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Dependent upon solution manuals and rant about school

  1. Sep 22, 2014 #1
    I hate to admit this, but at the same time its true.

    I have worked as a math tutor for 6 years. I have poured everything I've ever had into studying math and physics for the last 6 years as well, but one thing I just dislike is when I have to learn a new subject for the first time while taking a class and lets say that there is no solution manual for that course or book.

    This just upsets me because if your trying to learn something new its really hard when you don't have a guide.

    I've managed before in classes without a solutions manual, but honestly in some other classes I don't think I would ever have gotten the homework done at all.

    For example in physics I used Griffiths 3rd electrodynamics in a course I had to take and oh, my god, if I didn't have a manual for that class there honestly would be NO WAY to complete those problems. I don't care how smart you are, some of those problems took me hours upon hours to do and took me pages and pages of work.

    There is no reasonable way to do that course without that manual.

    This is just my opinion, but I wished that teachers and professors would just give the whole class with everything already worked out to their students. Like just post everything online, even all of the solutions to all of the problems.

    Why do I say this? Because this is how I learn. I learn by looking at someone doing something properly and then saying "Okay that makes sense, now I understand this".

    A lot of times I see students who don't know how to solve a problem so they turn in some half way answer and then just get a bad grade. And I ask, what good is that?

    I honestly dislike the whole grading system as well.

    You are given an assignment and then you try your best and sometimes on some problems you really can't even check your answer and you just submit what you think is your best answer. Then you wait about a week to get the grade back and then you find out that you just got a big X on your problem.

    And I ask myself "How efficient is this system?"

    I want someone to tell me right then and there if I'm right or not so that I can learn and correct myself. How useful is it to be corrected a week later when the grades are back? What if I thought that my solution was actually correct for that entire week that it took for the grades to come back and so now I've actually spent a week learning how to do it incorrectly?

    I just dislike the system sometimes.

    The method that I do like is when you have a great TA who can help you with your work.

    I had an excellent TA in number theory and she was amazing. At first I would just see her once a week then it was twice a week and then sometimes it was 3 times a week and I would do all of the problems that I couldn't do on my own with her.

    I would say that I probably did about 30% of the problems on my own and about 70% of the other problems I had her work them out or she assisted me in working them out.

    Now you might think that I'm a little slow because of this, BUT I want to let you know that I made a solid A in this class and it was earned because I wanted to understand the material more than anything and I asked my TA tons of questions and really took it serious.

    In my opinion, that's how a class needs to be. I want to be able to know whether I'm right or wrong right then and I want to ask specific questions about concepts and ideas that just get glossed over in the class room.

    I had a hard time in abstract algebra and the TA that I once had left so there was almost no one to go to for help besides the professor. I got though the class okay, but I know that if I would have had my awesome TA as before that the class would have been 100 times better.

    It's so fun to work out problems and talk about them with someone like a TA, but when your all on your own and your stuck and its not making sense it just pain old sucks.

    And another thing I really don't like is when teachers grade without any mercy. What do I mean by this? Here is an example:

    At the tutoring center where I work someone brought an exam to me that they already took and do you know what grade they got?

    They got a 1. Yes, that's correct they got a 1% on it. 1/100. And so I sat down with her and we started going over it together. After I showed her some basic concepts she started getting it and understanding it and after a few hours she was working many of the problems on the exam on her own and getting them right.

    And I ask myself, "Is giving someone a 1% really the right thing to do?" I know its what the grade is, but I say instead of giving someone a bad grade, sit down with them and teach them the way.

    If I were a professor I would rather write on her exam "come see me for 30 min and we will fix this" or something like that. I don't want to give someone a 1 on an exam, because it just makes me feel like a bad person. I just don't think its right. And if I didn't have the time to help them I would write "go to the math help center and get this corrected and bring it back to me".

    I just dislike it when schools think that the grading system actually means something.

    By the way here are the flaws in the grading system:

    Someone could be cheating and thus earn a grade that's not representative of their actual skill.

    Someone could know something, but choose to get the answers incorrect.

    Someone could know something, but not get it correct due to personal illness or death in the family.

    Someone could not their appropriate grade due to question that's not clear on an exam due to a mistake from a teacher.

    I personally had a teacher who forgot to add 10 points on an exam grade that jumped my friends grade from an 80 to a 90. The professor didn't add up the point properly and he knew it because he was a straight A student.

