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How to stop using solutions manual?

  1. Dec 30, 2007 #1
    Hi all,
    I’m studying Physics in Canada. Overall, I have pretty good grades and I am working very hard for it (I’m studying a lot – even my girlfriend thinks I’m studying way too much). I often go see my instructors/T.A. to get some help. However, when I receive a new assignment, I often browse the Internet to find the solution to the problems. And I don’t like this.

    I never copy the solutions I find. Rather, I take the time to understand the solution, think about it a lot, read another time the appropriate chapters in my book and then, I compose the solution on my own sheet, and it seems very different than the solution I found. Later, I can explain to other students the solution, and explain why “that other way around” doesn’t work.

    But, I do not feel OK with myself, as the inspiration to my solutions doesn’t come from me, but rather from the solution found (or, if I can’t find it, from some friends who are just really good). I don’t seem to be able to find the solutions by myself. I did this in many courses, including Quantum Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Classical Mechanics […]. The rate of problems solved by me is very low

    As I say, I do not feel OK with myself when I search solutions. Furthermore, when I’ll take more advanced courses, finding solutions will probably be tougher. And, as I want to be a researcher in physics, there’s no way the solutions to my research will be found on the Internet.

    I searched on the Internet on the way to solve physics problems. Each time, it’s the same : read again the appropriate chapters, try to find out the “good” equations, etc. But sometime, I just don’t know how to APPLY what I read to solve the problems. Out of desperation, I read about five books of quantum mechanics (Gasiorowicz, Griffiths, Liboff, Sakurai and Cohen-Tannoudji) to better understand the subject, but still, I _CAN’T_ find the way to apply what I know to solve problems. Also, please note that my memory is just very poor.

    What I want to ask is : do you have any tips to stop using solutions manual? And you, what do you to when you confront a problem you don’t seem to have any idea on how to solve it, even after reading again the appropriate chapter? What do you do in these situations? How to you apply what you just learned to solve new problems?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2007 #2
    studying to much doest help; its what you study that helps
    challenge yourself.
    Solving new problems that u have no idea about is easy>
    try to understand the question, ask your teachers or anyone that may be able to help you; you cant rely on a solutions manual to always be helpful.
    approach the problem in different ways; not just one.
    Your taking this from a year 8, but its probably a good idea
    hope that helped ;)
  4. Dec 30, 2007 #3
    You think you know what's going on but in fact it's the solutions that's barely keeping you up. Once you look at those solutions, it's "easy" to figure out the problem. You don't do any actual thinking if you just look at it, AND THEN decide to "think" about it.

    Avoid the solutions manual altogether. While it may help jumpstart your learning on the material, you won't be learning the concepts as much as you'd like to.

    Doing research is exploring new concepts and theories. It requires you to be able to utilize your current knowledge and expand on that or form new concepts. In this case, it seems you're incapable of sustaining your own knowledge to become a good researcher. This is a problem. What might be the best is to do the work yourself and the night before, look at the manual... this is the worst case. Start the homework as soon as it assigned so YOU have time to do the homework YOURSELF before it's due.

    Mental exercises and increased brain activity might help you "memorize" better. Also try foods that boost your memory/brain power. It won't make you a genius, but you should get all the help you need.
  5. Dec 30, 2007 #4
    no its not; hes just stressing to much by studying to much.
    you will find it more effective if u study in blocks of say 90 minutes?
    try to approach the problem in different ways as i said.
    burn the solutions manual and ull see a difference in how many questions you can answer by urself.
  6. Dec 30, 2007 #5
    very true
  7. Dec 30, 2007 #6
    I am reading a book that has pretty good reviews, called "How to Solve It" by G. Polya. It focuses on how to go about solving problems. I would really recommend it, it will probably help you think more clearly about finding a "path" to solve a given problem.

