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Exams - time crunch

  1. Oct 12, 2014 #1
    Hi all

    I have a BS and a masters in physics, both attained in very good Brazilian universities. Now I'm in the US for my PhD, and from all the difficulties I thought I would encounter, I find myself struggling with something completely unexpected: exams.

    This is how exams work in the universities I attended; you're given a very difficult set of problems and up to four hours to solve it. If you were well prepared you could solve most of it, if not you do what you can. Time is not really an issue. Here I'm given an extremely trivial set of problems and 45 minutes to solve everything. I did 3 exams so far and I couldn't finish a single one of them in time!

    Anyway, I'm open for suggestions and tips as I need to learn how to solve these exams faster. I consider myself a good student, I work very hard, my homeworks all get 100% score, but these exams are killing me. It's not just a matter of getting a lower than ideal grade, I think I'm going to fail these classes.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2014 #2

    phinds

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    If the problems are, as you say, trivial, what is it about them or about you that makes it difficult for you to solve them fairly quickly?
     
  4. Oct 12, 2014 #3
    Lack of training for this particular format, I guess. I used to be punished for putting down equations without explaining where they come from and rewarded for making detailed arguments and derivations. Now it's completely inverted. During a classical mechanics exam here, for example, I ran out of time when I was deriving a kinetic energy term in spherical coordinates. Apparently I'm not supposed to show that I know how to do that, but show that I memorized it instead.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2014
  5. Oct 12, 2014 #4

    phinds

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    Welcome to American education. There WILL be times when it is very valuable to know how to do it, so don't despair about that, as it is a good thing. Just try to get a better sense of when you are supposed to show a derivation and when then point is just to get an answer. I'd suggest that you talk to the prof about it.

    Sounds like Brazilian physics education is WAY different (better) than when Feynman was there.
     
  6. Oct 12, 2014 #5
    I don't know about that, so far that's the only thing I would consider a solid win on our side :) And it's just this particular aspect of the evaluation system, I love how much emphasis is put on homeworks aroudn here. There is one every week for each course, they are NOT trivial and the graders in charge of these seem to take grading very seriously. It keeps me busy 7 days a week studying, I think it's great. We don't have that where I studied in Brazil, possibly because the professor has to do all the grading himself. Come to think of it, that might explain why the exams are better though.
     
  7. Oct 12, 2014 #6

    Rocket50

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    I don't see the point of deriving everything on tests. It is good to know, but why prove that you know it on a time constrained test? Anyway, I guess you'll have to adapt to how thing work in the US. Don't worry if you do bad on a exam or two at first. Also try to get some information on the format of the exam from your professor beforehand.
     
  8. Oct 12, 2014 #7
    Exactly, it's just a matter of adapting to it. I'm just afraid of not adapting in time and failing these important core courses.
    But I'm taking notes here.
    1) No derivations (unless specifically requested by the problem statement)
    2) When in doubt between two possible methods of solution, the simplest one is likely the intended method.
     
  9. Oct 12, 2014 #8

    Rocket50

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    They generally accept most different solutions, unless one is overly complicated.
     
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