    If I ever do become a professor I would just post all of the solutions for all of the homework online and make it available to the whole class. Of course you would have to write up your own solutions, but the main goal of this is to get students to learn and understand the material above all else.

    I hate sitting down being stuck on a problem for hours and never knowing how to do it.

    The whole goal of my class would be to make it fun and educational. A positive experience.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2014 #2


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    As far as I know, a lot of it comes down to $$$$$.

    You want a solution manual? Sure, $29.99. At least it is mostly like that with most textbooks I had. The books themselves only have answers to odd numbered questions and remaining answers + fully laid out solutions are sold separately, sometimes costing almost as much as the textbook!

    As for the grading systems and related topics, I believe any conscientious academic staff would like to sit down with all the students that are willing to learn and work through problems until everyone is able to firmly grasp all the course materials. It takes time though. Time they don't have. They can give it to the tutors, which cost X amount of money per hour. When I worked as a tutor, I patiently go through every problem my students are having trouble with, but during times before assignments, there are so many that I can barely have a minute with each one of them. There are plans to increase sessions at those times but there are only so much money in the department (or more like the money they didn't blow on advertising for more students).
  4. Sep 23, 2014 #3
    If you just spoon feed students the answers, will they ever struggle to work out anything by themselves? Will they gain real understanding or just kid themselves they understand the "online answer"? If you get totally stuck on a problem, then you can go and see your tutor or professor. If they can't be found, or tell you to "solve it yourself", then try talking to other students or staff. If you show that you have genuinely tried really hard to solve a problem I'm sure many would be glad to help - including guys on physics forum!
  5. Sep 23, 2014 #4
    As for your grading rant, it is nonsense. You don't grad inflate to be nice. Do you want your doctors and engineers to have passed when they should have failed? I most certainly do not? How would you like to be in a building that was designed by someone who doesn't understand how resonance works when the wind starts blowing?

    You haven't taking many real courses if all your books have solution manuals. Never go to grad school with that attitude because you won't be able to make it.
  6. Sep 23, 2014 #5


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    You can't get understanding without solving lots of difficult problems. The problems in Griffiths and many other books may take hours to solve, but the understanding and satisfaction gained from it is much more.
  7. Sep 24, 2014 #6
    There have been times where yes I have worked out very hard problems on my own and I got them correct, but there have been many times where I honestly had no clue on how to do something until I looked up the online answer or solutions manual answer.

    In fact I remember this one time in Thermodynamics where I focused on a problem for 40 min before I gave up and looked at the answer and when I did they made 3 assumptions that I was unaware of and then solved the problem that way. How was I supposed to assume all of that?

    I think part of learning is learning the correct way. If solutions are posted and you can actually learn how to do the problems the correct way then I think that's a lot better than trying something and not getting it correct at all. Also tutors and teachers and other helpers are useful and I've asked many questions here and have gotten help, but in the real life it all boils down to...... I have 4 hours to complete an assignment and I need to get this done NOW. So how is casually asking questions to teachers and other helpers going to help me? It would just be a waste of time. Often tutors have a hard time answering questions too and sometimes they don't even know.

    And here is an example for you. I took Differential Equations in a 5 week course. It was very hard, I didn't work my normal job during that time, however I had access to a copy of the complete solutions manual to the book. Because of this, I was able to do very well on the homework by checking my answers and I made two perfect scores on both of my exams in the course. My total grade was an extremely high A and bet you that I probably wouldn't have understood the material that well if I had not had that manual to guide me. I want to know exactly how to do something, its just how my mind works. Give me all the answers so I can figure it out and understand it. I don't want to waste time going down the wrong path and not get anywhere.

    I'm going to go to grad school no matter what, even if the books don't have solutions manuals to them, but it just makes life so much easier when there are manuals for them.

    I would not really want to grade inflate if I were a professor, but rather I would like to give the students the opportunity to correct their poor exam grades so that they will understand the material. I believe that if you just give someone a bad grade and say "too bad on you your going to fail" that it really doesn't help them. If you did bad then correct it and resubmit it and now you learned how to do it.

    And just because someone did bad on an exam doesn't necessarily mean that they will never understand the material. So you could have an engineer building buildings who may have not have know how resonance works while in school and may not have understood that concept then, but now since they are building buildings now they finally understand that concept because no company would build buildings without taking resonance into consideration.

