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Poor physics student

  1. Apr 29, 2015 #1


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    I'm struggling in my intro physics classe because I cannot bring myself to participate in class discussions or seek help from others when I'm confused. I was afraid of looking stupid by saying something wrong in class and looking incompetent by asking for help. This "strategy" has blown up in my face; I'm hoping I'll pull a C in physics I this semester.
    Clearly I have too much of an ego need to bring myself back down to earth.
    I know what I need to change to be successful in physics, but may I ask for advice on how to ask for help when needed?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 29, 2015 #2


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    Ask help here, since no one will know who you are. :)
  4. Apr 29, 2015 #3


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    Mark Twain once said, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think you're a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." While this is a good strategy in many of life's situations, it's not all that good for learning.

    When I was student something that I learned was that when I had a question, often I wasn't the only one. Usually there were others who had a similar question. I don't know if that helps, but what it means is that even if someone may look foolish by asking, all the other people wondering the same thing will be glad for the one who said something. Building on this too, if you start asking questions, others are liable to speak up as well. And the more questions that get asked, the more the instructor can adjust the lecture to help the students understand.

    Now that I've been an instructor for a few classes, one of the most difficult things in the world is gauging how well the students are understaning the material. When they nod and smile and take notes quietly I have to assume that they're understanding everything I've said and move on from there.

    Some strategies for asking good questions include:
    1. Try to read ahead and come to class with questions in already in mind. If they're not answered in the lecture, ask them immediately afterwards.
    2. When you're really lost, you could ask about how a certain topic fits into the bigger picture of the material you're covering in class.
    3. It takes a lot of courage to ask questions in front of other people, but you shouldn't have to. Write down your questions and take them to office hours or ask them immediately following the lecture when you can talk with your professor one-on-one.
    4. Another reason to write down your questions - go and read up on them after the lecture and try to pinpoint where you get stuck. Present this information as well when you ask someone for help. In general, people are a lot more willing to help someone who has worked on the problem and is stuck than someone who appears to be avoiding the work and hoping that someone will just "give" them the answer.
    5. Try to think about the material that's being covered independently and come up with your own questions rather than just trying to follow the solution to someone else's problem.
  5. Apr 29, 2015 #4


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    Er... you go to your instructor or your TA's office during office hours, knock on the door, and say "I need your help. I don't understand such-and-such" and show him/her what you had attempted.

  6. May 1, 2015 #5


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    Professors and teaching assistants have offices hours that you have already paid for. If you don't utilize them, you are throwing that part of your tuition away. Very few people manage to get ahead by refusing to ask for help. One of the greatest signs of strength is to know ones weaknesses, and to take the steps needed to improve upon them. Physics is a difficult subject to study, and there are few of us that get through it all without asking for help.

    As others have pointed out, there's a very good chance that someone else in your class has the same question, but doesn't want to ask it due to the same reasons as your own. There's no real trick to asking questions. If it's during the lecture, just raise your hand and ask. If you're going to office hours, it's best to bring some type of work with. If you show that you've attempted to figure it out, you're likely to get much more valuable feedback.
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