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Other Not enough time

  • Thread starter maxhersch
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I am in my 4th year (3 semesters left including the current one), taking mechanics, E&M, quantum mechanics, and a lab course. For each of the three main courses, we get one problem set per week that's around 5-8 questions. In addition to that there's a lab report due every 1-2 weeks.

It really sounds pretty manageable, but really I just feel like there aren't enough hours in the week. It can take me over 5 hours to solve a single problem, for some of the harder ones. Even the easier ones, where I go in knowing every step to get to the solution, can take me 2+ hours just because of the number of steps involved and the level of care I have to put into each and every step. Then, if you can't solve some problem, by the time the solutions are posted the following week, there's no time to go back and look at them or try similar problems because I've got another problem set on a brand new topic to work on. The only time not spent doing homework is the time spent in class, eating, or sleeping and it's still not enough. I've never been very fast at solving math and physics problems, but I do eventually solve them. I've never understood why so much of math/physics education ends up depending on how fast you can solve problems.

I'm wondering if anyone has had any similar issues. I mean, it's one thing to follow along to an example problem in a textbook and then solve a nearly identical problem, but when you are given a problem you have never seen before and are expected to just figure it out by calling on all of the knowledge you have accumulated over the years and throwing in a little bit of intuition, I'm just not sure how to speed up that process. In the past the problems have obviously been easier and more direct so this really hasn't been an issue before now, and I am not surprised by the increase in difficulty nor does it bother me spending hours figuring these things out, but despite the length and difficulty of the problems continuing to increase, the amount of time we are given to solve them remains exactly the same. My intro classes had the exact same format, <10 homework questions per week and 1.4 hours for a ~4 question exam. But those questions were basically rearranging some equation you are just given, and plug in some numbers. Now it's still the same number of questions and the same amount of time, but the problems involve several triple integrals, evaluating boundary conditions, testing for convergence, tons of algebraic manipulations and substitutions, etc. If I could take fewer classes I would and that would solve at least the homework problem, but I am taking the minimum number of credits allowed by my school (yet another thing I fail to see the point of).

So is there something I can do to speed things up, or is this just some systemic problem with college level physics programs that I just have to deal with?
 

PeroK

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So is there something I can do to speed things up, or is this just some systemic problem with college level physics programs that I just have to deal with?
I graduated in 1984, but it all sounds very familiar. Final year courses are a lot of new material in a relatively short time. It sounds to me that you're not struggling hopelessly, but have reached the stage where perhaps you are not going to be able to master everything in the time available. All I would suggest is to be pragmatic about your goals and exam preparation.
 

Math_QED

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Sounds very relatable. Believe me, there is not enough time to master every single course.
 

Choppy

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One of the problems with just about any course that's based on problem-solving is that time management becomes very tricky.

If you compare it to a course that's based on say reading so much material and writing essays about that material, or learning and memorizing a bunch of conceptual material, it's fairly straight forward to predict how long it's going to take you to do those things, particularly once you have some experience in doing so. What I found, when working my way through problem sets, was that when I would get tripped up on one little thing, everything else would get backed up. So sometimes you end up in the unfortunate position of deciding whether to abandon the problem and move on, or pushing through and cutting down on your time for everything else.

There's no magical trick to solving this. But there are a few things that can help.
  1. Focus on the long game. Be aware that when you're spending more time than you've budgeted on one thing, you're taking away from everything else. Don't be afraid to cut yourself off and move on.
  2. Ask for help when you need it. Sometimes a simple question and answer can make a huge difference in the time it takes to solve a problem.
  3. Recognize when you're tried. Sometimes sleeping on a problem and coming back to it fresh can give you a new point of view and lead to less time overall spent on the problem.
  4. Avoid scheduling yourself down to the minute. This works when you've accurately predicted how long the minutia of every task will take you... which is almost never.
  5. The best predictor for how long a task will take is experience with similar tasks.
  6. Choose your friends wisely. Ideally you want to surround yourself with people who have similar goals and priorities, people you can talk about your problems with... both technical and when you need to vent.
  7. Down time is important. If your find yourself procrastinating too much, one of the common culprits is that you're not allowing yourself any time to relax.
  8. Take care of yourself. Get adequate sleep and exercise. Eat properly. None one brings their A game when they're tired and lethargic.
  9. Also recognize that the game isn't always fair, and this isn't always intentional. While faculty will review how the courses interact with each other, they won't always recognize when they end up stacking an impossible amount of work on students taking a particular combination of courses. Talk to your professors when this happens.
 

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