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Homework Strategies

  1. Sep 23, 2011 #1
    This has bugged me for a long time, since I was an undergrad. What is the best strategy when doing challenging problems sets? And, what strategy do professors think you are using?

    When doing problem sets by myself, I will invariably get stuck on one or more of the problems. Now, I am not opposed to spending 5+ hours on a single problem. But it gets to the point where you have to cut your losses. Just put down whatever your best guess is and move on to the next assignment (because there is a never ending queue of assignments waiting).

    It seems like my classmates never have to do this. I think one thing that helps them is they have more collaboration. I try to collaborate with my classmates, but I am a little antisocial. I am not a prototypical nerd and I just don't mesh well with them. I go to office hours with my problems, but most of the time the TA is not willing to give me enough help to really get me going, unless I really have it worked down to a very specific question.

    What is the normal thing to do when you are stuck on difficult graduate level physics problems?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2011 #2
    Cramster.com :approve:

    Its helped me so much. Emulating the steps and understanding why the person did the steps (it takes a while) helps you mature both logically and mathematically. I've noticed that physics is a lot like translation, you have to translate english into mathematics. You will get better at it on your own by emulating certain strategies that cramster takes.

    That's if cramster covers your book (I would hope).
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2011
  4. Sep 23, 2011 #3
    This is a problem I face very often, albeit in math instead of physics. I think if after many hours (maybe 6-8) its best to write the problem in a special notebook and let it be. Looking back at these problems a year or two later is very instructive and encouraging. I find it hard to actually follow this advice though as I tend to get obsessed with the problem.
     
  5. Sep 23, 2011 #4
    You ask if you are stuck...
     
  6. Sep 23, 2011 #5
    I should also add: don't be too tentative in posting the problem in the homework help section. It can save you a lot of time.

    You should also work on your social skills besides developing friends to bounce ideas with for homework. The word around this forum is that social skills are very important in physics. I've trained it over time, it never came natural to me nor was I born with the skills of being a social butterfly. It takes a constant effort at deducing your subconscious. For example, I figured out after a very long time that the reason I become very nervous is because I keep thinking about being nervous or appearing nervous! I kept thinking about people around me, I heard myself from other people's points of views and ridiculed/investigated everything I said obsessively.

    I compared my paradigm around the people I feel the most comfortable with and simply tried my best to emulate that paradigm with "strangers" etc. I'm not perfect at it but a whole lot better!!

    I hope this was coherent and made sense lol.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2011
  7. Sep 24, 2011 #6

    Dembadon

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    I believe this is the most reasonable thing to do. If you're spending 5 hours on a problem, I think it would've been better to ask for help after being stuck for 30 minutes. When I say stuck, I mean literally not getting anywhere.

    If you simply cannot see how to move forward, take a break for 15 minutes and stare at the wall or something. Stop looking at the problem and think about something else--this often works wonders for me.
     
  8. Sep 24, 2011 #7

    jtbell

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    What level course is this? If it's introductory physics, 5+ hours is completely unreasonable for a single problem. If it's a senior-level QM course, on the other hand...
     
  9. Sep 24, 2011 #8
    1st year graduate classes.
     
  10. Sep 24, 2011 #9

    micromass

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    Then spending 5+ hours on a problem is perfectly reasonable...
     
  11. Sep 24, 2011 #10

    Dembadon

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    Embarrassingly, I missed that in your OP. :redface:
     
  12. Sep 24, 2011 #11
    I sense some sarcasm here? /confused

    Is it really that time consuming?
     
  13. Sep 24, 2011 #12

    micromass

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    No sarcasm. You don't need to spend 5+ hours on every problem, but some of the more challenging problems will take up quite some time!!
     
  14. Sep 24, 2011 #13

    jtbell

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    So did I...
     
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