1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Studying "smart" and hard

  1. Aug 8, 2015 #1
    Dr. Courtney mentioned in another thread about studying "smart" and hard when he was getting his 3.8-4.0 GPA as an undergrad. The way he said "smart" peaked my interest and I wish there was more expansion of that in the thread, but it kind of went off the deep end of anti-constructive. So I thought I'd pose the question to him and others what you all think studying smart means.

    My habits are pretty constructive, but I don't know if I'd call them smart or just overdone:
    1. Read sections and do example problems and some of the lower ranked assigned problems before lectures.
    2. Go into lecture with notes already made and adjust them according to the lecture. Ask questions I had during office hours that week.
    3. Do more advanced problems from the book and other references to challenge myself.
    4. Use solutions manuals to check understanding as I go. If a complete solution was necessary, I redo the problem until the method is ingrained into my head without need of any help.
    5. Redo the practice exams over and over until, if it were the actual test, I'd have 100%.

    Does this follow as smart studying, and what would you add or take away from this list?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 8, 2015 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Smart studying also means to use time wisely. You can study all night but that will make you tired next day and you wont be able to study. You don't have to try the same questions again. Also, refer solution ONLY if you aren't getting the answer even after trying for an hour (if I don't have solutions,i will try again. If i still wasn't able to solve the problem, i would post it on PF :smile:) . Refer good books.
  4. Aug 8, 2015 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I think your approach is pretty good.

    One big key for a lot of people is figuring out how they learn. And that's a little different from person to person.

    Often what I've seen on these forums are posts from students who've done fairly well in high school and then somewhere in their first or second year of university they start to find that they can't keep up. Often the reason is that in high school, they didn't have to work too hard. The material was fairly straight forward and with a little bit of review the night before an exam, they could do just fine on an exam. If often helped if they had good teachers who could make the basic concepts sink in on the first go.

    At university then, the facts come a lot faster. The problems are more challenging. Your peers are all the ones who did really well in high school. And now the basic study skills you applied in high school aren't cutting it.

    The successful students figure out what works for them both in terms of answering exam questions and building a knowledge foundation for moving forward. This is not always easy. Sometimes the student has to struggle a little because the process is really one of trail and error.
  5. Aug 8, 2015 #4
    This was me last year around this time. I was taking a hard course over the summer in 6 weeks. I had never had to study much in school prior, but that really hit the nail into the head that I needed to bust my tail. I put in 40 hours a week to that one class and its sequel over all of last summer. It was hell, but it taught me how I can learn, and I ended up doing better than the majority of the class. I always worry when I transfer out of community college though it'll be the same thing over again, which is why I'm going out of my way to take a rigorous professor for calc 3 and linear this semester. We'll see how it works out.
    My use of the solutions manual goes something like this:
    1. I work on a problem until I get an answer.
    2. I check the answer (not the work) either with the manual or the back of the book.
    3. I try again if I got it wrong.
    4. Like you said, if an hour goes by and I'm stuck, I look at the manual one step at a time in the problem until something clicks (I never look at an entire solution unless I'm dumbfounded, which is rare).
  6. Aug 8, 2015 #5
    This reminds me of myself as a freshman and sophomore. It felt like I always spent twice as much time on classwork compared to my classmates. Though, I eventually learned in which classes I could get away with not reading before lecture. In my opinion, I think you're studying hard not "smart" (although I think studying hard is smart), but who really cares as long as you're happy with how you're learning the material.

    I don't think I ever really learned how to study "smart" in undergrad. By the time I was a junior and senior, I figured that I'd worked all that time to keep a 4.0 and whatever I was doing was working, so I just kept it up... However, come to find out, in my experience the upper level physics courses actually took less work than those intro courses. I guess by that point they've pretty much weeded all the people out who didn't really want to be there and so the professors were less interested in dumping work on your and more interested in the students actually learning. Also, I had worked so hard in the intro classes that I had the fundamentals down cold, so I could focus more on the details. Meanwhile, some of my classmates were still trying to remember the chain rule or how to do integration by parts. Keep up the good work!
  7. Aug 8, 2015 #6
    PhotonSSBM, I want to share my opinion about the lecture notes and note-taking in general. I do not know if you experienced a similar problem with me, but I had been suffering from the note-taking in the near past. My guess from your Step 2 is that you took notes from the math textbooks. In my pinion, most math books are very good at presenting "just right amount" of information, to the point where it is really difficult to write down the majors concepts into a separate notebook. I used to write down heavy notes (neatly with theorem-proof-remark-future ideas) and adjusted them during the lectures just like you, but I noticed that such method is quite time-consuming as the act of note-taking consumes a lot of time that could be invested in tackling the problems from the books. I used to own a lot of notebooks dedicated to each book, but I realized that I was writing notebooks for the sake of keeping my own version of books, which was not efficient.

