Mastering Physics Problems: Tips and Advice for Solving Challenges

In summary: However, it's also important to remember that you're not studying to pass exams, you're studying to learn. Passing exams is a byproduct of that.Please don't take this the wrong way, but have you discussed this with your family doctor or the doctors available to you through your school enrollment? There are some learning disabilities that manifest themselves in patterns like this, and they can usually be addressed once they are diagnosed. Especially if you want to continue into higher education going forward, it would be important to identify any medical issues and address them with your doctors' help, IMO.I have talked to my family doctor about this and they said that it's just a learning style that I
  • #1
VVS2000
150
17
Hello All!

I recently finished my undergrad but to be honest I actually feel like not learning anything. I could ace the tests because I knew the "pattern" of questions that would come but now if I open an EM textbook by griffiths, I am pretty sure I understand the topic but struggle a lot in solving problems.

sometimes by just seeing the question I don't know even where to begin in solving the problem. But then when I get this doubt cleared either on this forum or some solutions online, it will all seem clear but I simply cannot replicate the same solving methodology when I am doing it myself.

I have decided to not rush my masters and take a year off in order to fully learn how to do physics the "right" way. I don't want to get all the solutions to every physics problem but at least develop some kind of approach in how to solve them.

Any thoughts/advice or books to refer would be deeply appreciated, Thanks!
 
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  • #2
Problems in physics classes are designed to be tough, to be broad, and to challenge you. You spend hours on a problem or two and then just when you begin to get a grasp on how to solve them you've moved on to another topic and can't afford to linger. So you often feel as if you're barely skating by, like you're not learning anything.

This is normal.

Doing physics in the real world is very different than in the classroom. The consequences of failure are typically more severe (bridges don't fall on their own, after all), but you have MUCH more time to focus on a particular set of problems, you usually aren't working alone, and you typically get to focus on one or a few areas instead of having to rush through every area of physics as fast as the education system can get you through.

You're like a 'one-striper' we had in the Air Force. These we fresh airmen just out of basic training and technical school, who typically had the rank of Airman or Airman Basic (1 and 0 stripes respectively). They aren't expected to handle major tasks on their own and they have to devote a lot of time to learning how to do their job still.

No one is expecting you to be able to solve tough electrodynamics problems on your own in a day. They will be expecting you to do what you're told and keep learning.
 
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  • #3
Drakkith said:
Problems in physics classes are designed to be tough, to be broad, and to challenge you. You spend hours on a problem or two and then just when you begin to get a grasp on how to solve them you've moved on to another topic and can't afford to linger. So you often feel as if you're barely skating by, like you're not learning anything.

This is normal.
That's one of the reasons I decided to quit. I was always feeling that I was studying to pass on exams, never to learn properly.

One way to think on problems is to reverse engineer questions. Think "What if this piece of information was changed? What if it was absent? They say that the conditions of this setup are blablabla. Why do I have to disregard this force? Or can I disregard this force?". I think that most physics textbooks at least show that to solve problems involving Newton's laws you have to first identify the setup, then what is known, then what is unknown and what is missing. The solution comes from filling the gaps.
 
  • #4
VVS2000 said:
I recently finished my undergrad but to be honest I actually feel like not learning anything. I could ace the tests because I knew the "pattern" of questions that would come but now if I open an EM textbook by griffiths, I am pretty sure I understand the topic but struggle a lot in solving problems.
Congrats on graduating, but it does indeed sound like it was a troubling journey for you.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but have you discussed this with your family doctor or the doctors available to you through your school enrollment? There are some learning disabilities that manifest themselves in patterns like this, and they can usually be addressed once they are diagnosed. Especially if you want to continue into higher education going forward, it would be important to identify any medical issues and address them with your doctors' help, IMO.

Of course it may not be a learning disability per se, and just a different learning style that works better for you. In either case, it's best to figure this out now, so your learning going forward works better for you.
 
  • #5
0kelvin said:
That's one of the reasons I decided to quit. I was always feeling that I was studying to pass on exams, never to learn properly.
Those aren't necessarily different. There is a lot to learn in modern physics education and you can't spend weeks on every single topic doing projects until your students feel like they 'truly' understand it. Else students would be in school until their 40's.

School isn't supposed to make you an expert in anything, which is what I think many students unconsciously feel. It just gives you the tools and knowledge you need to make yourself an expert.
 