    You also need to have confidence in yourself that you will be able to find a solution, and have confidence in your ability to find a path to the solution. This is pretty important...I've realized a lot of the time when I have trouble solving problems, it's not because I didn't know the material...I just didn't have enough confidence in myself and didn't take the time to think carefully about it!
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2007
  8. Dec 30, 2007 #7
    @ above, physics problem, math problems, relationship problems?
  9. Dec 30, 2007 #8
    It is written by a mathematician and so a lot of the examples are from a mathematical standpoint, but the author clearly emphasizes that the very general principles he details in the book could be used equally well for someone trying to solve a problem in mathematics, physics, economics, business, a logic puzzle, etc., provided the person solving the problem applies the general principles in an intelligent and pertinent way.
  10. Dec 30, 2007 #9
    where can i dl e books i would like to read it
  11. Dec 30, 2007 #10
    I tried to read this book at the Universities' libraries, but it's always gone.

    I also think I have the self-confidence problem. Sometimes, I find the way to start a problem, but I say to myself "Can't be it, too complicated...", and when I talk to the others, I find that it was, in fact, the right way to start. Many colleagues told me I was totally lacking self-confidence when taking on physics problems.

    I'm taking the holidays to find a way to be more independant when I'm doing my homework.

    THank you all for your answers!
  12. Dec 30, 2007 #11
    There is no reason to lack self-confidence.

    It seems to me the reason you can't start your homework problems is because you perhaps have a weak understanding of the material. I would suggest finding alternative methods of studying (other forms of aids, style, technique). You're not the only one who may have trouble studying - I did once too, as well as many others. You need to figure out how YOU learn the best. When I used to study, I just tried to memorize or rewrite my notes; that helped a little, but didn't get me far. I finally read a blog post somewhere and someone said studying smarter is key. One of the method suggested was to CONNECT everything you learn in your head and see how they RELATE to each other as you learn it. Questions you could be asking in your head: "What if I change parameter X? What will the effect be on parameter Y in situation Z. Well, I know that parameter Y is connected to parameter X in this way, so the situation Z will be impacted this way." Or whatever...

    This helped me A LOT as far as remembering the material, but also understanding it. This past semester of college was *supposed* to be the "hardest semester" that I will take throughout my B.S. degree (labeled from my peers who are more senior to me), but to me, it wasn't. I did quite well and I even did better than previous semesters, when the classes were much easier. So, as you can tell from my situation, actually forming new methods of learning or trying something that you normally do not do will help you a lot. It saved my butt, to say the least.

    Once you've gained a proper foundation, you can then go about starting the problem. As far as steps and methods of problem solving, I don't know what the "preferred" method is - I'll leave that to others.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2007
  13. Dec 31, 2007 #12


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    I think others above have already said it. The only way to stop is to STOP. You have to figure out how to resist the temptation to sneak a peek before working on the problem. If you spend 2 hours studying a subject, instead, spend two hours figuring out how to apply what was covered in class to the problem set you have. This will be much more effective studying than whatever you're currently doing. If you can't take your lessons and apply it to your assignments, then you aren't fully understanding it yet. It has nothing to do with being good at memorization, because homework is open book. First get good at finding and applying the relevant material, and with use instead of taking shortcuts, it'll start to "stick."

    You'll only get better with practice, so if you have problems that take you all night to figure out, you're just going to have to do that more until you get better at it. By skipping that step for so long, you've cheated yourself of the learning you need to do to get better at problem solving. This is why our HW Help forums require students to show their own work first, because we know how important it is to spend time struggling through a problem and trying to solve it before seeking help in order to learn the subject well.
  14. Dec 31, 2007 #13
    I would agree with what the others have said. I would also add that sometimes what you need is to see how someone who knows the stuff would solve the problem. If you have discussion sections where a TA goes through many different problems, I would definately attend that if you haven't already. Also, professor office hours can be invaluable to learning how to solve physics problems, since from my experience most physics professors don't tend to solve problems in during lecture. The problem your having is probably the hardest part of doing well in physics, understanding how to solve complicated problems. There will always be certain problems that give you trouble, even after you get good at solving problems. But what you should eventually be able to do is to know how to approach most problems at your level, and as long as you keep using the study manual, your not going to get anywhere.

