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Testing Equation sheets in exams

  1. Jun 21, 2011 #1
    Just out of curiosity, I'm interested with how other undergrad courses do with these.

    I'm about to sit a QM exam.

    In our exam, we are given a list of constants and integral identities.
    No equations at all ... and that's an awful lot of equations for the 30ish hours of lectures we have had on the course.

    Lecturer's reasoning is that we learned how to derive all the equations so we should be able to reproduce it if necessary.

    Maybe for the smart students passionate about physics and the fundamental theory behind all of physics, but the proofs aren't anywhere easy for me, just the average student.

    So now I'm less concerned about learning the content and application and more concerned about rote learning the equations (and proofs if possible) so that I can stand a chance in the exam. Then hope I can actually make some sense out of the equation should I reproduce it correctly so I can scrape some marks .. remembering/getting the equations aren't even worth any marks.

    And that's over a dozen equations and functions I need to shove into my brain ASAP. I don't enjoy learning this way and it's stressing me out.

    Is that what future physics study is all about? More about getting the theory than applying it?

    I'm actually hating the course and the subject right now and considering dropping the entire physics component and just focus on engineering double.
    And I can't believe the public think engineering is hard, it's nothing compared to the horrors of physics :grumpy:
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2011 #2


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    That's not a good way to have to study but a dozen equations isn't exactly a lot.

    Well, yes, but what you're doing is not "getting the theory". As you said, you're just trying to remember things. "Getting the theory" constitutes the majority of the difficulty in physics because a lot of application is really about finding solutions you know already exist but you simply need to find them and apply them correctly.
  4. Jun 21, 2011 #3
    It's just disappointing.

    Worked through assignments all term with equations and everything widely available, now come exam it's an added layer of difficulty on top of everything.
  5. Jun 21, 2011 #4

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    That's a reasonable viewpoint, but of course not the only possible one.

    Who said this was supposed to be easy? Seriously.

    If the goal of the class is for the student to calculate starting from first principles, that's the goal of the class. A sheet of equations is not consistent with that goal. By the way, it could be a lot worse - I could easily write a QM exam that tests whether the student can calculate starting from first principles where a sheet of equations would do you no good at all.
  6. Jun 21, 2011 #5


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    Suppose I am an employer who wants to hire somebody, and I have two candidates. One of them can't do anything without looking up stuff in a textbook (or a sheet of equations) at every step. The other one doesn't need mental crutches.

    Guess which one I'm going to employ. And guess how much I care that you chose to be the other one.
  7. Jun 21, 2011 #6

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    A friend tells a story of a fellow graduate student who was asked a question on his qual that he couldn't answer. He said, "I know where I can look it up if I ever need it." The professor scowled and said "You need it now."
  8. Jun 21, 2011 #7


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    If in your exam you're given a sheet with some nasty integrals it means you'll likely have to find out that you have to use integral #X for a part of problem #Y and that's the difficulty of the exam. The sheet only helps you to save time to solve an integral.
    I've had only one course until now -Optics- where we were free to use a book: Hecht's. The exam questions however were much tougher than it could have been if we couldn't use the book (I realized that the equations given in the book couldn't be applied in the final exam; the conditions/situations and assumptions of how the equations were derived in the book didn't match the ones in the exam and I had to modify/mix them accordingly which wasn't a piece of cake at least for me and took me lots of time to do).
    In some other courses like EM or Modern Physics we're allowed to have one sheet of formulae. For EM the professors said it's a must to have the Laplacian written in spherical coordinates and cylindrical coordinates for instance.
    Thus the goal of an exam is not to be easy/straightforward and must contain some difficulty (I personally find strange that it seems you expected the contrary, if you have reached QM). If you're given some integrals then the difficulty lies in finding the differential equation that will lead to an integral you have on your sheet for instance. I don't think you have to memorize hard formulae for this if you have a basic understanding of the course.
    One thing I can say for sure about
    is that you're taking the wrong approach. It might be too late now but one generally don't want to learn formulae the last days before the exam. They should have come little by little doing exercises so that when the exam comes you just have to refresh your memory with the formulae rather than learning them for the first time. I understand that you might have lacked time for this purpose. Now the question is if you lacked time for a course overload or another reason.
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