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Improving study habits

  1. Mar 26, 2008 #1

    I am finishing up my fourth year (technically my third, but that is another story). I am really burned out and I am really starting to dislike my classes, and my grades have reflected that. I haven't failed anything yet, but I got a C in both quarters of Analytical Mechanics and a C in the first quarter of E&M. I really want to pull myself out of this pit, but I have no confidence in myself to do any better than I am. I used to be near the top of my lower division classes, but since my butt got kicked in mechanics I lost whatever momentum I had. The issue seems to be a combination of apathy and poor exam skills (which are a result my my apathy, since I used to be good at exams). Now I am coming up on another quarter of E&M and the first of QM along with a couple other classes I will do well in (electrical engineering course and data acquisition).

    I enjoy research and experiment but I am learning to hate the theory classes I am taking and I can't wait to be through with them. I need help! Motivation, study tips, anything. All suggestions are welcome! Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 26, 2008 #2
    I can also benefit from these :D and I'm in highschool and am just realizing the horrors of our corrupt society, government; so these will definitely help :D
  4. Mar 26, 2008 #3

    I've been through similar situations. I'm used to doing very well in my courses and always receiving grades at least within the top 10%-15% of my class. I've also been unmotivated and needed some sort of persuasion to keep on going.

    I think the best thing is to try hard and get another very good grade because once you get this good grade, you change your mentality into thinking... "I can keep doing this if I try." What got me going at first was when I did very well in my differential equations class. I received grades something like 97 in Test 1, 95 in Test 2, and 99 on the Final Exam... after those grades and receiving an A, you get back into your momentum.

    For me at least, getting a good grade on whatever exam you have coming up is the best approach. Also, when I started the new quarter, I thought to myself... "Ok. As of now, I have an A in this class / 100. Let me see how long I can go until I can get an average grade." By then, you're studying really hard to keep up that perfect score... then you get your first exam (after studying for a while) and you see that you did good. That only serves as further motivation to continue to ace the class because you're so close to it.

    Also, competition was big for me. Think of it this way - your friends are constantly studying and receiving good grades when you aren't. They'll find jobs / be admitted into top-notch graduate school programs... you'll struggle to find a job / graduate school. Whose shoes would you rather be in?
  5. Mar 27, 2008 #4
    I know that improving my test scores would give me a good boost. I earned an A in my electronics course this quarter and had the highest grade in the class in my computational class last quarter (but of course it was only one unit, go figure). I have just started racking up the C's in the last two quarters, and I am a terrible test taker. I totally blew the E&M final with a 71/200. I sat and stared at it the whole time and it was mainly because I forgot all of my formulas. He gives us a few but no note sheet. The last midterm he gave us all the equations that we needed, but he gave us the same list for the final, which had questions that were literally asking you to write formulas from the book. I tried to withdraw from mechanics earlier this quarter (I can't believe I got a C) because I scored 27/100 on the exam in that class; the mean was 55/100.

    I don't know what the mental block is, and if I could remove it I could start to do well in my classes and build up some momentum. I am just feeling so burned out after four years of undergrad that the prospect of three more quarters is daunting.
  6. Mar 27, 2008 #5
    I totally agree with this.!!
  7. Mar 28, 2008 #6
    Colin, maybe that might just be your problem. Your too over worked and need to take a break. This is not something unusual and I have heard of people who take like a year off after undergrad before pursuing anything else. Maybe you are different and need to take a year off before finishing your final year.
  8. Mar 28, 2008 #7
    While BioCore's suggestion is helpful, I do think a year is a little to excessive. I'm on spring break now and it's just enough for me to cool down and not do anything school/study-related for a whole week.

    At most, you should consider a semester off... but be sure to do something worthwile. Maybe find a co-op with a company for 6 months? You'll need to explain to your future employer why you took the time off.
  9. Apr 3, 2008 #8
    Physics is hard. Many times I wanted to switch my major from Physics to Ceramics or Business or something easy. I ended up seeing it through and earning a PhD from MIT in atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

    Exam skills are built on the foundation of homework skills because in most courses, exam problems are like homework problems. Exam day in physics is like recital day in music. You will perform how you have trained yourself to perform.

    Do you approach each problem with formula roulette? Bad plan.

    Use a consistent problem solving procedure:

    Draw a picture.

    Identify important general principles (words, not formulas).

    Outline a plan, an orderly sequence of intermediate steps for solving the problem.

    Formulas only come into play when executing the plan.

    Execute the plan and look back, asking if the answer makes sense.

    I bet you succeeded in the earlier courses via formula roulette and never really learned the problem solving skills needed in the later courses.

    Be meticulous in your homework, not just in solving the problems correctly, but in using and documenting your careful problem solving approach.

    Michael Courtney
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