    What I am doing right now is that I only write down my own ideas about theorems and proofs, sketches of them, and confusion I am having (so I can clear it with my professor). In the lectures, I just take notes about the general sketches of professors' approach to the concept that are different from the books' approach. I also consider math textbooks as well-organized notebooks, so I only write my own remarks on the books. Now I have more time to dedicate myself to the problem sets.

    Are you a learner by reading? I learned the best when I read the books and process my thoughts in my mind, and I noticed that the act of note-taking destroys my concentration and snaps out the thought process I have in my mind.

    By the way, you have a cool name!
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2015
  8. Aug 8, 2015 #7
    It's half physics, half something I'm hoping someone on this forum will point out that they know about someday.
  9. Aug 8, 2015 #8
    My understanding of SSBM is that it is a submarine-based missile, often carrying the nuclear weapons. So are you interested in the missile defense system (like using photon beams to destroy the missiles or whatnot)?
  10. Aug 10, 2015 #9
    Super Smash Brothers Melee? because of your avatar.
  11. Aug 10, 2015 #10


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor
    Gold Member

    Only one thing stuck out in your study methods. You say you re-do practice questions. Try to have a year's worth of study, not 1 month's worth of study 12 times.

    I find that if I do a problem once, and write it up in adequate detail, that re-doing it is not helpful. Move on to other problems that will test you and teach you in different ways.
  12. Aug 10, 2015 #11
    It doesn't suck up as much time as you think. It takes an hour or two to do a problem set, and 30 minutes to grind problems missed. Hardly 12 times the time necessary to just do other problems. It's also silly imo to get a problem wrong (sometimes horribly wrong) and not revisit it with better knowledge of the solution in hand. That's asking for you to make the same mistake on an exam. Re-doing the problem helps you remember that mistake more than just making a note of it too, since you're actively correcting it. My lowest score on an exam was a 96 using this method on practice exams the last two semesters in my physics and calculus classes.

    Edit: Also a Harvard finance student made a post on his blog about this method getting him a perfect score on the hardest finance exam in the school. That's where I got it from.
  13. Aug 10, 2015 #12
    Everything you mentioned takes a lot of time. When you have 5 classes and work it's nearly impossible to do everything mentioned while having free time.

    That said what do you feel is the most important to prioritize?
  14. Aug 10, 2015 #13
    False. It doesn't. I've had 5 classes a semester for two semesters and I have plenty of free time using these methods. You're perception of the time it takes to do these things is flawed.

    I prioritize problem sets over all else.

    Edit: Bear in mind that some classes don't require this much effort. I really only give this much attention to my math and physics classes, where this level of dedication is required.
  15. Aug 10, 2015 #14
    Maybe for you if you have a high IQ I know for myself it would take me a long time. I will try to prioritize doing problems though, thanks
  16. Aug 11, 2015 #15
    I just want to add that I think doing practice problems as the main study method is silly. Prioritize understanding relations, the origin of concepts...things like derivations and proofs. Problems/exercises change, concepts often don't.

    At least that's how I approach things and how countless professors have recommended I study.
  17. Aug 11, 2015 #16
    This is a poor method of study if what you struggle with is the applications of the concepts and not the understanding of the concept themselves. I know the parroted line of reasoning around here is that if one understands the concepts than problems are more or less straightforward; but that isn't the case across the board. Hell IMO, I think learning concepts and applying them are different skills and require different sorts of studying.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015
  18. Aug 11, 2015 #17
    Practice problems when done right can help. But lets be real, many do the practice problems with the solutions in hand which is pointless.
  19. Aug 11, 2015 #18
    I would often have solutions at the ready for when I got stuck on problems, but I would try to use them only when I get stuck at certain points in the question. Mindlessly copying solutions are definitely a plan to fail; but they can be used in such a way that they aid in understanding if one takes the time to understand what the solution author did, what assumptions they made, what mathematical techniques or approximations they made and why, etc. This helps on individual problems and the knowledge gained from that can aid you in future problems by yourself.
  20. Aug 11, 2015 #19
    The cool thing about good physics books is that the problems ARE derivations and proofs. I'm using Kleppner and Kolenkow to this effect by myself. So these things you're talking about aren't mutually exclusive. Heck, even Halliday/Resnick/Walker has proof problems and many of the example problems are proofs.
  21. Aug 11, 2015 #20
    Then in that case you're fine. The subject of study wasn't mentioned in the OP, knowing the problems are from such books changes things.

    Either way you're practicing the concepts and not just mindlessly applying them so that's good. Usually the latter happens when people chug through problem sets.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook