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Studying Tips for studying physics and math?

  1. Jun 25, 2011 #1
    I am going to university this fall to Toronto University, the best university in Canada. Based off of your experiences with studying physics what would you recommend a freshman student to do for success in studying physics and mathematics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2011 #2
    Do excercises. Lots of them. The harder the better.

    Maybe get aquainted with mathematical reasoning. It will make the concepts you learn much more clearer.
  4. Jun 25, 2011 #3
    Do your homework. Plus more problems. Get comfortable with what you are dealing with. Since you are on break, go ahead by learning the basic concepts for Physics+Mathematics so that way you will know what to expect. It is easier the second time around.
  5. Jun 25, 2011 #4


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    For math my advice is to try and see the forest from the trees.

    Knowing the big picture is important because it lets you navigate through all the proofs, results, identities and helps you make sense of them.

    Chances are you are not going to remember every identity, every derivation of a proof and so on. If you can see the forest from the trees and you forget a particular result, you are way more likely to to derive something on the spot then if you just memorized all the results without realizing what you are doing.

    Now when I say I'm not saying memorization is bad, it is required because of the nature of coursework learning, but it needs to be complemented by insight.

    If you can't see the forest from the trees, try and consult your lecturer. I've found most good teachers point out this insight (or at least substantial hints of it) early in the course.

    You also gain (or extend) insight by doing problems and connecting the perspectives, but again I stress that you should try and at least get the big picture as early as you can.
  6. Jun 25, 2011 #5
    A lot of people here are mentioning problem-solving. When you do problems, write them up in a way that will make for quick review later, and build good skills so that your problems on exams will be neat and clear (good for partial credit if your professor gives that)... and have a good chance of being "right."

    I recommend the following direct tips on homework/problem-solving:
    1) use a good writing tool. Keep a stock of them. Discard when unsatisfactory. Same with paper (be it lined, engineering-style (grid), pure white, the back of computer printouts if you're into recycling... just be sure you like what you're using and keep a stock).
    2) do 1-2 problems per page to give yourself room to write notes or do small related calculations in the marginal areas. Use only one side of the paper, so the problems are quick to flip through.
    3) rewrite the problem on your homework sheet (while tedious, it gives you time to focus, and it's MUCH easier to then use your homework later when you want to quickly review for a test).
    4) retain units in your math (for physics numerical problems). Make to do the unit-math as well as the calculator math.
    4) Check your answer for "reasonableness"... in terms of units and scale. If they asked for energy, and your answer has units of force, it's wrong. If they are looking for an "outer radius" and your answer is smaller than the "inner radius" given, it's wrong. If your car is traveling faster than the speed of light, it's wrong (unless you engineered something really exciting). Etc.
    5) Box in your answer... Maybe write some notes about it nearby if it's interesting.
    6) Throw out (or recycle) your page and rewrite if you made a major error or got sloppy.

    With the prevalence of online homework submission, it's common for students to get lax and sloppy (about technique AND submission), but their performance on exams falters. Even if your professor uses an online system, be sure to personally use a good method of writing up your problems, and save the submission for a "break" if you need it.
  7. Jun 25, 2011 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    First thing to learn. It's the University of Toronto, not Toronto University.

    You might say, "that just a stupid little careless mistake, and you all knew what I meant." That's true. But it's also true that a habit of making such mistakes will make it impossible for you to come out the other end of this program. Look at physics_girl_phd's point 4-1/2. If you answer a period when you are asked for a frequency, for example, you will get very little (if any) credit.

    You need to learn to be careful, and like anything else, practice at it at every opportunity.
  8. Jun 25, 2011 #7

    Throughout the physics course did you have to show your units in your calculation?
  9. Jun 25, 2011 #8
    I personally have always had to show units in my calculations.

    University professors are sticklers for that--from my experience, at least.

    Also, in physics I had to do EVERYTHING in SI units--even if it was not mentioned. Little details like that are worth going over with the professor at the start of the semester IMO. A LOT of people messed up on their finals because the question was given in ft/s and they answered in ft/s as opposed to m/s.

    As Vanadium 50 said--DETAILS are crucial in university.
  10. Jun 25, 2011 #9
    More importantly, they are crucial in life, and that's why professors can be tagged as sticklers only in the most positive sense of the word.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2011
  11. Jun 25, 2011 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    C'mon, it's not like mixing English and Metric units will cause your space probe to crash on Mars or anything. :eek:
  12. Jun 25, 2011 #11
    Oh, that little bugger. But I'm sure they all knew what units they were talking about, so it must've been something else :wink:
  13. Jun 25, 2011 #12


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    I second on:
    - Go to your lectures. Don't skip them. Try to understand them. But go there even if you don't. Things will become clearer later, and even if you get lost in details, you can still see the connections between topics that way.

    - Do your homework, yourself. Study groups work for some people, but for many they are not an efficient way of learning; it may be better to stay independent.

    - You need to learn programming (that's not restricted to aspiring theorists). You need to be confident at least with python (+scipy), and good C++ may also come in handy later. A good grip on a computer algebra system like Mathematica or Maple may also come in very handy.

    - Don't underestimate experimental work. Lab work is *very* important. During my physics studies the by far hardest, most time-intensive, but also most rewarding course was the physics advanced lab, where for two semesters each week we spent one or two whole days on a (different) experiment, and had to hand in a 10-30 page protocol the next week. This is where you'll first come into touch with real physics research and see how real physics is done in practice. And you'll get to see all the cool toys :).
  14. Jun 25, 2011 #13


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    Spend at least 2 hours outside of class for every unit. If you feel like that time is being spent inefficiently (staring at the page and not knowing how to start a physics problem), get expert advice from a prof or TA on how to be more efficient. If you do these two things, everything else will fall into place.
  15. Jun 26, 2011 #14
    keep reading through your lecture notes throughout the term rather than ignoring them all until the exam period - even if it's just a brief 10-15 minute skim-read. It keeps it all fresh in your mind rather than getting into the habit of turning up to lectures and having completely forgotten what you covered in the last ones. It makes life so much easier if you've got any discipline in this respect.
    Infact, ideally I'd say you would be best off getting copies of the notes before the lecture and reading through them prior to the lecture.

    one other thing - if you've been given a piece of assessed homework (like a set of problems to solve), then start working on them early. don't put it off until 2 days before it's due in.

    also, keep visiting this website, lol. I've just graduated my MPhys course with a first, and I'm basically an idiot. I owe a lot to the guidance I've got from this site. it's a great resource.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2011
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