# How to study properly for physics classes

• Studying
Hi,

I'm starting my undergraduate physics degree this Monday and I'm trying to make up a good system of how I'm going to learn efficiently. This is what I came up with so far.

The courses at my uni don't always follow a textbook, just parts of some, so I'll ask the lecturers about these and also try to get a syllabus about the broad topics covered in the classes so that I'll know what to expect and read a bit about them in advance.

I did one year in computer science and I used to record every lecture on my phone (only sound) and write timestamps in my notes at the main ideas so that I know where do I find those in the recording. This seemed a good method and made me feel secure if I failed to follow the lecturer.

Also what I just found is Evernote, a popular note taking program. I haven't used it much yet but seems like a good tool to keep everything organized. I can take a picture of my notes and upload it so I can access them from anywhere with my computer and I don't have to carry my paper notes with me all the time. I can also save links and files (can't store my recordings unfortunetaly because they're too big). I thought about creating a tag hierarchy to store my notes and other stuff in a system in which I can find everything easily.

I also thought about rewriting my lectures notes (haven't tried this yet) which would be a good opportunity to revise every lecture and make sure I understand the key ideas.

I also heard about the spaced repetition technique which is about revising repetitevely but the time between the revisions inceases if I remember everything. A guy I dound on quora used it like this:

"The full list of revision times that I use reads as follows, measured in days, and assuming I answer all the questions correctly: 1, 3, 7, 21, 30, 45. By the 45 day mark, the semester tends to reach an end.

What if I get a question wrong? The entire note goes back to the 'review tomorrow' bucket, and has to repeat the process."

I still have to find a way to automatise this system because if I had to manage this manually with every single lecture note it would be time consuming.

Do you think this is a good studying technique? I'll have about 36 hours of classes each week and I'll get home mostly in the evenings when I'm tired, but I won't have classes on Friday so the 3-day weekend seems to be a very good opportunity to revise everything.

kuruman
Homework Helper
Gold Member
You have explained quite extensively how you are going to store and manipulate information in all sorts of gadgetry. My question is what are you going to put in your brain and how? I suggest that you review all the notes from the previous lecture before you go to the next lecture and take all questions and unresolved issues therein to your instructor. The material is by necessity chopped into lecture-length intervals and you need a system to provide continuity in your brain.

symbolipoint, Wrichik Basu, Robin04 and 1 other person
fresh_42
Mentor
My first thought was: Forget it! Those kind of plans usually will not survive the first month, as reality will confront you with a set-up you haven't thought of. I could be wrong, but I think the likelihood I'm not is big. Read a more qualified view on it: http://www.ams.org/publications/journals/notices/201707/rnoti-p718.pdf

We also have many threads here on PF about this topic, so a forum search might reveal further insights. Another reference is the insights articles here:
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/early-physics-education-in-high-schools/#toggle-id-1

I think those reads are more important than plans how to administrate notes.

Robin04 and Choppy
My first thought was: Forget it! Those kind of plans usually will not survive the first month, as reality will confront you with a set-up you haven't thought of. I could be wrong, but I think the likelihood I'm not is big. Read a more qualified view on it: http://www.ams.org/publications/journals/notices/201707/rnoti-p718.pdf

We also have many threads here on PF about this topic, so a forum search might reveal further insights. Another reference is the insights articles here:
https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/early-physics-education-in-high-schools/#toggle-id-1

I think those reads are more important than plans how to administrate notes.
Thank you for the reading I'll go through them. Why do you think these plans are hard to follow?

fresh_42
Mentor
Thank you for the reading I'll go through them. Why do you think these plans are hard to follow?

symbolipoint
Dr Transport
Gold Member
I'll have about 36 hours of classes each week

So what you are saying is that your going to be in a classroom environment 36 hours a week??, seems like that is more than usual which would be ~20-25, if labs and recitation sessions are included. All of this in 4 days a week....

efficiency $\neq$ effective when it comes to studying, if you are hyper-efficient using your time and not effectively digesting the material, you still won't be any better off.

symbolipoint

Yes, I know that I have to be flexible. And now that I think about it, rewriting every lecture note can take too much time. Maybe I should just add a few things to them with a different colour and write a short conclusion of that lecture. Taking pictures of it won't take long I think. Evernote has a mobile app with built in camera feature. It directly uploads the photo to the right place.

