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I keep getting C's

  1. Aug 8, 2008 #1
    Hi, title says all; just finished physics 2 (freshman E&M) mostly likely with a C, I guess I'm making this thread for some study tips; in my E&M I made friends with a whole bunch of pre-meds who most of them got A's, the ones with lower grades got B+'s; I don't know I just feel really inadequate around them and I'm not sure what to do to match grades like that (I'm not trying to be in competition with them or anything, I just want A's).

    I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing differently than they are, I read the book, I do the problems at the back of the chapter, I watch extra lectures online sometimes; obviously I'm not understanding the conceps enough but what can I do to improve my understanding and the quality of the studying I'm getting done, do I just have to sit there and do every single problem in the back of the chapter and maybe even get some more books and do their problems?

    I have calc 3, differential equations, and linear algebra next semester; I know studying for math is a little different than physics but I really want this semester to go well (I need it to), any help is appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 8, 2008 #2


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    Everyone has their own method of learning. I'll give some random tips I follow:

    What I'd usually do is identify concepts within a particular chapter for example, then look for excercises which require those concepts to be used. Some textbooks group the excercises by textbook sections, and you could try out those problems until you're sure you've understood the concepts. But then you'll also have to ensure that you've understood the concepts in relation to others as well, not just in isolation. This is where those challenging problems located at the very end of the excercises come in. Try them out and compare them to your friends.

    Also try to ask yourself more "What if?" questions. These are the type of questions along the line of "The notes show how to derive the equations for such a setup, but what happens if say that capacitor was initially uncharged? How then would I rederive the formulae?" or "What happens if instead of a single electron in a quantum well, we have two electrons instead? How would I solve the Schrodinger equation for the wavefunctions?" Those really help to test your understanding of the concepts employed. Of course your question may require some advanced concepts not required in your class, but in that case you could choose to ignore them.

    Personally I keep a notebook (a large A4 one) of all the classes I am taking for a particular semester. If and when I get stuck with a question or concept, I record it down along with any partial attempt to solve it, then show it to my friends or the lecturer for help.

    When you think you've understood a concept, try closing the textbook and explain to yourself the particular concept you've just learned on a blank piece of paper. Just imagine as though you're explaining it to a friend in the same class who hasn't learnt it yet, you'll find that sometimes you can come up with "What if?" questions, which you should attempt to answer.

    That's about all I can think of the moment. Physics/maths is largely about practice.
  4. Aug 8, 2008 #3
    maybe you should consider dropping a course and just take two classes next semester... so you have more time to devote to each course... see how you do and if you works maybe you just need to lighten your class load....
  5. Aug 8, 2008 #4
    I don't believe you are studying like you should be if you are getting Cs. Are you cramming the work a few days before tests? You need to be exposed to material over extended periods of time to really be fluent with the concepts.

    Just reading the books doesn't mean much. You must actively read them, take notes, and ponder about the concepts. If you read them like a novel, don't be surprised if you forget concepts. After each section, look at bold terms and define them for yourself on paper and then check the books definition and match it up. Viewing extra lectures is also pointless. You can't have someone drill the material in your head. You need to ponder it out on your own pace at home.

    As for problems? No, you don't need to do all the problems. Not even 25% of them! Just pick a few really hard ones to make connections with the material. Struggling with 1 hard problem is better than doing 10 drill exercises. ANd solve problems on your own. Don't memorize how to do things via examples. Actually sit there and try to do it on your own. In the words of Spivak, "Trying to do the work on your own is 1000 times more enlighting than reading up the solution". You'll remember more too. Review the mechanical techniques too. You won't remember how to solve say a second-order DE having done it only on one day.
  6. Aug 8, 2008 #5


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    I would also recommend:
    - joining or starting a study group.
    - going over your old exams & mid-terms to see if there's any problems you can identify with your test-taking skills and your approach to problem solving
    - finding and going over exams from previous years (the numbers may change, but often the problems are quite similar)
    - visiting your professor during office hours as soon as you feel you don't understand something
    - getting adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition
  7. Aug 8, 2008 #6
    Are you positive when you are reading you are absorbing the material? I find that sometimes I need to read a passage multiple times then think about it before moving on to understand a concept.
  8. Sep 10, 2008 #7
    For a course like Organic Chemistry, does this still apply? I mean doing only the tougher types or the marathon questions better than doing all of them? I am assuming your method for most math/physics/analytical chem courses does work well as those last questions tend to incorporate everything from the chapters and previous chapters.

