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Improving Study Habits

  1. Jul 14, 2008 #1
    Ok so I have been trying to improve my study habits a bit. I would like to try and generally have enough time to study and do extracurricular work such as volunteering at a lab or for a Professor or try and get a internship at some company. But to be able to do this I need to refine my study skills a bit. I have been trying to do this with my current course, Intro Physics.

    I would like to know how some of you generally go about understanding the concepts. When are you happy with how much you understand or how do you go about understanding a concept? I would like to be able to understand something so that I can apply to many different situations which I believe is a must in my future if I would like to work in Biotechnology Industry.

    Also, do any of you have some good books that might have changed the way you thought of approaching Physics or studying in general. Or any books that made you think differently when it came to Physics or chemistry style courses?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2008 #2


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    With physics you understand by doing physics problems. Go do the end-of-chapter excercises. I had a physics lecturer who once told my freshman physics class that he solved the whole freshman physics textbook while studying first-year physics.
  4. Jul 15, 2008 #3
    Wow, that sounds insane amount of work along with his other courses. But I guess that is why they are our Profs.
  5. Jul 15, 2008 #4


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    Part of an intelligent approach to your studies though is knowing when you understand enough about a subject to stop. Otherwise you enter the realm of diminishing returns.
  6. Jul 15, 2008 #5
    In other words what you are saying is that a person does not have to do a lot of Physics Problems in order to fully understand a subject? My question here though is, what type of questions would help you realize that you understand the concepts well? Would doing lots of simple questions work better or do most of the challenging and marathon problems be better approach?
  7. Jul 15, 2008 #6

    Dr Transport

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    I found that if my professor published the assigned homework assignments at the beginning of the course, or at least prior to their covering the material in class I tried to start doing the problems on my own before the material in class. I did this for undergrad E&M and for graduate QM and learned more in lecture because I was focused much more fully and relaxed.

    It really worked for E&M because I was almost done with the weeks assignments before the lectured material.
  8. Jul 15, 2008 #7
    That seems to work better for me most of the time, but not all of the time... it might just depend on the lecturer (and obviously the material and student). I guess there's two main ways I look at it:

    1.) Go to lecture first to be introduced to the material. This makes it much more familiar before picking up the book to fill gaps and reinforce.

    2.) Wrestle with most of the material so I have a pretty good/thorough understanding of it before the associated lecture. Then, during the lecture everything's a review and I can focus on weak areas (maybe the book didn't explain something well enough and now I'm prepared with questions), more on nuances the professor emphasizes and insight from him/her that may have been lost if I was just now being introduced to it.

    That may depend on the class and simply doesn't work if you're bored throughout the class.

    Looking through the section briefly before class is another choice; becoming familiar with just with definitions/theorems/new notation is always good although I usually do one of the above
  9. Jul 16, 2008 #8
    I do as many practice problems as time permits. As I get deeper into my studies, I find that I forget a lot of the material that I have learned before and then have to resort back to foundational concepts, which takes extra time. This experience has caused me to keep an archive of my completed problems/notes--although it takes time to compile, I think it saves time when strict deadlines for assignments are involved.

    To understand a subject more deeply, I recommend exploring ideas that span across multiple disciplines--a lot of homework problems can be isolated in context. For example, I recently explored in an analytical manner the idea of supplementing a car engine with hydrogen and oxygen produced from water electrolysis. This required the use of thermodynamic and electrochemistry concepts, to name a few. I feel that experiences like these improve knowledge retention better than just doing homework problems.

    I also keep a scientific journal for my explorations, such as the one mentioned above. This helps with reviewing ideas and checking the progression of my knowledge over time.
  10. Jul 16, 2008 #9
    Thanks for the replies. I enjoyed reading your comment buffordboy because I too have noticed that if I study some concept that is not directly related or just for fun I retain concepts much more.

    I have another question. I am picking my courses and I have quite a few BIO and some CHEM courses this year. The CHEM courses are Analytical Chemistry and Organic I and II. There i though for second year a Physical Chem course and an inorganic chemistry course. Would you guys recommend I take these as well, or maybe postpone them till next year so as not to put myself in a bad position.
  11. Jul 17, 2008 #10
    It depends. If your willing to devote a majority of your time towards school, with little time for a social life, then it sounds feasible. You could get a jumpstart now by contacting your professors and getting the course textbooks.

    I took differential equations, calculus 3, linear algebra, modern physics, astrophysics, and a scientific writing course in one semester. I had assignments due every week and three finals on one day. That semester of courses consumed a lot of time, even on weekends, and it didn't help that I commuted about an hour to school. Studying for tests took a lot of time b/c the test scores usually counted as 90% of overall grade with final included--I felt like I had to know everything b/c of tricky test problems used to separate the class. I also had three finals in one day, but I managed to pull great grades. I was so relieved at the end of the semester.

    I would also look at your overall goals in making your decision. Do you need these courses now in order to take other courses in the future? Scheduling courses over four years of education is kind of a strategic game b/c some courses are offered intermittently and have prerequisites attached. Don't completely trust your adviser; I talked with some students who followed the advice of their adviser, only to get the shaft in the end and go an extra semester or two.
  12. Jul 17, 2008 #11
    This might sound strange, but I would try to pick a few problems and get to know them in detail to develop a “feel” for them, literally, a feel for how the solution types act etc.
  13. Jul 17, 2008 #12
    Good point. Students in intro physics courses have a tendency to substitute given values way too early. This tends to complicate the visionary process of how and why the physical equations are being applied and transformed. Wait to plug values into an equation until you have only one variable remaining, the one that you are trying to solve for.

    Another helpful idea is to use dimensional analysis. For example, suppose that your final answer is supposed to be in meters per second, which is velocity. Write your units of all values as they would normally appear in the associated equation, and then cancel like units; if this cancellation didn't result in meters per second being the only units remaining, you definitely made a mistake.
  14. Jul 17, 2008 #13

    Andy Resnick

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    I have found that some books resonate with me more than others. There's no rhyme or reason to it- the writing style somehow made the material more clear. Or less clear, depending on the author. The only solution (for me) is to read as many different points of view as possible- especially those that emphasize concepts that I initially think are obvious or inane.

    An example- the textbook was Goodman's "Fourier Optics". The first time I read and worked through the derivation showing how the far-field scattering pattern of an aperture is the Fourier transform of the aperture, it was amoment of total clarity. It also opened my eyes to all of the other parts of Physics that deals with scattering- light scattering, electron scattering, x-ray crystallography, etc. etc. Now, when I teach microscopy classes, I only use the Fourier Optics formalism.

    I also enjoy reading anything by Clifford Truesdell- I find he clarifies conceptual foundations like nobody else.
  15. Jul 17, 2008 #14

    Dr Transport

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    Yeah, that was a great class and if memory serves me correctly, we both did pretty well in it.
  16. Jul 17, 2008 #15


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    Some professors will require solving problems in symbolic form before substituting known values to find the target variable's value. The symbolic solution process must be shown, the substitution process must be shown; and if even the correct numeric result is shown but not the other two processes, no credit is given on the exercise. THAT'S HOW IMPORTANT such a solution method is. Also, some exercises or assessment items specify dimensional analysis - it becomes part of the course instruction and a main course objective.

    That kind of process becomes useful later when you have a career as an employee somewhere in science or technology.
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