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Studying How do I become better at understanding Physics?

  1. Oct 12, 2018 at 3:15 PM #1
    This will be a semi-rant about my miseries at life but mostly I'm looking for some useful advice. If you read this and write some useful comments I'll be very grateful. Guys, I'm so desperate to be better at physics but I feel like I keep failing. My story: I did A levels in the UK (it's like the last 2 years of high school before going to university) I did Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry. I wanted to be a chemist and I applied for the Oxford Chemistry course and I got an offer for it. Then I realised I wanted to do Physics instead because it has more maths in it and I prefer theory a lot more than experiments. However, I knew 0 physics, and in 4 months I learnt the 2-year course A level material in Physics having absolutely no knowledge before. My tutors let me do Physics at Oxford in the end, but I kept feeling inferior compared to other people. I got 60% at the end of my first year for the exams, and 60% was the average of that year. I got 69% on average at the end of my 2nd year which is above the 65% scaled average, so there's some improvement, but I worked so crazy hard and compared to that other people worked less and got better grades than I did. I'm really losing my motivation seeing that. I just feel like I don't understand a lot of principles of physics properly, and today we were doing homework together and some really "obvious" and basic things didn't occur to me that immediately occurred to other people. I'm slow at understanding everything and I feel so stupid. For months and months now I feel like I should just give up wanting to be a theoretical physicist because I suck. I've even seen counsellors but they're unhelpful, I can't afford good enough private tutors, I've tried studying with others but I'm a burden for them and that makes me feel even worse, I've tried reading extra books and extra problem solving from Olympiad papers but nothing is helping. I would need to get 70%+ average this year to get a "First Class Degree" which is what I'm aiming for.

    Any advice on how I can improve my understanding of Physics is welcome (not necessarily university physics), and sorry for the complaints, but I'm kind of weary of telling this to people around me.
     
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  3. Oct 12, 2018 at 4:41 PM #2

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    If I understand you, you have only been interested in physics for 2 years and are trying to catch up to people who may have been interested in it for much longer. That WILL take a lot of work. If you really like physics, you will just have to put in the time that it takes to get comfortable with the ideas and make them intuitive to you.
     
  4. Oct 12, 2018 at 4:45 PM #3
    Yes that's kind of the case. I'm worried that I work in the "wrong way" and I'm inefficient in my studies. I'd like to know how to be more efficient, i.e. maximise my understanding of physics to effort put in ratio. Due to my inefficiency I'm losing motivation.
     
  5. Oct 12, 2018 at 6:06 PM #4

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    You might try posting some specific questions here. There may be some fundamental intuitive facts that would help in specific problems. People here will not lose patience unless you are argumentative or insist on proposing your own theories. When people see how you are solving problems, they can give much better advice.
     
  6. Oct 12, 2018 at 6:28 PM #5

    Drakkith

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    Going off of your scores, you appear to be efficient enough. Especially given you haven't been interested in physics for very long.

    Get used to it. There is always someone better at something than you are. Success is not measured by how fast you learn something or how easy it is for you.
     
  7. Oct 13, 2018 at 8:57 AM #6
    So for instance, some of us were working on a problem where we had to determine the deflection angle of a beam of atoms going through a non-uniform magnetic field (Stern Gerlach). The temperature of the beam was given, the length of the magnets and the magnetic field gradient. I kind of assumed since the horizontal length of the magnets were given, I should somehow find the vertical displacement using equations of motion, where acceleration could be found from the Force exerted on atoms, that can be found from the field gradient. However, the mass of the atom didn't cancel, and we weren't told what atoms these were. So I got stuck and went for dinner anyway, and then some people were talking about this and someone said they found the angle of the initial and final velocities, for which the mass did cancel out in the formula (so that was the correct way of solving it I suppose). It just didn't even occur to me that I should find the angle of velocities, and even if it did, I think it would've taken a long time, while for a lot of people it was obvious to do that. So this prompts me to think I should practice problem solving, but I don't know what problems? I tried doing olympiad questions but I don't think they helped me develop that much. The problem sets we get at university are usually either too difficult to learn anything from them or just bookwork which isn't helping with problem solving.
     
  8. Oct 13, 2018 at 9:00 AM #7
    Yeah I know that and I don't want to be on the very top, I just want to be better than what I am and it demotivates me to see how slow I am. Unfortunately success is measured by that, because most of our degree is awarded for the exams we sit. Nobody cares how hard I work if I don't get good enough results, and if I'm slow and it's difficult I won't get good enough results.
     
  9. Oct 13, 2018 at 11:30 AM #8

    Drakkith

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    Do you enjoy physics? Is it something you want to do for a living? If so, then keep working at it. The only way you will find out if you are good enough at physics to get a job is to keep going. And there's nothing anyone here can tell you that will change that.

    No, if you're too slow and it's too difficult for you then you won't get good enough results. By your own admission you have yet to reach that point.

    College is scary. So is the rest of life. Punch those doubts in the face and work at it until they have to kick you out.
     
  10. Oct 13, 2018 at 1:41 PM #9

    anorlunda

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    Based on the example you gave, your problem is not physics per se but rather problem-solving strategies. That skill comes with practice.

    But you may benefit by explicitly thinking of a few strategies before starting. Write them down. If you choose one, what was the reason?
     
  11. Oct 13, 2018 at 4:21 PM #10
    Yes, I have issues with problem solving, but I thought it's because I don't have a good enough understanding of physics. For "strategy", I just read the problem, try to imagine it, write down the variables of the problem and then try to look for some formulae I could use.
     
  12. Oct 14, 2018 at 1:09 PM #11

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    A lot of problem solving ability comes from piecing together simple exersize problems into a larger solution. Do a lot of exersize problems. They are often selected because they are useful as parts of larger problems.
     
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