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Is it normal to feel overwhelmed by the workload in first year?

  1. Oct 6, 2011 #1
    In high school, my homework never used to take me more than 2 hours per day, on average. Now that I am in university, I've increased the time I spend on problem sets+ assigned readings to 6 hours per day and I'm just struggling to keep up especially due to the fact that problems are more thought provoking (proof-y problem sets for math classes) and 100 problems are assigned weekly in each math class I'm taking, while the problem sets in my other science classes are tame but I still spend time doing the recommended problems.

    Is this normal for a first year science and math student, or am I doing something wrong? How did you deal with the workload in first year without falling behind? I would appreciate some tips.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 6, 2011 #2


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    What the hell? 100 problems each week? That's absurd.

    Yes it's normal to get a kick in the butt in the transition from high school to college and yes you should expect to study the number of hours you are studying, but 100 problems in 1 week for 1 class is nonsense.
  4. Oct 6, 2011 #3


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    100 problems per week is insane! Are you in Math55 or something?
  5. Oct 6, 2011 #4


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    That is the old school teaching method - repetition ad infinitum until the point sinks in [circa 1970's]. 100 problems a week is no big deal when they are thematic. I found it most effective to tackle the hardest problem first, the rest usually fell into place once that mountain was ascended.
  6. Oct 6, 2011 #5
    Forget about the 100! Start with SOME of the easy ones first and try SOME of the more difficult. But when you notice that the method starts to go the same way you do not have to keep churning out solutions like a machine churns out duplicates.
  7. Oct 6, 2011 #6
    My school prides itself on its rigor and their intense workload. Some of my classmates already gave up after the first problem sets, because they were falling behind in all of their other classes. I'd say the majority of the people in my classes are behind, and I'm just struggling to keep up. Aside from the eating and sleeping and basic errands (laundry, cleaning, etc.), I spend the remaining time on problem sets or assigned readings and even then I feel that I do not have enough time. :frown:
  8. Oct 6, 2011 #7
    How many classes are you taking. Which such an insane workload per class I hope you took less of them. It's always a good idea to not take alot of classes your first semester so you can get used college workloads. I'm a junior level EE taking 20credits and I only have about 70-80 problems TOTAL a week. Although the number of problems doesnt really say much. 1 problem in statistics takes about 1min while 1 problem in circuit analysis takes upwards of an hour.

    I can't imagine 100 problems being at all necessary. You probably end up doing alot of duplicates and the work then just becomes time consuming and not educational. It's the reason I never did hw in school. First few problems would be interesting and then it would just get tedious and I would quit.
  9. Oct 6, 2011 #8
    I am currently taking only 4 classes (linear algebra, honors calculus, intro to physics I, and intro to programming). The 100 problems assigned in calculus do not take that long, and there aren't that many proofs (I've only had induction at most, which is quite mechanical for me now). But, linear algebra can get very tedious and very time consuming. Don't get me wrong, I love the proofs, but I am not liking the fact that working through all of the problems would mean I fall behind in all my other classes. The engineers at my school have it much worse. Some don't even take care of basic hygiene, as they believe that is precious time lost which could be better allocated to doing problem sets. Not going to lie, I've had the same thought once or twice.

    It isn't necessary, but they are strongly recommended by the profs. From talking to them in their office hours, they have even admitted the workload may be unbearable, but they've noticed throughout the years that the students who do the best in their classes were the ones who did all the problems that were recommended. I've even skipped a few questions for a several chapters as they were duplicates of another, and when one question has too many parts, I just would only do sub-sections a, b, c, and sometimes d if it weren't identical to the preceding questions.
  10. Oct 6, 2011 #9
    Wait a second.. 100 problems in Calculus doesn't take that long yet your school is "rigorous?" Is that a joke? If it's not a joke, that must be the biggest plug and chug course ever because there is nothing "rigorous" about 100 problems due every week.

    I went to a very "rigorous" undergrad school but they would never assign 100 problems a week for one class. I would say the average was 10 problems per week in a class, 2 being trivial, 3-5 being difficult, and the rest were challenging. Rarely was there 100%'s on problem sets, if you got a 100% it felt like you won the lottery. Those 10 problems would take anywhere from 10-15 hours a week. And that time frame takes into account that you won't actually solve a couple of those problems.

    How are these 100 problem problem sets graded? Also, who is grading these?
  11. Oct 6, 2011 #10
    Agreed. The only way they're assigning you 100 problems a week is if 80% of the problems are carbon copies of each other; there's no need for it at all.

    Differentiate a few polynomials. Once you get get the hang of it, move on to a few harder problems. Once you get the hang of those, move on to something harder still. There's no need to spend five hours differentiating a thousand polynomials; you're not learning anything after the first five. Just pick a few challenging problems and pay careful attention to what you have to do when solving them.
  12. Oct 6, 2011 #11
    Erm, no. If these were simple questions such as "find the derivative of X", then I wouldn't be complaining. No, the questions are 50% proofs and 50% computation, problems that involve delta epsilon and induction proofs.