    I will give your method a try, because I find that I do not have a lot time during the day but would like to do a lot of questions or at least the ones that that challenge my understand better.
  9. Sep 10, 2008 #8
    You're right that you shouldn't compare yourself to others! At risk of sounding bitter, I'd also like to suggest that some pre-meds are much better at getting good marks than learning material. I got a C in freshman E&M too, but I'm going to a well ranked physics grad program, while many of my pre-med friends (who aced the class) did horribly on the physics section of the MCAT.

    Your study habits are going to have to change, to be sure, but grades are really a very secondary metric (unless you're also a pre-med; the competition in that field just amazes me. I remember a girl storming out of my freshman Chem class in tears because she earned a B on a test!) If you really know the material the grade will come - I'm just warning against focusing on that aspect.
  10. Sep 10, 2008 #9
    Don't only do the tougher/marathon questions, as starting out with just those will be frustrating. What I'm saying is don't do every single question, because you want to save some time for the harder ones - which are the ones that appear on tests. So instead of doing 20 drill problems, do 10 and 2-3 hard ones.

    All I'm saying is include those hard questions in your diet. Don't take things too literally, and still do what you feel is right.
  11. Sep 10, 2008 #10


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    you seem to be saying you already know what you need to do, you just don't want to do it.
  12. Sep 10, 2008 #11
    This is the best philosophy to take (in my opinion of course): Don't stop until you understand every aspect of what you are reading. Question what they assume, question if there implications are correct, question if they assume too much, ETC., you get the idea.

    Nevermind the grades. Worry about really understanding the material. Develop a fundamental understanding of the material. This usually comes with pouring hours and hours into reviewing, re-reading, re analyzing the book.
  13. Sep 10, 2008 #12


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    Okay, it seems you're aware that your problem is with not grasping the concepts sufficiently to master the material. What you describe as your study habits sounds just about like what should earn a C. So, while that's not good for your grades, that's good that what you're describing is consistent with what you're earning, so we have a solid starting place for helping you.

    From the perspective of someone who writes exams, I put enough "regurgitation" questions on that if someone attends lecture, reads the chapter, does their homework, but processes the information no further than rote memorization, they will just barely pass the class (get a C). To earn a B or an A, one needs to understand more than just that, they need to grasp the underlying concepts (to earn a B, you can answer my questions testing concepts), and be able to APPLY those concepts...that's what earns the A.

    So, how do you get from a C to an A? You have to do more than just try to absorb material passively. Reading the book, listening to lectures, that sort of stuff is just passive absorption. You need to start being more of an active learner...ask your own questions. When you do a homework problem, rather than just trying to get to the answer (do you really work through them completely on your own, or are you peeking at solutions?), ask yourself, "What is this problem testing?" Then delve into it...do you understand the concept? I don't mean can you recite a definition, but can you really explain what it means? If someone asked you to explain it in another way besides the definition, could you do it? Once you think you understand the concept, ask yourself how it relates to other concepts in that chapter. Do you need it to derive another equation, for example? Then, ask how it relates to other chapters.

    As you learn how to learn better, you'll know which things to focus on and which are little details to ignore, but initially, you almost have to think like a toddler..."Why? Why? Why? But, why?" :wink:
  14. Sep 11, 2008 #13
    This is very true. I have known people who just studied for the sake of the grade and after finishing the course they just forget everything or don't understand anything anymore. This is why most grad schools at my University require three referrals minimum before anything else.
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