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Studying Not able to study, any advice?

  1. Sep 5, 2016 #1
    im a junior physics major, i transferred from a community college to a 4 year college, and i have been hit hard with the classes im taking. im taking diff. eq. intermediate mchanics, advanced calculus class (after calculus 3), and physics on thermodynamics and the special theory of relativity. First week and i have had a shock due to the different structure of the classes and the difficulty of the problems. my community college was nothing compared to this. the classes are much harder, many different concepts are involved in one problem and there's alot of work. and basically I'm not used to studying this much. so i tried adderral and i hated the after effects and i dont like the effects of coffee, i feel like my energy is toppling forward and it doesnt help me to study anyway, so i cant use stimulants and im not used to studying this much i study a little and i get distracted by thought easily. what do you recommend? what worked for you when you realized you had to put more effort?. I love the physics, but i get irritated and i lose my concentation easily. i know the obvious like excersice eat right sleep enough. basically im not used to studying this hard. do you think that as time goes on the mind gets used to studying and it becomes easier to get into? because if it doesnt i will never be able to finish the semester. is this like running where first you start running 2 miles you get exhausted but the more you do it the easier it beceomes? i think if i know that studying will become like a habit, it will make the present moment easier to handle. any thoughts you have are appreciated
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2016 #2


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    Hey PHY2000.

    I don't know all of the specifics of your situation, but I think that if you are finding it too overwhelming and you can cut some of the coursework then you should.

    Even if you add one extra class per time period that would still be a good option.

    Obviously it will take longer but if it is that bad (and you can cut some classes) then that is what I'd recommend in your situation.

    I wouldn't cut too many though - just the minimum so that you can slowly adapt to higher levels of coursework in the future.
  4. Sep 5, 2016 #3


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    You shouldn't be popping prescription medication to help you study for one.

    You just have to put in more work. The delta in difficulty between community college and university can be large. It will just take time for you to adjust to your new environment. You just have to try harder right now.
  5. Sep 5, 2016 #4


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    The discussion you first post on this topic shows that you both overloaded on too much course work and you skipped prerequisite courses. No kind nor amount of medication will compensate for that.
  6. Sep 6, 2016 #5
    I put in more effort.

    What is the problem here? Is it a lack of time ("I study 16 hours per day everyday and cannot physically do it")? Lack of discipline ("I cannot force myself to sit down and study")?

    I also hit this same wall when entering university. I failed my first exam in both physics and math (and, like, really failed, we're talking <30%). Eventually, I realized that there was no shame in asking for help. I went to office hours, I formed study groups, I went to tutoring, I spoke with the TA. It's important to do that now, so that you can learn the fundamentals.
  7. Sep 6, 2016 #6
    I'm in my last semester of coursework at my local CC and I'm balancing it with a full-time job as a software engineer, so I literally don't have 16 hours a day to study. My CC is actually pretty rigorous in both physics and engineering subjects, so I wanted to share a few things I have found that have helped me.

    First of all, I think the core thing to realize once you get to higher level physics and math courses, is they tend to be about concepts, not memorization or regurgitation. If you are doing problems, but don't understand the physics and are just plugging in numbers, you aren't learning. Also, if you are trying a problem, failing, and then looking up the solution immediately, you aren't learning. You will learn best when you really struggle with the problem. Do hard problems, struggle with them, and do as many as you can. When you start working on a problem, don't jump for equations. Stop and take a deep breath and just think about what is really going on. How are the individual pieces moving and interacting. Why are they interacting and what are they doing to do?

    When you do problems, think about other situations too, not just the problem on hand. How does the system change? For example, if you're doing a mechanics problem with a box on an inclined plane with friction. After you solve the problem, go back and really think about all of the pieces. What would happen if you were to increase the angle of incline? What would happen if another box was sliding down and hit it, what would the acceleration be? I know this is a contrived example, but I think the point is clear. Also, solve things in MULTIPLE ways.

    Look at the equations, think about the story behind the math. Like V=IZ, what happens to the potential when the resistance gets really big. What happens to the current when the resistance is really small. The best thing you can do is build an INTUITIVE understanding of WHY the math works the way it does. You've taken differential equations, so you've touched on modeling. Well, physics is all differential equations. Think about why the equations make sense and properly represent the situations.

    Read "How to Solve It" by Polya. Build up your analytical and problem solving intuitions. This book is focused on mathematics, but it's totally applicable for us.

    I have found that lab activities tend to be really powerful in learning the physics, plus it's rare that we get clean numbers, so it's a good real-world exercise. Plus, when you get some problem that says a sphere has a charge of 5 coulombs, you'll immediately know that's a hell of a lot of charge because you're always measuring in nano and micro-coulombs. I literally bought weights and springs to play with at home. I bought a DMM, function generator, and oscilloscope to play with at home. Doesn't need to be great or professional grade, just enough to learn something. Or make friends with your local lab admin and go play with stuff in the lab. I would have done that, but my schedule doesn't permit, so I had to bring it home.

    One of the most valuable things you can do is to be familiar with the material BEFORE lecture. The syllabus is your best friend. BEFORE lecture, read through the chapter, take notes, try some problems, struggle with some problems. When you go to lecture, your professor should just be filling in the spaces. Plus, then you can really focus on what he's saying and not be distracted trying to write stuff down. Personally, I have a lot of trouble focusing on the lecture when I'm also trying to write down notes, so this has been extremely beneficial for me. Also, use lab reports to really show case your knowledge on the subject. If you can teach it to someone else, you understand it. In your Introduction and Theory sections of lab reports, you should really explain exactly what is going on and why. If you don't understand what's going on, figure it out. You will never forget it after you struggle with it and figure it out.

    Bottom line, realize it's not supposed to be easy, so it's okay to struggle and ask for help. Physics is the ultimate intellectual challenge which is why physics departments are small and a lot of physics students quit or change majors to engineering. :-)
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