    There have been many many times in my academic life where I did not understand something in class and did not get it right on the exam to only later on get it and understand it at a later date.

    And sometimes with really hard subjects the true and deep understanding actually comes later and all of a sudden you finally get it.

    In Probability I made a C in that course. It's the only math course I ever made a C in and it was because I had a hard time understanding it. However, I have since privately tutored many students in Probability and now have a much better understanding of it. If a professor were to look at my Probability grade they would probably think that I'm poor in that subject because I got a C, but really I'm more like a B+ right now since I understand the subject much better and this is why I'm somewhat against the grading system. The grading system doesn't accurately reflect what you know and your current skill set.

    I guess that's why they make us take the subject GRE before grad school right? To accurately show what you know.

    One of my friends had a professor who literally said "If you can't engineer anything in this class then you won't be able to engineer anything in the real world", but honestly, what if that student does figure out how to build and design things in the real world. Just because you don't do well in a class doesn't mean you can't figure it out later. Once you actually start working and doing your job all day over and over again you have a good chance of knowing your field inside and out and actually understanding it. You're forced to learn it because you do it as a job.
  8. Sep 24, 2014 #7

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    Well, had you been working problems out all along rather than relying on solutions manuals, perhaps you would have developed enough skills and intuition to see that. You are starting to see that your strategy is leaving you unprepared to solve certain problems. The question is whether you will recognize this as a failure of your strategy or whether you will continue to double down.

    I'm afraid that you're not. Or if you do, you won't make it through, not without more independence from solutions manuals.
  9. Sep 24, 2014 #8
    I can do classes with out manuals, I've done it before for several classes, but its just a harder and more time consuming.

    And I had a friend who went to grad school for math and he told me that a lot of the grad students there helped each other out with their studies. He said that he got a lot of help from other grads and that's why he was able to do well in his first semester.

    Should you not be able to get help from other people as well? What if someone said that you can't get help from other students, teachers, TA's, the internet, tutors, other books and so on.
  10. Sep 24, 2014 #9


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    At what point or at what level in ones study should be the boundary between expecting to have solution manuals available and not having them available? Maybe the graduate-level courses could be made without solution manuals. Maybe all less-than-graduate-level books should come with good solution manuals. The thought is that before the grad level courses, students are still trying to learn to think and study independently. Using solution manuals can be quicker for getting help than going to a tutor or seeing a teacher during office hours.
  11. Sep 24, 2014 #10


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    The same thing happens in undergrad. When I was an undergrad, there was a room in the physics department that we grandly called the "physics library", with a big table, a few shelves of old hand-me-down textbooks, a chalkboard, and a desktop calculator. (This was in the days when pocket calculators were just beginning to become popular.) No matter what time of day or evening you went there, there were always some people working on homework problems and helping each other out. Much of the physics majors' social life took place in that room, in fact.

    I've never been anyplace where this sort of thing was discouraged. Copying each other's homework is always a no-no, but helping each other out is fine.

    I don't remember ever even seeing a solutions manual until after I started teaching.
  12. Sep 24, 2014 #11
    same way with me, i would never get anything right without the solution manual, but even after seeing how to do every step of every problem i still suck
  13. Sep 25, 2014 #12
    You need to learn to figure thinks out on your own. How can you do your own research when you can't figure out a book problem?

    I have looked at a solutions manual before but it isn't my crutch or something I need in order to learn. I believe this is a quote but don't remember the exact verbage and by whom, "you learn more from your failures then successes." So make mistakes trying to solve a problem and keep trying. You should know if your answer is wrong. When I don't know the answer to a question, I most certainly know if my answer is right, in the ball park, or wrong.
  14. Sep 25, 2014 #13


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    Solution manuals are good to have and good to use. The need or use of them between graduate level and less than graduate level is what my question is trying to find. Since graduate level courses are more advanced than other upper division course, my suggestion is that students are still learning how to think on their own and more use of a solution manual is justified. The student should do his best work for a problem BEFORE checking the answer in a solutions manual. Right--- in the real world, problems which occur do not come with any solutions manual, so by then, the person needs to be skillful enough and knowledgeable enough to be able to handle a problem without any solutions manual.
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