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Remembering facts from the book

  1. Jun 17, 2010 #1

    I am a first year physics undergrad and my exams are in September. I am wondering what's the best way to start tackling the preparation. Shall I start by memorising the material in the lecture notes and then solve the problem sheets? Or is it okay to begin by making notes of the 25 or so chapters from the recommended Young and Freedman book? My concern is the availability of enough time, given that I have only two months to prepare for the exams.

    Actually, I would not have been asking this question because had this been pre-college material, I would have read the syllabus and found out what's important and what's not. Then when reading the book, I would have made notes on the important points and treated the other points as subsidiary. However, now at university, professors don't always publish a syllabus and even when they do, I get afraid that they might ask a question that is not in the syllabus. This fear leads me to treat every major point in the book as being important and so I end up making notes on all the major points in the book. The information I end up with is too much for me to memorise. The same happens if I try to memorise the important points in the lecture notes.

    Is there a way out of this dilemma or does uni education require students to be comprehensive about their study material?

    Please help!!!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2010 #2
    Do lots of problems, it's really the only way. By doing the problems, you'll automatically memorize a lot of the key points as a byproduct.
  4. Jun 17, 2010 #3
    Your problem is you're trying to memorize things. As a physics major, you're going to need to actually understand the stuff you're dealing with. Understanding and memorization are almost antithetical. Like Jack21222 said, practice practice practice.
  5. Jun 17, 2010 #4
    I understand that solving problems helps the process of revising (or memorising) the material. But my question is about those other points in the book (eg examples of the practical applications of concepts) which don't appear in the problems.

    Remembering the real physics content (the key set of equations) is easy for me. But those extra load of material (eg practical app of concepts) I put down as notes take a lot of time to memorise.

    What do I do with those? are those subsidiary points irrelevant? are they simply used to fill out pages of the book?
  6. Jun 17, 2010 #5
    Again, 'memorising' the 'key set of equations' isn't a good way to think about it. If you can understand how to derive the equations from first principles, then you're well prepared.

    It's unlikely you'll ever be examined on the kind of points you're asking about, but if you understand the material, should a particular scenario come up, you should be able to describe the type of physics that would apply. This is why examples are given, and also just as a reminder so that people remain aware of the point of the physics they are being asked to learn.

    Reading the material and understanding how the physics is relevant to these 'subsidiary' points is the important part - not being able to regurgitate what's covered in the textbook.
  7. Jun 17, 2010 #6
    Should we also not worry about memorising numbers just to have an intuitive understanding of the behaviour of unfamiliar ( eg spring constant of electron in a hydrogen atom, spring constant of a bed spring) systems? If so, then how do we gain an intution to check our answers to problems?
  8. Jun 17, 2010 #7
    Well the idea is if you use those numbers often enough in problems, you will remember them just because you're actively working with the material. It's not that memorization is bad, but trying to understand the subject by rote memorization is simply a stupid way to do things. I think that memorization is actually pretty important in both physics and mathematics, but you need to take the time to understand the concepts well first. As Jack21222 suggests, working out problems will not only ensure that you understand the concepts, but also help you memorize the key facts.

    I mean sure if you don't memorize the basic key facts, then you'll have to spend valuable time on say an exam attempting to recall or rederive some fact, and this is your own fault. But if you don't even understand the concept to begin with, then it's unlikely you'll know how to actually apply the formulas and constants you've memorized in the correct way. Thus, above all, taking time to really understand the concepts is the first and most important thing you should do.
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