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Studying When is a good time to give up on a problem?

  1. Aug 16, 2016 #1
    Hello all,

    Apologies if this has already been asked.

    While studying, I often encounter hard problems, problems that I can't solve after repeated tries. When is a good time to give up and succumb to seeing the solution or asking someone?
    Ideally, I think the answer is never. But I have a syllabus to cover so I can't sit around forever with it.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2016 #2


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    Instead of giving up, I think that this is what the forum is for. If you try hard repeatedly with limited success, try reaching out! So long as you know what to do the next time that problem comes around.
  4. Aug 16, 2016 #3
    I usually ask for help when I just feel completely stuck. not any specific time period....
  5. Aug 16, 2016 #4


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    Education Advisor

    Knowing when to stop (and when to keep going) is a skill that the most successful students that I've observed all master.

    A lot depends on the context. How may other demands do you have on your time? What is the opportunity cost of working on this problem? Given enough time, you'll probably be able to force through some kind of solution on just about anything, but as you've pointed out your time is not unlimited. And you could be learning other things with it - some of which may be more important than the problem at hand.

    While there's no perfect algorithm for this, here are a few suggestion that might help.
    1. With any kind of assigned problem set, start as early as possible and realize that you don't have to solve it all in one sitting. Even if you just do the easy problems and skip over the others. Sometimes the point is to expose your mind to the problem so that you know what it is. This allows you to work on it subconsciously. You can turn it over in your mind while doing other things. And it can give you more opportunity to key in on material relevant to the solution that you might come across.
    2. Track your workload. If you have five assignments to finish between Sunday and Friday, it's only reasonable to allocate about one night's worth of time to each one. Just like when writing an exam, if one problem is taking up more time than it's worth in your time budget, move on and come back to it when everything else is complete.
    3. If a problem is giving you trouble, try to articulate why. Are you having problems at the conceptual level? Is the problem confusing? Do you think you know what you're doing, but the numbers just aren't working out? This can help with establishing a strategy for tackling it.
    4. Be conscious of your own exhaustion. Why stay up late and spend three hours on a problem that you can tackle in one hour with a good night's sleep (assuming that because you've started early it's not due the next morning).
    5. The same goes for needs to socialize, play, exercise etc. Keeping your life balanced will sharpen your focus.
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