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How do you study/check solutions?

  1. May 15, 2013 #1
    I just got some of my exams back, and I didn't do well because the questions seemed very different from the problems I practiced. I spend about 3 hours per day for each subject, but for classes like physics it takes me about an hour or more to solve a single problem so I can only solve about a dozen or so problems a week. Anyway, none of the techniques used in the exam were involved in any of the most difficult textbook problems I attempted, so I don't know what I did wrong for the problems I can't figure out. If I ask some physics faculty here, they tell me to go to my own professor, and when I go to my professor he tells me to figure it out on my own. Nobody else in the class knows how to solve them either. I'm amazed at how people before PhysicsForum/the internet checked their answers. But since the exam problems are harder than the problems rated the most difficult in my textbook, should I use a different textbook to study?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2013 #2
    I attempt the problems myself, then I consult some of my colleagues that I study regularly with and we try to work them out and share ideas on them. If we can't figure it out we pull out the solution manuals. You should be able to download them from the Internet.
  4. May 15, 2013 #3


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    During my undergraduate time, aka when I had no idea physicsforums existed, I had a core group of classmates that I studied with nearly every day. We would review homework problems, quizzes, and test. Help each other find where we went wrong and just bounce ideas off each other. If it became too much, we would usually be able to find someone who took the course before in the student lounge and that person usually would help us.

    Is it a lot of effort? Yep, but I felt that I got more out of these study sessions than going to lectures or studying on my own.
  5. May 15, 2013 #4
    I tried Googling some of our exam questions, and as I suspected, could not find any results that displayed similar problems. I don't think there is a solutions manual for a lot of my textbooks in general (i.e. Electricity & Magnetism, 3rd ed. by Purcell and Morin) and some of the solutions manuals are not available on the internet even though the physical copies exist (i.e. Principles of Modern Chemistry by Oxtoby, Gillis, and Campion).

    I am at a community college, so the courses I am taking are the highest levels and there are no students who've stayed here and taken the classes already since they all usually graduate after these courses. I've tried working with pretty much every student in the class, but a lot of them are not motivated or honestly, they are not very helpful. I've never been able to have been in a group study session for more than an hour because nobody wants to study for that long... :confused:
  6. May 15, 2013 #5


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    Trying to learn "how to do every type of question in your book" will only lead to a dead end.

    You should be aiming to learn the generail principles used to solve the problems, and how to apply them to any problem you meet.

    From what you said, the exam was testing your understanding, not your ability to remember step by step methods to solve particular problems (and that's what an exam should be testing IMO.)
  7. May 15, 2013 #6
    With some additional effort put into solving the problems you missed - maybe try to talk to your instructor again? Perhaps he has trust in you that you KNEW how to solve the problem, but just had a lapse during the exam.
  8. May 15, 2013 #7


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    It seems odd that your professor would tell you to just go figure it out on your own. However, make sure that you're playing fair. Are you speaking with him during his office hours? Are you making an honest attempt at a solution prior to visiting him and approaching him with intelligent questions about the assigned work, or are you approaching in a manner that suggests he should just give you the answer? What about other resources such as a lab TA?

    Another technique is to start with easier problems that you can figure out.
  9. May 15, 2013 #8
    As far as the exam questions go, the ones I could not solve was one that required the use of the law of cosines which I could not remember the formula for as I haven't used it in a while. Another was an implied derivative which I could not recognize because our physics textbook problems does not involve any calculus, which I am ashamed to admit because I could have rather easily seen it had I been thinking more mathematically.

    Because he's rarely in during office hours since he teaches at two other schools, I ask my professor during class since we don't really do anything during lecture. He tells us to read our textbook and practice some problems while he does something on his computer, and when we ask him a question he says that we should read the textbook and if we did read it, then we would know the answer. If we show him a problem we are working on he tells us we should already know how to do it and tells us to try harder. We don't have TAs in our school.

    I can solve most of the problems in the textbook we use, save a few of the difficult ones which I give up on because I feel like it's a waste of time when I can't figure them out after a few days. I post them on PhysicsForums but sometimes the explanations are difficult to understand and I feel like people give up trying to explain to me if I repeatedly post that I don't understand it over the course of a few days so I just don't post any responses if I don't understand it after a couple days. And then time flies and it's already exam time and that's probably why I'm unprepared.
  10. May 15, 2013 #9
    You have a horrible teacher.
  11. May 16, 2013 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    +1 to that. The instructor sounds like he's a "freeway flyer" who is teaching part-time at three schools. If he doesn't actually teach during class hours, and if he is required to keep office hours, but doesn't show up for them, he is being derelict in his duty. You might consider going to the department head.
  12. May 16, 2013 #11
    What about a tutoring center?

    Is there a math/science resource room of some sort? That might be a place to find someone with experience with the material.
  13. May 16, 2013 #12


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  14. May 16, 2013 #13
    There is no tutoring for my physics courses available at our school. For calculus, yes, but I don't have too much trouble with the calculus sequence. Maybe applying the calculus to physics, but the tutors here don't know much physics either.

    Thanks jhae, I have Paul Zeitz's Art and Craft of Problem Solving but I never got around to picking it up because of school. I am going to get Pólya's How to Solve It too
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