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  • #6
berkeman said:
Congrats on graduating, but it does indeed sound like it was a troubling journey for you.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but have you discussed this with your family doctor or the doctors available to you through your school enrollment? There are some learning disabilities that manifest themselves in patterns like this, and they can usually be addressed once they are diagnosed. Especially if you want to continue into higher education going forward, it would be important to identify any medical issues and address them with your doctors' help, IMO.

Of course it may not be a learning disability per se, and just a different learning style that works better for you. In either case, it's best to figure this out now, so your learning going forward works better for you.
I don't necessarily think it's a medical issue. It's just that the way physics was taught to me in undergrad was not challenging and for exams only 30% of the paper contained problems, rest were derivations and application based theoretical questions
I am finding this issue now because I am preparing for entrance exams and even though I have studied all these topics, when I read the questions they seem very complex to me. But when I see the solutions, I could understand them but it's really more of not being able to identify that starting point to follow through
 
  • #7
Drakkith said:
Problems in physics classes are designed to be tough, to be broad, and to challenge you. You spend hours on a problem or two and then just when you begin to get a grasp on how to solve them you've moved on to another topic and can't afford to linger. So you often feel as if you're barely skating by, like you're not learning anything.

This is normal.

Doing physics in the real world is very different than in the classroom. The consequences of failure are typically more severe (bridges don't fall on their own, after all), but you have MUCH more time to focus on a particular set of problems, you usually aren't working alone, and you typically get to focus on one or a few areas instead of having to rush through every area of physics as fast as the education system can get you through.

You're like a 'one-striper' we had in the Air Force. These we fresh airmen just out of basic training and technical school, who typically had the rank of Airman or Airman Basic (1 and 0 stripes respectively). They aren't expected to handle major tasks on their own and they have to devote a lot of time to learning how to do their job still.

No one is expecting you to be able to solve tough electrodynamics problems on your own in a day. They will be expecting you to do what you're told and keep learning.
the time constraint kind of made me unable to fully dive deep into to the topics itself, let alone following it up by solving problems. But I aim to be able to spend some good time this year in order to amend that. I just feel like if I want to go to grad school, I should be able to solve a problem and at least speak or be able to discuss possible ways of approaching a given problem
 
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  • #8
I haven't been to grad school so I can't give you much advice about it, but if you passed undergrad without difficulty then I find it very hard to believe you wouldn't do well in grad school.

VVS2000 said:
I am finding this issue now because I am preparing for entrance exams and even though I have studied all these topics, when I read the questions they seem very complex to me. But when I see the solutions, I could understand them but it's really more of not being able to identify that starting point to follow through
Entrance exams are designed to be difficult, no? I suggest you keep studying for them and see how you do once you take them.
 
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  • #9
A learning disability would manifest itself in memory issues, writing issues and/or reading issues.
 

Related to Mastering Physics Problems: Tips and Advice for Solving Challenges

1. How do I approach a difficult physics problem?

The key to solving difficult physics problems is to break them down into smaller, more manageable parts. Start by identifying what is given and what is being asked for in the problem. Then, draw a diagram or visualize the problem to better understand the situation. From there, use relevant equations and principles to solve for the unknown variable.

2. What are some common mistakes to avoid when solving physics problems?

One common mistake is using incorrect units or forgetting to convert units when necessary. Another mistake is not double-checking your calculations and rounding errors. It's also important to pay attention to significant figures and to use the correct formula for the given situation.

3. How can I improve my problem-solving skills in physics?

Practice is key when it comes to improving problem-solving skills in physics. Make sure to regularly complete practice problems and try to approach them from different angles. It's also helpful to work with a study group or seek guidance from a teacher or tutor.

4. What resources can I use to help me solve physics problems?

Aside from textbooks and class notes, there are many online resources available for mastering physics problems. Some popular options include Khan Academy, Physics Classroom, and HyperPhysics. These websites offer explanations, examples, and practice problems for a variety of physics topics.

5. How can I stay organized when solving multiple physics problems?

One helpful tip is to create a problem-solving template that you can use for each problem. This can include sections for writing down given information, equations, and your solution. It's also important to label your work and keep your calculations organized. Don't be afraid to use different colors or highlighters to make your work more visually clear.

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