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Good study habit increases chances of doing good at Physics?

  1. Mar 3, 2016 #1
    I am an Engineering student but it has always been my dream to become a Physicist. So, I decided to continue on with my degree and extend my studies to Physics (I still have two years left in Engineering). However, in class, I wouldn't be whom you would be calling as "smart". My whole life, I did the least effort to "just pass", thus, my grades are not sterling. This semester, I realized that if I wanted to become a Physicist, I have to study hard. And study I did. Except I barely raised my test scores from when I barely studied. (10-20 point difference) In class, I do get the concept. Concept comes easily to me. I could explain to you how it works, but when applying it on a problem, I barely could.

    Also, I've seen people (mostly girls) who I assume are very hard workers but just can't be at the "top". There's this one guy, who does not do any written papers AT ALL but manage to ace all the subjects and went on the compete nationals. He is interested in Physics as well and I sometimes think he's like Paul Dirac. Though not as quiet. Anyway, I am fascinated with him and I wonder if I could ever reach his level.

    Anyway, Why am I not getting sterling marks now? Is it because I barely knew how to study before thus, I couldn't possibly change my habits in just one semester? Or is it because I really don't stand a chance when I put up work? Breaking my notion that if I just studied, I would've been at the top?

    College has taught me lot of great things particularly of the fact that I am not as bright as I would like to think. This breaks my heart actually. Also, I think that my years spent on slacking in school has put me at a disadvantage because my foundation is not as strong as some of my colleagues. Maybe it is because of this? Do I have to relearn everything?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2016 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    My bet would be here - you have no experience in problem solving nor in learning, these things don't come from nowhere.

    Hard to judge the situation from afar, but in my experience if you put an effort into learning you should gradually get better, accumulating experience. Just don't expect it to be a fast process. Plus, I would suggest going back and redoing things you were taught long ago - most likely you don't know them as well as you should, and this never helps.
  4. Mar 3, 2016 #3
    This is an issue the vast majority of scientists face down the road. Even geniuses like Tao and Serre have reported to struggle. So what you're going through is normal.

    The problem is that most physics majors are always used to being the smartest. In middle school or high school, they were usually the smartest kid in school or up there. In undergrad, they might be the smartest too, but eventually it changes. What you're going through is normal. You will either learn to love science for its own sake and not because you're smarter than everybody else. Either you learn this or you drop out because you can't handle the competition.

    This is the secret to success really: just compete with yourself. Try to be smarter every day. Don't look at what other people pull off. Just work as hard as you can. It's a hard lesson but one you will have to learn eventually.

    Face it, you probably won't be the next Einstein or Feynman. But you can still learn a lot about the universe and even uncover some of its secrets. That's what you should do this for.
  5. Mar 3, 2016 #4
    This is painfully true, particularly the bit about "no experience in problem solving nor in learning" - I think it's both easier to happen and harder to notice nowadays with resources like the internet at hand when someone has developed learned helplessness, because so, so, so many questions can be answered just by looking things up and finding previous discussion on the exact same topic. I am growing up during the internet age and never really knew the fear of having to think for myself if I "just couldn't figure it out". There are times when it's sensible to do this, which is subjective IMO because you have to strike a reasonable balance between the available time and effort you have to attempt to learn something on your own and times where it would be far too resource-intensive, for good reasons or bad, to learn it yourself and keep up with everybody else. It's hard for me to strike that balance between knowing when I should ask a question and continuing to invest time in a single problem.

    I'm almost certain that I'm in the "learned helplessness" camp and am in your position now having developed considerably better study habits (just in the last couple of weeks, at that), but my fundamentals are weak and are hurting me down the road. Just keep trying, man! We can do it.

    And honestly, I would try to "relearn" everything if you want to be stellar. I'm in the process of going through a couple OCW classes outside of uni. to do just that and am realizing just how poorly I understood these things the first pass I took, but the thing that's changed is that when I do learn something I tend to retain it because I have a way more robust way of note-taking and I don't just crumple up stuff and forget it or throw it away. I'm developing my own little tomes that may not read as helpful to someone else but are hugely helpful to me.

    I think this is true, but hey, he said "probably", right? ;)
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