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How to study without anxiety?

  1. Jun 9, 2014 #1
    I have trouble studying. I always find myself getting anxious, and looking at the end. Ideally, I would be happy to study an hour daily for a technical course (say, E&M or Linear Algebra), and then keep going at this pace everyday.

    But I just get anxious. I am already behind, and I feel a deep sense of anxiety. I keep thinking about how far away I am, and I end up reading, and re-reading the theory sections, while still thinking about how far behind I am.

    What can I do to deal with this? I would love to be able to just flip open my book and casually study at whatever pace I need, and just be able to genuinely satisfy my curiosity, just like a child would. Instead, I am frantic and worrying about homework sheets and exams.

    Ironically, all this worrying gets in the way doing any actual work! As a result, I've had a pretty bad few weeks, with regards to studying.

    Would appreciate some help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 9, 2014 #2


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    You study an for a hour everyday?
    Study as much as you can for each day if you don't want anxiety when the exam nears.
    I have my physics exam tomorrow and I studied everything today itself. Let all your energy and time be spent on studying.(when the exam is near)
  4. Jun 9, 2014 #3


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    If you are reading something that doesn't make sense, look it up online, you can find different explanations that may be easier. An example is Laplace Transforms, they are pretty confusing but there are two brilliant videos about them online, those 1-2 hours of watching videos is probably worth 2 days of staring confusedly at a textbook.
  5. Jun 9, 2014 #4


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    ^What is confusing about Laplace Transforms? Where can the two brilliant videos be found?
  6. Jun 9, 2014 #5


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    I think when one first learns about the LT, it's difficult to get a big picture view. Here are the two vids:

    Vid 1, Vid 2
  7. Jun 9, 2014 #6


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    As adjacent suggested, one hour a day is inadequate. Especially since you say you're already behind. The general rule of thumb is: for every hour of lecture you should study two to three hours.

    Now that begs the question - what does "studying" mean to you? Are you reading and re-reading the theory? That isn't an effective use of time, IMO. Think about your tests. Do they ask deep questions about theory? Probably not. Do they ask you to solve problems quickly? I bet they do!

    So how much time do you spend with a pencil in your hand, solving problems?
  8. Jun 10, 2014 #7
    Thanks for that: "So how much time do you spend with a pencil in your hand, solving problems?"

    It's something I realized, of course, but there was some cognitive dissonance, no doubt. My mind is too muddy, from all the nonsense (negative thought loops or hours of TV, ha!) I indulge in.

    I barely spend any time doing problems. I feel OCD about reading all the theory first. The other thing is I spend more time staring at the theory, rather than reading it. Perhaps what will work better for me is simply attempting to solve the problems, and then use this as a motivation for the theory, and slowly filling in the gaps from there?
  9. Jun 10, 2014 #8
    It might help to set small, obtainable goals. Instead of thinking about catching up to where you need to be, set a goal like such as reading 1-2 pages. But don't just read it, really understand it, explain it to yourself, and ask questions to others if the need arises.

    Then maybe later in the day, try to think back and recall what you have learned.

    As for reading first vs. trying the problems first, I don't know what will work for you.
  10. Jun 10, 2014 #9


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    The problem with this is, reading the theory is not enough. You can know all the theory and still fail because the questions are pretty obtuse. You need to calculate, calculate, calculate, but in a way that becomes more efficient. Find the best way, understand how it works. Look at tension for example. You can know all the theory but some of those pulley questions are pretty difficult. Whereas if you are hammering away at the questions and thinking about what the best method is, you'll soon realize what is important.
  11. Jun 10, 2014 #10


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    It's very easy, and extremely commonplace, for people to read a section of a physics book and convince themselves that they understood it; they then attempt a problem and realize that they haven't understood anything. Reading a physics book without spending the large majority of the time doing problems is like learning modal theory on guitar without ever using it in an actual improvisational setting. It's useless.
  12. Jun 10, 2014 #11
    This sounds similar to what I go through. It is hard for me to get started, but once I start tackling the problems, I get into it and it's fun.

    I try to remove as many distractions as possible. Turn off the TV. Keep your room and house clean. Have all of your supplies always out and ready, and your book sitting on your desk to remind you.

    I think I probably have a bad case of ADD or something, because I cannot force myself to shift my train of thought. And if my mind isn't actively thinking about the subject I am supposed to be studying, then it will strongly resist switching from whatever other thoughts are in my head.

    To try and shift my focus, I try to sit and think about some curious question related to what I am studying, maybe a challenge problem, and just think for a little while. Then maybe I will find myself grabbing my book to try and help me understand, and then before you know it I am totally focused on it.

    Or, usually, I fail, and end up staying up all night researching random unrelated subjects on the internet.

    Sort of strangely, I have noticed that if someone asks me how to do a problem or how to make sense of something in the homework or in general, I just figure it out myself quickly so I can help them out. Having other people count on me motivates me I guess. I feel as though if I was responsible for teaching the class, I could easily learn all of the material in great depth at an accelerated pace.

