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How do I properly prepare for physics?

  1. Nov 29, 2007 #1

    I am very interested in learning physics, and I think that it is one subject that I actually find interesting in school. I have already completed a year of physics (grade 11), and now I'm in my second year of physics (grade 12).

    I am wondering, is it enough to just read my teacher's notes, and do the homework questions in the textbook to become very proficient at physics (i.e., proficient enough to compete in physics contests, etc.)? Are there other things I can do to help me toward my eventual goal of being a world renowned engineer? :tongue:

    If so, what are the things I could/should do?

    A few more questions:

    - What are some good textbooks for laying my groundwork in physics (right now, my school uses Giancoli)?
    - How the hell do I reduce the number of "stupid mistakes" that I make. So far, throughout my time doing physics, I've only had 2 tests on which I have scored perfect. Every other time, I've come rather close, but every time, I make stupid errors that give me a mark that I know is much lower than what I am capable of. For example, I recently had a physics test on Dynamics, on which I scored 92%. That was because I lost 3 marks on a single question because I had forgotten (rather stupidly) to include the friction term in my calculation. This simple error kept me from getting a 100% score, and this was not the only time it's happened. Is practice the best and only cure for making stupid errors like these?

    Thanks a lot for your help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2007 #2
    practice makes perfects

    i have the same problem with my math. I understand the stuff, and could easily work through it. Except I'm not the most meticulous person, and often rush through things. I constantly make stupid minor errors that cost me.

    so to answer your question: do many many practice questions until the concept becomes second nature. And when tests come, take your time and be meticulous with the details..
  4. Nov 29, 2007 #3


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    RedAlert, you describe the frustrations that several students have in dealing with their mathematical and science instruction. viet_jon has the right idea; practice more, do more exercises, and I would add study, review, and practice regularly. Do MORE exercises.

    Do too many students still undervalue the practice of studying coursework outside of the regular school terms? Why not restudy a course during the summer period or intersession between Fall and Spring terms? Nobody can enforce, "once you earn your credit, you are no longer allowed to study this course content again". The basic trouble with this idea is that you cannot redo the laboratory exercises. You need to somehow find your way into an equipped laboratory to do them,...
  5. Nov 29, 2007 #4
    Well, what bothers me even more is the fact that my friends, who don't seem to be doing even some of their homework, always do MUCH better than me on tests (because they don't make the gazillion stupid mistakes that I make). Even if I spend the time to do my homework properly. Am I just not suited for physics?

    This is makes me feel down, as physics is something I finally feel like I'd like to do....
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2007
  6. Nov 30, 2007 #5


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    Are you letting other peoples performance tell you how good YOU are? You are still in highschool; right? How will your fellow students perform when in a course that uses a grading scale of 90-80-70-60? They might be a bit more talented or smarter, but what will they do in a tougher class? You have not yet been in a class which begins with 35 to 40 students which loses five-sixths of the class members by the end of the semester; maybe YOU would be one of the students who persisted and worked very hard to learn and pass - what happened to the other smart students?

    Really, working hard, systematically, and consistantly IS valuable, even if many of your fellow students currently seem to be working differently than that. I am not kidding about that five-sixths to one-sixth class stuff. Maybe you REALLY ARE STILL SUITED to study Physics.
  7. Nov 30, 2007 #6
    The cure to making stupid errors is mainly working slower and checking your work! I am prone to making stupid mistakes all the time. In my undergrad research, I have far better mathematicians check my work and find my errors for me, because I know i'll miss them a lot!

    However, this cannot be done on the test(duh). So what do I do? I do the test at my normal speed(fast) and then look at the problems and tell myself what this problem requires and check if it is in there. If it is, i'm good to go! It catches a lot of my errors.
  8. Dec 1, 2007 #7


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    I'm going to assume that high school physics contests are like math contests.

    Just doing rote exercises is a bad idea. Rote exercises are good for developing technique and application, but they don't make you smart at physics and they also don't make you understand the concepts too well. You should do tricky, challenging problems as well. Your textbook may differentiate between the most challenging problems and the least. Also, look to outside sources for challenging, tricky problems. This will make you better at solving physics problems. You should also learn the concepts well, so ask yourself dumb questions and make sure you feel comfortable with why everything is the way it is. If you don't feel comfortable with a concept, then use your teacher, books, and the internet to help explain things. Both doing challenging, tricky problems and mastering the concepts make you smarter at physics (unlike rote exercises).

    High school classes do very little to prepare you for contests, because they're often overly-mechanical and uncreative. However, what I advocated in the last paragraph will help you on contests. You should also look for books and internet resources specific to the contests. Take practice contests and past contests. Figure out what kinds of tricks they use on contests.
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