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Does anyone have any tips for labs/tutorials?

  1. Jun 22, 2013 #1
    I always get screwed over by labs/tutorials. The overhead that I have from physically moving from the University library to the lab room and back always demolishes my time.

    If I don't attend the labs, then I can study in one single slot of time. However, if I go to the labs, then I can't do that. I spend 30 minutes after I come back from a lab to review where I was at before I left for the lab.

    On top of that, a single physics lab takes me an entire day to complete.

    I need tips on how to streamline labs with my regular studying. I find that if I attend labs, then I can't get any real studying done.

    Monday - Friday

    6:00 AM - 7:10 AM Wake up and get ready.

    7:10 AM - 8:20 AM Leave house and commute.

    8:20 AM - 8:30 AM Find a lonely place at the most abandoned floors at my uni library.

    8:30 PM - 6:30 PM Study intensely. For every 50 minutes of heavily-focused study, I take exactly 10 minutes of break. I have 1 hour lunch break and two half-hour breaks in addition to the 10 minute breaks that I get. Moreover, if I have any mandatory labs, then I have to go to them.

    6:30 PM - 7:40 PM Commute back home.

    7:40 PM - 10:30 PM Program (I find it relaxing) or play video-games.

    10:30 PM - 6:00 AM Sleep.

    Saturday - Sunday

    8:00AM - 11:00 AM Wake up.

    Noon At this point, I have just arrived at the local library.

    Noon - 6:30 PM How long I study for depends on how much work I need to do. Again, 1 hour lunch break and 10 minutes of break for every 50 minutes of focus study.

    6:30 PM - 10:00 PM Leisure time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2013 #2


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    Education Advisor

    It might help to know what level of labs you're talking about. First year labs tend to be a little different than senior labs. However, here are some general tips.

    1. Know what you're doing in the lab. When I was a TA the students who struggled the most were the ones who were reading the lab for the first while in the lab. They hadn't done any prep, unless there was a pre-lab assignment which was usually copied off of a friend - spelling and grammar errors and all - in the ten minutes before the lab. So you need to at minimum read the lab over before you arrive - preferably the night before or earlier. Ask questions before the lab, or right when it begins. Read the applicable sections in your textbook or online and make sure you have a handle on what's going on.

    2. Develop a plan. The pattern in most labs, particularly first-year labs it reasonably uniform:
    - set up your experiment
    - make a set of measurements
    - manipulate the data somehow (usually plot a graph)
    - calculate the experimental uncertainty in your result
    - answer any specific questions
    - write up a report

    So going beyond just "reading" the lab to prepare, think about each of these steps. If permitted, you can start writing the report before you even get into the lab. This is a good habit for senior courses. Collect your references, introduce the subject and piece together an outline of what you expect the report to look like.

    Next, do you understand the setup? Do you know how to use an oscilloscope, for example? (If you don't either look it up or ask.) Do you have a clear picture for how this lab is supposed to work, what you are measuring and how you're making that measurement?

    Also, figure out what data you're going to need to take. A good way to do this is to plan out the tables you're going to use. How many data points do you expect to take? What variables are you going to plot against each other? How do these relate to your measured data?

    Figure out your uncertainty calculations ahead of time. Scrambling to do these on the fly leaves room for mistakes. When you get into the lab, if you have everything ready to go, you just have to plug the numbers in and can concentrate more on the practical tasks.

    Finally, work backwards when possible. Often you will be measuring a known physical quantity or will have some kind of reference result. Work backward from this so that you can estimate what range your measurements should be in. It helps tremendously to have an idea of what the measured values should be.

    3. Who are you partnering up with in your labs and does this person have similar goals to you? I realize you don't always have control over this, but if at all possible try to pair up with people who aren't going to spend the first hour of the lab talking about which bar they're planning to go out to that night. I know this seems obvious, but some people seem to think they're stuck with the random assignments on the first day.

    4. Learn the marking scheme and write the report to the marking scheme. If only five percent of the grade is allotted for the introduction, you don't have to spend hours writing a seven page review of your topic. If heavy weight is being placed on the calculations and graphs, spend your time there. And while a neat report is always desirable, you don't need to waste time with special fonts or cover art that isn't going to earn you any bonus marks.
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