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Struggling with problem solving

  1. Jul 20, 2015 #1
    I'm a junior in physics and math and I've done very well in my courses, but I'm finding that things like contest problems and math puzzles are extremely difficult for me. There's a problem solving club at my college I go to and I'm finding even the very simplest of the drills we're given are all but impenetrable. I've looked into a few books, like the Mathematical Olympiad Handbook and A Primer for Mathematics Competitions as well as the ones everyone said I should read, Polya, Schoenfeld, and Street Fighting Mathematics and while it's all been very interesting I feel like I'm just not learning anything.

    This is something I really want to get better at, but I'm at a loss as to how to proceed since it seems I'm just stuck.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 20, 2015 #2
    I know how you feel. Certain kinds of problem solving can be very difficult for me also.

    Your problem solving skill in your coursework is a good sign. If you persevere in other challenges, I bet you will improve in them also.

    When working with others, you should ask them not only how they solved the problem, but WHY they chose a certain step at key points.

    Keep practicing, you will get better.
  4. Jul 21, 2015 #3


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    Just to note to say that solving problems in the rather artificial world of academic study and exams is very different to solving problems in later research or in industry .

    Whilst I have often had to sit down and puzzle over difficult problems in engineering for hours (or sometimes weeks !) I have never had to do this in total isolation like in an exam . Massive resources of published data and generous help from colleagues has always been available .

    Took a little while for penny to drop but I soon learned that effective utilisation all these resources was an essential tool for problem solving .

    Not many people will ever experience this now because industry has changed but I have fond memories of very complex problems being solved in a few seconds of absolutely sparkling ideas exchange between several people standing at a drawing board .
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