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How to actually think through something

  1. Feb 14, 2012 #1
    I am quite pathetic when trying to solve problems. When solving problems i always refer back to solved examples. It's like comparing my self to someone who can trace a picture very well but can't draw the picture. The examples only help so far, once a much harder problem comes I'm finished. I have no idea how to begin. I've noticed this in physics, math, and comp sci. But, i do well in these classes, but my inability to think is very stressful.

    Any suggestions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 14, 2012 #2
    Just try to wean yourself off of them.

    Getting stuck is an essential part of your education, so don't worry about getting stuck and resist the urge to look at solutions.

    It also helps to really try to understand the concepts.
  4. Feb 14, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the note. I have always heard "try to understand the concepts", but i don't think i get it. Is there a certain amount of knowledge i should have before i start on the problems? I read the theory(superficially that is) to get a general idea.
  5. Feb 14, 2012 #4


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    At first degree level, it's mostly a matter of organizing all the information you have (note the word "all") about the subject in general and your problem in particular, and figuring out a plan to get from "what you know already" to "what you want". Once you have a plan, the rest is "just algebra" to work through the details. If the plan has more than 2 or 3 steps in it, there is probably a shorter one (but any plan that works is better than no plan at all). Making that sort of plan helps to make your written answers more logical, and therefore a marker can see that you were doing the right things, even when the details went wrong and you got the "wrong answer".

    You could try reading some books on problem solving techniques, like Polya's "How To Solve It" (his examples are mostly based on fairly simple math) or there are some more modern ones that Micromass has mentioned them a few times on this forum.
  6. Feb 14, 2012 #5


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    Hey cs23.

    One piece of advice would be to make use of your resources.

    Nowadays you have staff you can go to (professors,lecturers,TA's,etc) as well as the internet (forums like PF, online notes, blogs, etc) and also your peers (in class, out of class).

    Thankfully it has become a lot easier nowadays as a result of breaking the communication bottleneck and resource availability through things like organized learning centres (university, college) and the internet.
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