... But if you never see the solution you have no idea if you are doing it correctly or not. You cant correct bad habits if you dont know you have them. This is what homework should be about, learning - not testing. I think it can be not only useless, but counterproductive to spend loads of time solving problems with no idea whether your answers or technique are correct.
 
  • #19
Evo
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Solution manuals are great for letting you see if you did it wrong or right. Of course try to get an answer first... But if you never see the solution you have no idea if you are doing it correctly or not. You cant correct bad habits if you dont know you have them. This is what homework should be about, learning - not testing. I think it can be not only useless, but counterproductive to spend loads of time solving problems with no idea whether your answers or technique are correct.
When I was in school, you found out if you were doing it wrong when your homework was graded. :smile: Homework scores were part of your grade, using a solution manual to correct your homework before turning it in was called...CHEATING. Is this no longer the case?
 
  • #20
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That would be nice! Its usually a little too late by then though, thats weeks after the material was covered.
 
  • #21
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When I was in school, you found out if you were doing it wrong when your homework was graded. :smile: Homework scores were part of your grade, using a solution manual to correct your homework before turning it in was called...CHEATING. Is this no longer the case?
Have you ever taken an upper level STEM course? Generally, there is either some sort of "solution manual" available, or at least a recitation component of the course where the professor will essentially walk through any particularly difficult problems. Also, these courses don't generally count homework as a significant portion of the grade. It's usually necessary to complete the assigned problems as a sort of participation component but the majority of the grade usually comes from exams. Homework is where you LEARN the material by grinding through problems, obtaining help when necessary, not so much to be tested on the material.
 
  • #22
jgens
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Have you ever taken an upper level STEM course? Generally, there is either some sort of "solution manual" available, or at least a recitation component of the course where the professor will essentially walk through any particularly difficult problems. Also, these courses don't generally count homework as a significant portion of the grade. It's usually necessary to complete the assigned problems as a sort of participation component but the majority of the grade usually comes from exams. Homework is where you LEARN the material by grinding through problems, obtaining help when necessary, not so much to be tested on the material.
I think this varies depending on the course. In my upper level STEM courses there were certainly no solutions manuals available, and while there were problem sessions to go over the especially difficult problems, these problems had to be turned in beforehand. These courses also put an increased emphasis on the homework. In fact, the homework problems were often the primary assessment tool, not the exams.
 
  • #23
Evo
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I'm just saying, someone that uses something like the teacher's solutions manual to correct their homework before turning it in is cheating if it's being graded. If it's something you've been told to use, or it's notes from class, no problem. AFTER your homework has been graded and you find out you were wrong, that is when you can look at finished solutions to get help in finding out where your mistake was and how to solve correctly.
 
  • #24
Ben Niehoff
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Since when did people start thinking it's OK to look at solutions manuals? The solutions manual exists so that your professor (or TA) can grade your homeworks without wasting his time solving the problems, because he has better things to do.

You, on the other hand, do not have better things to do, because you are a student, and doing homework is your job. The purpose of doing the homework problems is for you to learn how to reason through them. If you give up and look at the answer key every time you get stuck, you will never succeed at research, nor at life really, because people will always have to be holding your hand and giving you direction.

You are supposed to get stuck. Especially on things like "systems of PDEs". That's the entire point. You are supposed to get stuck, think harder about the problem, and come to some kind of realization that gets you unstuck. You are supposed to get used to this process, and get better at it. You are especially supposed to learn not to get frustrated when you are stuck, because that inhibits your ability to get unstuck.

For my research, I solve systems of PDEs way harder than anything you're doing in class, and there ain't no answer key. I get stuck for weeks at a time. I try some things, I make a few wrong turns, and I eventually figure things out. (Or not. Some things just go on the back burner for a while, until I get some new insight).

If you get totally stuck on one problem, put it aside and do other problems. Sleep on it. A lot of times, a new realization will come to you when you stop thinking about it and relax (especially if you sleep overnight). If you're still totally stuck, go to your prof's office hours and ask. He can probably guide you through the thinking process in a way that doesn't subvert your ability to learn.
 
  • #25
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^ Is it not possible that a solutions manual can help you learn how to reason through problems? It seems like those getting outraged at users of solution manuals are discounting how the manual is being used. You can use it wisely or use it as a crutch. Your arguments are only valid for the latter category.

Also, how does one succeed at life?
 

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