    You might want to try the following when faced with a problem you having trouble with...
    Think of all the different ways you can think of going about solving the problem. For some problems there may actually be multiple ways to solve it. Then you go through these approaches as far as you can trying to solve it. (Draw diagrams, write down all the equations you can think of, and just really THINK about the particular physics that is happening behind the scenes). Only after you have done everything you could possibly think of to solve the problem and still cannot seem to do it should you consult your study manual. At that point after looking at the solution you should go "Oh yeah, of course this was it, I was so close but I just didn't realize X affected Y in this way". Maybe before you actually look at the entire solution, try solving it on your own now that you know the correct approach. Usually study guides will discuss how they will go about solving the problem before actually solving it.

    I hope this helps. Most importantly, do not spend all night trying to solve a problem. It is a waste of time. If you spend a significant amount of time on a problem and still can't figure it out, leave it alone and go on to the next one. Then go back and look at the other problem later and your mind may just see something it haden't noticed before. Good luck.
  15. Jan 2, 2008 #14
    I also suffer from the same problem various times. And in those times I quote Feynman: "Know how to solve every solved problem."
  16. Jan 3, 2008 #15


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    I'm glad you started this thread. Funny enough I was actually going to make a thread asking pretty much the same question. I feel like I'm in the same boat.

    For me I'm trying to teach myself real analysis using Walter Rudin's book or "baby Rudin". I've heard more times than not "it's not good for self study" or "the problems are too hard to begin with". I usually feel this way when I try to work through the problems but I'm learning my efforts to try and solve them aren't wasted by any means. Even though I usually struggle, I find myself thinking about the material in a whole different way than I could ever imagine, gaining a deeper understanding, and yes even getting closer to solving problem sets I'm working on. But what helps me is to keep positive about the whole process. At the end of the day, I try to remember how far I've come and what I've learned no matter how small.

    I think the other posters are right on regarding spending too much time on a problem. I'd suggest just trying to solve the the problem as best as you can and just use the solution manual as a means to fill in the gaps of where you may have missed. I've made the mistake of spending way too much time on problems. I'd feel defeated when I finally looked at the solution or when I'd ask for help but I'm glad I did because I learned my possible "solutions" wouldn't have gotten me any closer to solving the problems.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2008
  17. Jan 4, 2008 #16
    If I don't want to or can't look at the solutions, I've found the most useful resource is the examples from the text. Before starting the assigned question, working through each of the examples really helps to understand the basic concepts of that section and how they are applied in various problems. Then use these concepts to solve the questions.

    Another good way to avoid the solutions manual is to work with somebody. If both of you are new to the material, tossing around ideas can often lead to the correct way to solve a question. They say the best way of learning something is to teach it to somebody else, and I've found that to be true even if you only know part of the solution. Working with someone else can help to get past paralyzing frustration as well.
  18. Jan 4, 2008 #17
    I'm "glad" to know I'm not the only one in the boat. However, it's time for me to leave the boat and try to make my path onto the ocean on my own.

    Richard W. : it's a funny thing you quote this. My special relativity instructor used to put this citation on every homework he was giving us.

    I think I'll have to try to have more self-disciplined, have more confidence in myself and stop, as physuscs said, to try to not spend all night solving a problem, as I'm later lacking sleep which is invaluable in solving problem. I will also use your different strategies on my way to do it. You all have, what I think is, great tips, and I will have to use them and try to find which fits the best with me. What I also learned here (and it's funny I never thought of that before...) is to study smarter, not harder. I read about it. User101 gave me some great tips too.

    Maybe I could read the problems and think about it while doing other things, instead of reading it the day I'm supposed to solve it and fall in desperation because I don't find any solutions. That's some way to be more efficient.

    Thank you all, you're very helpful!
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