    Not sure if you're like me, but it might help to have a few friends in class who you meet up with on a regular basis to discuss the problems, and help each other out. Even if it's a one way relationship, so long as it motivates you.
  13. Jun 10, 2014 #12
    stop negative thoughts, exercise daily, practice relaxation techniques
  14. Jun 10, 2014 #13
    How do you (or any student seeing this, really) typically study for a physics course?
  15. Jun 10, 2014 #14
    During full course loads (5 simultaneous courses, 1 of which was a usually a lab or numerical methods course), I never studied any less than 5-7 hours on weekdays except perhaps during the first 2 weeks of classes. A little less on Fridays which were spent doing the bulk of lab report work immediately after labs. 8+ hours on most Saturdays and Sundays.

    An additional 1-3 hours would be added when final exams were 4-6 weeks away or so (I never had midterms, finals were all that counted). The anxiety can be mitigated by studying more and doing more problems, in excess of what is required of your homework assignments and book chapters. Once you're done with them, go for other books (like problem collections), online resources, past exams, and leave no stone unturned. Stay ahead of your coursework.

    If you're getting stuck reading all the theory over and over, how about starting the problems as soon as you get them before anything else. Just do it, write something and try it. Make mistakes, nobody is going to see you embarrass yourself.Then go back and forth between it, the theory and examples in a book. If insufficient, use the internet, but leave this as a last resort as it is easy to go off on a tangent and waste a lot of time, as you already know. I would make a rule for myself to at least try the first 1/3 of any problem sheet I got the same day, despite most of the time they were never graded as homework(you have this additional incentive). Sometimes I had enough lectures to be able to do so, other times it gave me good incentive to read ahead.

    Also, spend the bulk of your study time at your university library within an arms' reach to textbooks on the subject you are doing. Sometimes after getting stuck for an hour or two on the same issue a quick perusal through the relevant chapter in a book by a different author would usually do the trick, provide a better explanation or an example that helps you solve the problem you're stuck on.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  16. Jun 10, 2014 #15
    I appreciate the additional perspectives, thank you.

    Did you find time for other activities, like reading, weight training, or hanging out with friends/girls?
  17. Jun 10, 2014 #16
    No, I had to make big sacrifices to my free time (stopped guitar, video games and weightlifting for a few years cold turkey, except the former during the summer/from time to time). YMMV. But ultimately if you really like what you are studying, it doesn't feel like a chore most of the time.

    In hindsight I should've kept some form of weightlifting, as I developed postural imbalance/chronic upper back pain from all that time hitting the books. 10 months into weightlifting again now and slowly fixing that...
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  18. Jun 10, 2014 #17


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    8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, and 8 hours downtime per day is a good starting point. Of course the "downtime" includes looking after yourself, traveling time, etc, as well as hanging out with friends, but if all of that 8 hours is taken up with your personal survival, something is wrong somewhere.
  19. Jun 10, 2014 #18


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    The amount of effort I put into a physics class, as far as extra studying and working extra problems are concerned, scales depending on whether or not I enjoy the subject. I'd be lying if I said I put in the same effort into all my physics classes :tongue2:

    I also try my best not to study simply for the sake of getting a good grade on exams or assigned problem sets. I feel like above anything else this is what, by the end of the semester, dramatically takes away from a much deeper understanding of the subject. Sure you get a good grade but you get nothing out of the class really. This is really hard to do for a physics subject that I (or you or anyone else) have no passion for but I've noticed that the more "grade-minded" I am the less I actually learn from the class; this is not surprising of course.

    Now when it comes to physics books, there are naturally two types: those with problems and those without problems. The ones with problems tend to be introductory to a subject, at either the undergraduate or graduate level. With these what I've been taught to do, and what has worked rather effectively, is to first skim through a chapter, particularly any examples if there are any, just to get a handle on terminology and newly introduced quantities or methods. Then I would go straight to the problems at the end of the chapter and/or within the chapter depending on the style of the book, and start trying to work through them. If I get stuck then I go back to the relevant section and try to digest the material in much more depth with the problem at the back of my mind.

    This is where I start taking down notes of various questions that I start to accrue and which I can ask the professor or TA during the next lecture or office hours. After I feel like I've done enough of the problems I move on; the books I'm forced to use or use for my own entertainment tend to be those which have anywhere from ~10-30 problems a chapter so doing most if not all of them is certainly plausible but given that some problems can take a lot of thinking and time it's usually a huge time sink.

    As for the types of books which do not have problems, I'm afraid I still haven't figured out how to effectively learn from them across the board; there's only one physics subject I feel comfortable enough with to even attempt learning from such books. Usually these are the books you would read for a given subject after having garnered enough experience doing calculations and whatnot from books on the subject that do have problems.
  20. Jun 10, 2014 #19
    I understand how you feel. What I've found works for me, is that I practice equations over and over until I know them cold. Once I do, I usually feel pretty confident about it (tests are a slightly different story, but that's an entirely different situation than studying). When you need to do a lot of math, just do it over and over again until it becomes second nature. When it does, solving problems just becomes a reflex, and your mind won't even go to anxiety.
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