How to succeed in PHY183
- Do the Homework
CAPA provides instant feedback and up to 20 tries, and therefore a score close
to 100% can be achieved. This is factored into the final grade scale. If you
don't get close to 100% of the homework you give away points you could
have managed to earn and it will be very hard to achieve a good grade.
Do the homework means DO the homework. We encourage group work to learn how to
do the homework but in the end you have to do it yourself and make sure you understand
it. If you have other people (e.g. via electronic means) do your homework for
you, it will be very hard to understand the material and get the problem
solving skills needed for the exams. You will then most likely not get a
grade that adequately reflects your abilities. Even missing out on a single set can have
consequences for your grade.
- Take the initiative
The only person in class that knows whether you understand the material,
whether you can solve the problems, and which information or skills you are
lacking is YOU ! You are also the only person that knows exactly how you learn
best - some people learn well by listening, others by reading, others by
It is most likely that what we offer
in the lectures and in the homework is not an exact match to what you need,
though we try very hard.
Therefore I strongly recommend:
Assess yourself constantly. If there is something you don't
understand or if there is a certain type of problem you can't solve TAKE
What can you do ? Depending on your needs you can:
- Read the related chapter in the book.
- Discuss the problem with a fellow student, for example in the Physics
- or if that's not satisfactory ask a TA in the Physics Learning Center
- and if that doesn't help either ask your professor after class, or make an appointment
(preferably by e-mail)
- Take careful notes during class (some students learn best by writing)
- Find similar problems in the book and try them - to do a problem you
have never seen before by yourself is the only way to find out for sure
whether you understood a concept
focus completely on problem solving - try to understand the physics concepts
Often, trying to learn how to solve certain types of problems seems to be the
fastest way to success - especially as we use the solving of problems as an
assessment for your understanding of the material and as a basis of your final
grade. However, the problems are "only" a means to teach the material and to
assess your progress - the major goal of the course is to teach physics, not
how to do problems.
Focusing too much on problem solving will make you an expert in solving the problems you practiced, but will make it very hard to do even only slightly different problems that deal with the same physics topic.
A much better way is to try to focus on understanding the underlying physics concepts.
With such an understanding you will be able to solve any problem that covers
that area of physics. As it turns out, with this approach there will be very little to be memorized
in this course, compared to other disciplines or science classes. You will
have more time to think about things and in the end you will be more
Some practice in solving problems in addition is of course still necessary, especially to learn general problem solving strategies.
- Read the book
You bought the book so we recommend you use it.
Often students say the book doesn't help in solving a particular homework problem. This
might be true if you don't want to spend the time reading the relevant chapter and understand the physics concepts, but
look up that one equation needed. To test your understanding of the physics concepts and your ability to solve problems the homework problems will often be slightly different than the problems in the book. However, with a little investment of time for reading the book,
you will gain the understanding needed to solve the variety of problems you
will encounter in homework, quizzes, and exams, even if they are different from the sample problems.
- Work in groups, but not only in groups
We encourage to discuss and learn the course material in groups, especially if you are stuck on a problem, or not sure about a physics concept. This
has been proven to be the most effective way to learn difficult material. Problems
are individualized and the grade scale is fixed (so helping others does not
hurt your grade, but improves it as you get a better understanding of the
material). To facilitate group learning we offer you the Physics Learning
Center. See the PLC info for more information on successful group learning.
Most importantly, help others learn but do not do their work for them.
However, it is very important that you make sure that you learn the material. Therfore do not let others do the work for you, rather discuss the problem or the solution, ask for help when you are stuck, but do the problems yourself. We also recommend to do some problems completely on your own - this is the only reliable way to test yourself whether you really understood the material and are ready for the exams.
- Redo homeworks, quizzes, any extra problems, midterm exams (by yourself under exam conditions)
use class notes, book or work in groups to fill in apparent gaps
- Review notes (including demos)
- Pick a few problems per topic from the book and try to do them under exam conditions (only your equation sheet, put some time pressure on yourself, work alone). This is the only way to tell whether you really understand the material - going over problems you did before or doing problems always in a group might be misleading !
If you cannot do the problem, solve it using book, notes, or a group, and then pick the next.
- Be careful during the exam
This is often overlooked - all your preparation is useless if you are not careful enough during the exam. This means, among other things:
- Read the problem carefully. Make sure you understand the situation of the problem, the underlying physics concepts, and what is asked for. Ask if something is unclear !
- Make your own neat and big drawings - this helps for ALL problems !
- Develop a strategy based on simple equations (for example newtons laws) and follow it step by step using algebra. Plug in numbers only at the very end. It is easy to make mistakes with numbers, and often quantities cancel.