Student Guide to Success in PH141
(with thanks to Prof. M. W. Heller)
How to study physics? There is no simple answer to
this question, but there are several comments and bits of advice which may prove
helpful. It will be your responsibility to consider these suggestions and find a
study approach which works best for you.
Nobel laureate in physics, R. P. Feynman, once
said, "You do not know anything until you have practiced." Your ability to solve
problems will be one of the main tests of your knowledge of physics. At some
point you are likely to think "I understand the theory, but I just can't do the
problems." Sorry, but it just isn't so. You don't really understand the physical
ideas and mathematical equations until you can use them to solve specific
You should develop a regular study routine for
physics perhaps along the line of the following suggestions.
Problem -Solving Procedure
- Try to familiarize yourself with a given chapter before lecture. This will
provide a more receptive environment for learning when ideas are treated in
the lecture. Before jumping into working the assigned problems, read the
relevant sections of the text. Try to summarize the important principles
yourself. You are urged to focus on the relatively few concepts and principles
rather than on the numerous specific formulas.
- Next, work through the example problems in the text. A useful technique
may be to read the statement of an example problem then try to solve it
yourself. This will give you immediate feedback on what you understand and
what you need to review.
- Finally, work the assigned problems before your recitation meeting. If
after making a reasonable effort you can't solve a particular problem, seek
help from: another student taking the course, the Physics Tutoring Room in 101
Weber, Natural Sciences study hall in Room 9 of Ingersoll Hall (schedule to be
announced later), or Professor Wilson. Note that tutoring help will be
available in 101 Weber from your recitation instructor or other PH141
recitation instructors at times shown on the schedule posted on the WWW
- Before the exams you should give yourself additional practice by solving
other problems, chosen from the text or other similar texts in the CSU
- Read the problem carefully.
- Identify clearly what information is given and what it is you are supposed
to prove, calculate, or explain. Make a list of the knowns and unknowns. You
may need to look up the values of certain quantities in a table--know where
the information is! Make a drawing or sketch with appropriate labels and
coordinate axes if needed.
- Make a list of the laws, principles, or relationships which apply to this
problem. Be aware of any limits of applicability of a given law, principle, or
- Select a basic relationship or derive an equation that can be used to find
the unknown. Usually it is better to first solve the equation in terms of
symbols, then put in numbers at the last step.
- Consider your result. Is your answer reasonable? Check the units.
(you would be surprised how often professional scientists and engineers use
this simple method to check results and even to help in remembering important
equations). Compare your answer with an available answer, but do not start
with the answer.
Be aware of and make use of
Appendix B--Mathematics Review in the text. Note that Analytic Trigonometry M126
and calculus (M160
or M155) is a prerequisite for this course; concurrent registration in M160 or
M155 is acceptable if you have completed a high school physics course but you
may find the course more challenging.
Grades vs. Learning
We do not operate in Utopia. In the
environment in which you must survive, many of you are pressured to put grades
first and learning second. We wish this were not the case, but we recognise the
situation. In this course we will attempt to arrange that what you do to get
good grades will be as close as possible to what you have to do to learn
physics. The goal of the staff in PH 141 (lecturer, recitation instructors, and
lab instructors) is to help each student to learn as much physics and
achieve as high a grade as possible.