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Theory before problems?

  1. Mar 7, 2005 #1
    Just for curiosities sake, do you find that you can get a lot out of a science or math textbook by just reading the chapter and looking over the examples?

    The reason I ask is, I've been struggling with reading the chapters in my physics and differential equations courses this semester. I just can't seem to stay focused while reading and end up reading the same passage over and over again, getting up frequently, and basically just wasting an hour and getting nothing out of it.

    So, this morning I tried an experiment. I got up to start a new physics chapter and just went right to the problems. After attempting to solve a few problems (usually unsuccessfully), I then went back and tried to figure out how to do them by the examples. If the examples weren't enough to understand the nature of the problems and their solutions, only then could I get anything out of reading the chapter. It's like, I have to try to understand the nature of the problems before I'll have a chance to understand the theory. Is this totally backwards from most people? This could also explain why I get almost nothing out of lectures.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2005 #2


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    That sounds totally reasonable.

    Usually before the lectures, it's good to have a look at the what the subject is about. To understand the problem. That way the structure of the lecture will probably be more lucid.

    Math books are generally not read like a novel. You should actively follow the reasoning of the writer and duplicate or construct the derivations and theorems on your own piece of paper.
  4. Mar 7, 2005 #3


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    No, this is not totally backwards.

    First of all, you should always do what you find effective. The rest of us (and your teachers) can only advice you on what we think will work on average. If you find that this approach work best for you, then do it!

    Secondly, it is never backwards to first understand the nature of the problem. It is only when faced with concrete problems do the theory in question comes in full bloom. So simply by reading about a theory or principle, you only get a superficial idea of what it is. It is when you sit down and work out the application of those ideas and theories do you start to understand what it really is [something quacks do not do since they always think that just by reading about it, they have fully understand it].

    Thirdly, almost every theory in physics came out of an existing problems that couldn't be solved or explained. So the problem came first, the theory usually evolved out of the need to explain the problem. So without problems, there's no need to come up with a theory to explain a non-existing problem. Thus, what you are doing is almost what practicing physicists do.

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