26.05.2016** - By Dr Rajesh Verma**

For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to situate this in the context of an introductory physics course, although all I'm saying is also about higher-level courses. First, let's recognize that physics is different from most other subjects you encounter in school because it is based on problem solving. (For those who want to argue this point, I have a little more detail on what I mean by an addendum to the article.) This means that physics relies less on memory and more on the application of ideas and concepts to solve problems. It also means that the question you see on the physics exam will not be a homework problem with different numbers. So, if you want to succeed in physics, you must understand * how * to tackle problems, organize the information provided to you, apply concepts and use mathematics to solve problems. Students often tell me, "I understand the concepts; I just can not solve the problems. I always interpret this to mean that the materials and ideas presented in the classroom make sense, but they struggle to apply these ideas to problem solving. And that's where many students derailed. They think that understanding the concepts is enough. This is probably enough in a history class, but not in physics. Here are my suggestions for studying physics:

Students often tell me, “I understand the concepts; I just can’t solve the problems.” I always interpret that to mean that the material and ideas presented in class make sense, but they are struggling with the application of those ideas in solving problems. And this is where many students get derailed. They think that understanding the concepts is enough. It probably is enough in a history class, but not in physics.

Here are my suggestions for studying physics:

**Study every day.**Studying one hour a day for seven days is worth much more than studying seven hours a day. Your brain needs time to assimilate and process concepts, you spend time studying it daily.**Read the textbook.**IIf you do not like your textbook, go to the library and pick up another book. There are many textbooks on topics in your class. Find a different book if you do not like your book. I am shocked by the number of students who think they can do without the manual.**Read the textbook before class.**If you enter class without knowing what will be discussed today, you are already late. Read the manual before the conference. Everything will not make sense the first time, but learning abstract concepts is a question of repetition and interaction. If you read the book before class, you will learn more from it.**Don’t miss class.**Be attentive in class. Do you think you can miss the class because you already have the class notes? Think again. Do you think you can multitask and see Facebook in class? Think again. There is a very strong correlation between attendance and level. And there are many studies that show that we are terrible in multitasking. Introduce yourself and pay attention.**Be an active learner.**Studies show that you learn more when you actively participate in class. Try to work the examples of problems. Talk with your neighbors at CASW. Think of a question you would ask during the class. (It is not necessary to ask the question, just write it so you can look for the answer later, or talk to the teacher after class.)**Work with others.**If you think you understand how to solve a problem, try to explain it to the friend you are studying with. If you can not explain it, then you do not understand it as well as you think. Working in a group is beneficial for everyone involved.**Take the labs seriously.**This goes hand in hand with being an active learner. Believe it or not, the labs provide an opportunity to see what's going on. Laboratories are designed and developed to facilitate your learning. Try to predict what will happen before attempting an experiment. If you sit and watch, you will not get anything.**Study solved problems.**It is important. An excellent way to learn more about problem-solving techniques is to see how problems are solved. Textbooks have worked examples. My suggestion is to hide the solution and try to solve the example yourself. This requires you to think about how you would approach the problem * before * seeing the solution. Once you have made a serious effort, examine the solution. If you do not try it yourself, you will look at the solution and say, "It makes sense, it makes sense ..." and you do not shoot at it.**Practice solving problems.**Do you know someone who read a book on the bicycle and who was then an expert on cycling? I do not. Everyone I know has had to train, practice cycling. Same thing with problem solving in physics. It's true that some people can ride a bike with less practice than others, but everyone needs to practice. Try to solve as many practice problems as possible.**Get help!**Often, you can bang your head against the wall for hours and hours trying to solve a thorny problem, or seek advice from your teacher or technical assistant in about 10 minutes. The instructors are here to help you and they want to help you. Their help is very effective if you ask concise questions. This means that you should try the problems yourself, make a serious effort, and then ask yourself specific questions. If you have not tried the problems, or if you said, "I do not understand anything at all". It is difficult for instructors to help you.

On the verge of getting help, I realize this is something that is of particular concern to first-year students. All students in Illinois were at the top of their class in high school. Things went well and they did not have to study very hard in high school. (I'm too generalized here, some students worked very hard in high school.) Now they go to college and find the material difficult. Since they have never needed help before, they do not know how to get help now. And they do not realize how modest aid can be effective and useful. So, they study alone in their dormitory for hours, while 20 minutes of time with a TA or a teacher could have clarified their misconceptions. When I teach an introductory physics course, I ask students to come in for office hours and get help. Some students benefit from the help available, but most do not. When do they appear and start asking questions? Just before the final exam, while they have already passed three mediocre exams.

I hate to tell them it's too late, but it's usually the case. What does not work when you study physics? Cramming at the last minute. Do you stay up all night to finish your homework on time? This may give you points for homework, but you will not learn the material as you would if you worked an hour a day the week before. Are you piling up the night before the exam? It probably does not help much, although I guess it's better than nothing. If I could teach one thing to the students, it would be to stop procrastinating. In response to this, students tell me that they do not have the time to study every day. But if you have time to study for 10 hours the night before homework, you have time to study every day. You just have to work on how you divide that time. The most successful people I know (academic, professional or sports) manage their time wisely. Ok, sorry, this message has become so long. All I wrote in this post, I told the students for many, many years. As far as I know, a very small fraction of students follow my advice. One last point. I'm not the only one giving advice on how to succeed in physics. You will receive many tips from your friends. I suggest you pay attention by taking the advice of other students. For example, one of your friends tells you that she got an A in Physics 211 and she did not buy the manual, so you do not need this manual. She neglects to mention that she had AP physics in high school and that the entire course was reviewed for her. Another student says you do not learn anything from the lab and all you have to do is sit down. He does not mention that he got a D + in class.

When it comes to advice from your friends, your mileage may vary. In a later post, I will talk about the importance of introductory physics. Most students do not realize how central it is in all your education. Addendum: On the point that physics is different from most subjects. I think it's pretty clear that physics is different from subjects that require a lot of memorization. (To emphasize that we do not want students to try to memorize physics, we give them a formula sheet for each exam.) Physics requires logical thinking, a deep understanding of fundamental concepts, and the application of mathematics to physics. problem solving Of course there are other topics that require problem solving skills. The fields of mathematics and engineering come to mind. In math, we give you an equation and we ask you to solve it. In physics, you are given information and asked to determine the equation and then solve it. The challenge of physics is to determine the equation. This is not a mathematics ploy, but an analytical and problem-solving skill. And as I already pointed out, mathematics is the backbone of physics. However, students who are taking their math class can get bored with physics because of the differences I described above. Many engineering courses require many of the same skills. That's why most Illinois engineers have to take 3 semesters of physics. Students study physics before entering their advanced engineering courses.

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