    So, just because something was done differently at your school, then you assume my problem sets are a relative joke?

    Only a fraction of them are graded, but the recommended problem sets + the assigned ones total 100 problems.

    My apologies if I sound condescending. All I am trying to convey is that the problem sets I do are not trivial problems found in just any calculus text unless, of course, proofs are trivial to you.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2011
  13. Oct 6, 2011 #12
    I'm going explain why I'm confused and also in question of what you're trying to tell us.

    Your first post:
    You said 100 problems are assigned each week for each math class, which are "proof-y" problems. Then you change the information some in your 2nd post and say that the calculus class doesn't have "many" proofs.

    Finally, you tell us that 50% of the questions are proofs... You say it's NOT 100 assigned but a total of 100 problems, which an unknown number are just recommended.

    I really hope you understand why I'm incredibly confused. The best guess I can make is that when you say "there aren't many" that means 50% of whatever you're talking about. If I flipped a coin 1000 times, there aren't many heads, right?
  14. Oct 6, 2011 #13
    Ah, my mistake. The problems that must be handed in are mostly computational with some proofs, while the "recommended" but optional problems are mostly proof-y type problems.

    And there is no standard, sometimes it changes from the mandatory problems to being 50% proofs and 50% computations while the recommended problems may also have a similar breakdown, and last week the problems exceeded 100 questions while the first 2 weeks they weren't as much. 100 is an average. As for my second post, my mistake again. I meant, there aren't as many proofs relative to my linear algebra class, where the vast majority of problems are proofs.

    My apologies, I hope my clarification above cleared up everything or most.
  15. Oct 6, 2011 #14
    Doing that amount of problems seems highly unnecessary. In fact the standard at most upper level classes (at my school at least) is about 6-8 MEANINGFUL problems per class per week. Those take me ranging from 5-15 hours per problem set.
  16. Oct 6, 2011 #15
    I haven't heard of many universities that allow you to take linear algebra concurrently with Calculus I. Most I've heard of require at least Calculus II to take it. I see you are taking Honors Calculus and you mention there are not that many proofs compared to your linear algebra class where 50% of the problems in your Calculus class are proofs. I can't see why the math department would allow you to take a theoretical linear algebra class when you haven't even finished first semester calculus. Also, I am just about as confused as SophusLies.
  17. Oct 6, 2011 #16
    100 problems? Depending on what they are, that might not be so bad.

    My Calculus II professor assigns us about 40 problems per week, and then grades 3 at random. Most of my classmates don't do them all since the homework is such a small percentage of the total grade (10%). I do each one and check all the solutions and I am not kidding when I say it takes me 20 hours per week just to do it all. But the problems he selects require many different approaches, and often things we simply haven't learned yet but are easily within our grasp.

    I never had to spend much time on any non-science course homeworks. Are you talking about random humanities/english/whatever courses?

    My university offers a 2000 series Linear Algebra course that is really just some Matrix algebra and an intro to basic proofs. I'm not even sure you need calculus I to take it.
  18. Oct 6, 2011 #17
    Little knowledge is required of calculus to actually do the course, according to my instructor. The course credit is required to even declare as a math major by the end of the year, and I'm taking calculus II in the second semester.
  19. Oct 8, 2011 #18

    In high school I did the homework regularly, but didn't bother studying for tests. I did very well on tests just by reviewing the night--or even a few hours--before a test. In university, you cannot do that. You have to do the homework as assigned and you have to review regularly. There is usually so much material, and so much new stuff, you have no choice but to constantly review the material and master it in order to do well on tests.

    And it gets worse. If you survive the weeding out that takes place in first year university, the workload gets even worse in upper years.
  20. Oct 8, 2011 #19


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    What you're experiencing is the first academic bottleneck of university.

    In my experience there seems to be a fairly common pattern among students. You were probably smarter than the average student and so got above average marks. But now that you're in university, you're in a pool of people who all had marks that were high enough to at least make the entrance cut-off. Another, smaller bottleneck occurs in transitioning to upper year classes - usually only people who do well in first year physics tend to focus on it as a major. Another major bottleneck occurs after entrance to graduate school. Graduate schools tend to select the best applicants from their pools, so again, the bar is set higher.

    Unfortunately not all high schools really challenge their students, so getting decent grades isn't too difficult if you're generally dilligent in doing the work that's assigned. For some people, high school almost becomes a competition to see how well you can do without any studying or effort. I mean - who wants to spend their weekends studying when you know that you're going to get at least an 85% on the test without even opening the textbook?

    The problem with this is that you don't develop any good study habits, so that when you actually do get to a course that challenges you, you have to learn them in a hurry or get low marks until you do.

    One of the specific things that sounds like it will help is the following. Separate assignments (ie. that which you will hand in for marks) from recommended exercises. Do the assigned work rigorously and in the time that's left over, survey the recommended material. It's okay to not do all of it. Try specificially to find the parts that you don't understand or have problems with and work on those ones specifically - spend your time playing with them, talk with others about them, seek advice on them during office hours, etc.
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