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Strategies in learning physics

  1. Jun 24, 2011 #1
    Dear PF readers,

    I have finished my first year physics at university and will start my second year in the beginning of this autumn. Whilst my exam results for this year were excellent, I am not completely satisfied with my methods of learning - I personally think there are more efficient methods to learn the material.

    My learning strategy is usually go to lectures, make lectures notes (standard compulsory thing for everyone who does physics I think), then come back to the halls, do quite a bit of private study which usually involves reading the material I learned that day and writing up a very detailed summary of that material. Unfortunately this process is time consuming and usually things like coursework and lab reports are in my way so I do fall behind this and usually have to catch up much later (during half term when I prepare for my exams). Now when the exam time comes I start my revision roughly 5 weeks before my first exam. The strategy I employ there is try to finish my revision guides for each module and do lots of questions from the course books and exam papers. Everyday I assign a different topic to revise, read through the home - made revision guides and then do lots of practice questions.

    I realise that once you learn a topic conceptually you have to reinforce it by doing a lot of practice questions - I think this is quite a vital factor since you learn how to apply the concepts to solve physical problems. The problem that I have with this strategy is that I produce a lot of work in terms of writing it down on paper. You may think there is nothing wrong with that, but the amount that I write I feel like I am destroying an entire forest. And I don't want to throw that work away, so it accumulates. (I have this weird idea that if I throw it away it will leave my brain haha i know... but also I like to keep it to for the sake of something to remember).

    For the second academic year I was planning to get a tablet laptop with a digitizer pen so I could do all the work in it including taking lecture notes. This would have saved me an immense amount of space and trees :D. However, in the end I decided not to buy it due to the cost - 1.5k for a lenovo thinkpad x220t is slightly out of my student budget. I am still considering in buying a dictaphone to record the lectures, however, I am not sure if it would be beneficial, so I would like to hear from anyone whose done it. I feel like what I do in lectures is not enough so I want to utilise the lecture time a bit more.

    So just to sum up, I am just trying to find ways to make my learning a bit more efficient and effective.

    I would love to hear how you learn physics and which aspects of your learning strategy are the most effective. I also would appreciate any comments/criticisms on my strategy of learning.

    Thanks in advance,

    Kind regards,

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2011 #2
    Do you collect your solutions to the exercises? They are good to keep and re-read in the run up to the exams.

    Also, very important is to repeat aloud the material as if holding a lecture.

    Group study is also important. If you know more, the fact itself to explain things to a fellow student who struggles refines your knowledge.
  4. Jun 24, 2011 #3
    Hey Goldbeetle, thanks for the reply

    I do collect all of my solutions to the exercises, the problem with this is that I do quite a lot of them so they accumulate in a great amount, I want to find ways how I could do the same amount of questions, have them saved but save the space.

    The group study suggestion sounds good, I will be living with a few physicists this coming academic year so that is a viable option. Thanks.
  5. Jun 27, 2011 #4
    Well, not only exercises! First one must understand the theory. Exercises normally reinforce learning.
  6. Jun 27, 2011 #5
    Have you considered getting a scanner and writing on transparencies with a non-permanent pen? This way you no longer use up any paper and you can wipe off mistakes you make. And it's cheap!
  7. Jun 27, 2011 #6
    One is not going to understand all the theory before attempting the exercises. Often you'll only really understand something after struggling with the exercises for a while. I would work through the material in the text and notes with pen and paper first, though, filling in the missing steps in the derivations.
  8. Jun 28, 2011 #7
    This a brilliant idea, I will definetly try this, thanks very much!
  9. Jun 28, 2011 #8
    Hi Cygni! :smile:

    I never studied physics, but I have some methods to efficiently learn mathematics, maybe they can be of some help to you.

    When I was studying and when I asked questions to my professor, I noticed that they could always give concise explanations of the definitions and the concepts in the course. So what I tried (quite succesfully) is to give one-sentence descriptions of all the definitions and the concepts.

    Basically, whenever you encounter a concept, think about it and try to give a complete description of it in only one sentence. Don't go into technical details and try to convey the meaning behind the term. Thinking about such a things greatly expanded my conceptual knowledge. Of course, the one-line descriptions changed over time. As a simple example, I first described an integral as an anti-derivative, but later you may want to describe it as an area or some kind of "averaging operation".

    The benefit of doing it was (to me) that I thought about the conceptional things and about the meaning of things. Moreover, I could use the list of definitions a day before the exam to refresh everything.

    Try to expland the method: give short (one-line) descriptions of all the proofs and derivations, of the chapter, and even try to do it for the entire course.
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