How can you study physics well at UG level?

In summary: You can't just memorize everything and expect to do well. Proofs are not meant to be understood, they are meant to be checked.In summary, physics is difficult to understand, but it is important to be able to understand how the equations work and the proofs.
  • #1
Tony Hau
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I am currently studying physics at university. I am not particularly good at it, but I am very interested in understanding physics.

The problem I have encountered is that physics is so difficult to understand. For example, during my last semester, I studied classical mechanics. There were two lectures plus one assignment consisting around 4 questions per week. At first I tried to understand how equations were derived and the examples talked during lectures. However, it was no longer possible to understand how equations were derived at later time because things were getting difficult. I could only memorized equations, like the non-inertial frame motion equation and lagrangian equations, without understanding how they were derived. It was bad, but it saved my grades. It is because if I kept devoting time into understanding how equations work without drilling exercises, my grade will drop as no drillings are done for exams. The exams from my lecturer are quite similar to the homework questions and so to survive exams drillings are important.

In otherwords, how can I achieve good grades and at the same time, understand how the equations work and the proofs? Or is understanding proofs and how they work unnecessary at UG level? And is it a normal problem for everyone?

My next semester is going to be electrodynamics. Is there any suggestion to study it well?
 
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  • #2
I have heard it said that the last omniscient person on Earth was Goethe. So you can't know everything.
Being able to regurgitate every step in the derivation of a result is more labor intensive and far less useful than simply understanding how it is used and where it fits in the edifice of ideas that is physics. You need to be sufficiently skilled to be able to comprehend the derivations when that is important, but the familiarity grows with use as does the true understanding.
So to use your time effectively:
  1. When you walk into a lecture you should know what is going to be discussed because you have read the assignment and hopefully become confused.
  2. Always try to formulate questions during lecture (I am not a big fan of copious notes) and ask them appropriately
  3. Reread the text after lecture and
  4. Do the assigned exercises ASAP
That's what I have distilled...
 
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  • #3
I was not one of the superstars, but the ones I saw they spent a lot of time practicing doing every problem at the back of the book, solving it from multiple angles or approaches, and even making up their own problems often changing or removing a parameter in a problem they solved earlier. If it was known that the exam problems might look similar to a homework or example problem... they'd practice that one multiple times.

I barely scraped by probably because I did not do the above neither what hutchphd said. Something I felt that helped me a at the very least was bookkeeping the units. Formulas make a lot more sense with units.
 
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  • #4
I always remind myself not to get too involved with proofs in textbooks. But I just find them interesting. Afterall, I think I need to keep reminding myself it is neither possible nor necessary to understand these things. I guess I will do better in electrodynamics!
 
  • #5
Yeah, it's really not the most fun thing in the world, but when it comes to academia... grades matter. So, you have to prioritize grades during the semester. However, if you want to have the best of both worlds, before the semester starts, around 1 month or so, take an hour to two everyday and just start. Watch lectures online, read the textbook, and do some problems. This would allow you to be ahead of your syllabus, so you can focus more time with your professor, or TA during office hours on the more proof-y style questions you may encounter.

Sometimes the more proof-y things just take physics/mathematics maturity.
 
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Related to How can you study physics well at UG level?

1. How much math do I need to know to study physics at the undergraduate level?

A strong foundation in mathematics is essential for studying physics at the undergraduate level. You should have a good understanding of algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Some universities may also require knowledge of linear algebra and differential equations.

2. What are the key concepts I should focus on when studying physics at the undergraduate level?

At the undergraduate level, you should focus on developing a strong understanding of the fundamental concepts of physics, such as mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics. These concepts serve as the building blocks for more advanced topics in physics.

3. How much time should I dedicate to studying physics at the undergraduate level?

The amount of time you should dedicate to studying physics at the undergraduate level will vary depending on your individual learning style and the difficulty of the material. However, as a general guideline, you should aim to spend at least 2-3 hours studying for every hour of class time.

4. What resources are available to help me study physics at the undergraduate level?

There are many resources available to help you study physics at the undergraduate level. Your university may offer tutoring services or study groups led by upperclassmen. You can also find online resources, such as lecture notes, practice problems, and video tutorials.

5. How can I improve my problem-solving skills in physics at the undergraduate level?

Problem-solving is a crucial skill in physics, and it takes practice to develop. One way to improve your problem-solving skills is to work through practice problems regularly. You can also try breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable steps and seeking help from your professors or peers if you get stuck.

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