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Physics is different than most other subjects we encounter in school because it is so heavily based upon problem solving. Physics relies less on memory and more on applying ideas and concepts to solve problems. It also means that the question we see on the physics exam won’t be a homework problem with different numbers. So if we want to do well in physics, we need to understand how to approach problems, organize the information you’re given, apply concepts and utilize math to solve problems.
Students often tell their teachers, “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.
So here are some suggestions for studying physics:
Study every day
Studying one hour per day for seven days is worth a lot more than studying seven hours in one day. It takes time for your brain to absorb and process the concepts, you give it time by studying daily.
Read the textbook
If we don’t like your textbook, go to the library and get another book. There are loads of textbooks that cover the topics of your class, find a different book if you don’t like your book.
Read books before class
If we walk into class not knowing what will be discussed today, we are already behind. One should read the textbook before the lecture. It won’t all make sense the first time, but learning abstract concepts is about repetition and interaction. We will take more away from lecture if you read the book before class.
Don’t miss class
Pay attention in class. Think you can miss class because you already have the lecture notes? Think again. Think you can multitask and check out facebook while in class? Think again. There is a very strong correlation between attendance and grade. And there are a boatload of studies that show that we are terrible multitaskers. Show up and pay attention.
Be an active learner
Studies show that you learn more when you actively participate in class. Try to work the example problems. Talk with your neighbors during the ACTS. Think of a question you would ask during class.
Work with others
If we think you understand how to do a problem, try to explain it to the friend that you are studying with. If one can’t explain it, then we don’t understand it as well as we think. Working in groups is beneficial for everybody involved.
Take the labs seriously
This goes along with being an active learner. Believe it or not, the labs provide an opportunity to actually see up close what’s going on. The labs are designed and developed to aid your learning. Try to predict what’s going to happen before you try an experiment.
Get help
Often times, you can bang your head against the wall for hours and hours trying to solve a tough problem, or you can get advice from your prof or a TA in about 10 minutes. Course instructors are there to help you, and they want to help you. Their help is very efficient if you come in with concise questions. That means you should try the problems yourself, make a serious effort, and then go in and ask specific questions.
—Source: Illinois