How to succeed in PHY184
- Do the Homework
CAPA provides instant feedback and multiple tries, and therefore a score close
to 100% can be achieved. This is factored into the final grade scale. You should therefore get close to 100% in your homework.
Start working on the homework problems yourself without ANY hints. Do not look at postings on the discussion boards and don't discuss the problem with anybody. See how far you get. Any hint "spoils" the problem and makes it of limited use in terms of progress towards success in exams. Remember, figuring out how to do the problem is the main step you need to learn. Churning the numbers once you know how to do it gives you some practice in algebra at best.
If you are stuck, make sure you follow the recommended problem solving steps. In particualar make sure you made a neat large drawing where you have clearly named (variable names) everything that is given, and everything you need to find out. Think about intermediate steps that might get you things that might be useful for the solution. Reread the material in the book and try to figure out what you haven't understood. Take some time and think about it.
If you are still stuck its time to discuss with fellow students. Ideally you do this in person, but you can also use the discussion board. A good idea is to use the PLC, where you can find study groups and TAs are available to help as well.
Once you know enough, do the entire problem over, do not just plug in numbers in an equation that someone gave you and do not just copy results (this is considered academic dishonesty).
- 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 (not necessarily associated with a homework or exam problem!) TAKE
What can you do ? Depending on your needs you can:
- Think about the problem.
- 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
If you are following all the advice, if you work hard and if you still don't seem to get anywhere, talk to your instructor as early as possible. Don't wait until right before the final exam.
focus completely on problem solving - try to understand the physics concepts
Often, memorizing 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. Another common mistake is to frantically search through your complete set of notes for an equation that fits the givens and unknowns and just plugging in without understanding.
However, focusing too much on problem solving and equation plugging without having understood the underlying concepts will only 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. You will very likely not do well in the exams.
A better approach is to first try to understand the concept and then practice by solving different problems on your own without help. If this is not possible, try to read or get help, work some problems with others, but then again try to understand the concept and try doing problems on your own. Once you are able to solve several new problems completely on your own you know you understood something.
Doing a large number of pracice problems where you need help or hints to solve them does not get you very far. Divide your time between reading and thinking about the material, and practicing problems. Doing a few problems of your own is much more valuable.
- 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 (this is academic dishonesty).
However, make sure you started working on problems on your own. If you needed help try a similar problem and make sure that now you can do it on your own.
- Summary: Things we recommend you do:
- Prepare for lectures by reading the relevant pages in the book and the posted lecture notes if available.
- Before doing the homework, make a 1-2 page review of the relevant chapter using the lecture notes or the book and think about the concepts. Include main conceptual points, basic definitions, and equations, but not specific problems.
- Use your 1-2 page review to do the homework. Update the review as necessary.
- Discuss concepts and difficulties with others .
- If you needed help doing a homework problem, find a similar problem and check whether now you can do it yourself.
- Don't let things slip but keep up with the material on a week by week basis - catching up is difficult as memorizing material is not sufficient!
- Summary: Things we recommend you NOT do
- Use any homework solution or hint postings before you made an extensive effort to solve the problem yourself.
- Focus on memorizing material or specific homework problems. Plug into equations without understanding why.
- Do all assignments with help of someone else. You must be able to do problems completely on your own - if you are not, you did not understand the material.