So what you are saying is that your going to be in a classroom environment 36 hours a week??, seems like that is more than usual which would be ~20-25, if labs and recitation sessions are included. All of this in 4 days a week....

efficiency $\neq$ effective when it comes to studying, if you are hyper-efficient using your time and not effectively digesting the material, you still won't be any better off.
Basically, I have about 23 classes that are mandatory but there's a very good teacher who gives supplementary classes that help to deepen the understanding of the core lectures. They're not mandatory, I don't even have to take an exam if I don't want to, but I want to take them seriously because it's a very good opportunity to learn more. And he's the most brilliant teacher I have ever met. He concentrates on the deep concepts and their applications.

symbolipoint
Homework Helper
Gold Member
Yes, I know that I have to be flexible. And now that I think about it, rewriting every lecture note can take too much time. Maybe I should just add a few things to them with a different colour and write a short conclusion of that lecture. Taking pictures of it won't take long I think. Evernote has a mobile app with built in camera feature. It directly uploads the photo to the right place.
You are almost on the right track here. Taking pictures is not the same as YOU deciding what features of the picture YOU NEED while you are first viewing the real thing and trying to catch just what you need, and omitting what you do not need.

Something should be said about rewriting lecture notes or not, or how to use what you did write while you were at lecture writing those notes; but I'm not sure how to think this yet.

Robin04
You are almost on the right track here. Taking pictures is not the same as YOU deciding what features of the picture YOU NEED while you are first viewing the real thing and trying to catch just what you need, and omitting what you do not need.

Something should be said about rewriting lecture notes or not, or how to use what you did write while you were at lecture writing those notes; but I'm not sure how to think this yet.

Maybe rewriting shouldn't be about copying but more about actively processing the material. What if I make up a template with questions like "what are the main ideas in the lecture", "what are their applications", etc. and rewriting would mean answering these questions for every lecture.

Choppy
There's no "proper" on "improper" way to study physics. What works for some people, might not work well for others.

In my experience, I found I had the most success when I focussed the majority of my time on problem-solving. Just about all of the evaluations in physics (mid-terms, exams, assignments etc.) were based on a set of problems that derived directly (or sometimes indirectly) from the material covered in class. I found that it was critically important to try to solve all assigned problems, and then to extend that further beyond simply what was assigned and to get to the point where I had some confidence in how to integrate types of problems from one chapter or context into others.

One of the reasons that problem solving is so critical is that it helps you to develop specific skills in applying the concepts you're learning... when it helps to use a free body diagram, when to transform your coordinate system, how to spot relevant information, etc. Without that, you might understand a concept conceptually, but struggle to apply it effectively and efficiently in a scenario where you'll be evaluated.

That said, it's great that you're thinking about your process NOW rather than after you start and maybe things aren't going the way you had planned. Sometimes having a plan, regardless of what it is, is half the battle. You can always adjust if things aren't working. And don't be afraid to do this. People learn differently and one of the big picture skills that you develop through university is figuring out how you as an individual actually learn best.

Robin04
There's no "proper" on "improper" way to study physics. What works for some people, might not work well for others.

In my experience, I found I had the most success when I focussed the majority of my time on problem-solving. Just about all of the evaluations in physics (mid-terms, exams, assignments etc.) were based on a set of problems that derived directly (or sometimes indirectly) from the material covered in class. I found that it was critically important to try to solve all assigned problems, and then to extend that further beyond simply what was assigned and to get to the point where I had some confidence in how to integrate types of problems from one chapter or context into others.

One of the reasons that problem solving is so critical is that it helps you to develop specific skills in applying the concepts you're learning... when it helps to use a free body diagram, when to transform your coordinate system, how to spot relevant information, etc. Without that, you might understand a concept conceptually, but struggle to apply it effectively and efficiently in a scenario where you'll be evaluated.

That said, it's great that you're thinking about your process NOW rather than after you start and maybe things aren't going the way you had planned. Sometimes having a plan, regardless of what it is, is half the battle. You can always adjust if things aren't working. And don't be afraid to do this. People learn differently and one of the big picture skills that you develop through university is figuring out how you as an individual actually learn best.
Thank you very much, this helps a lot! :)