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.

Problem Solving
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 problems.

Study Suggestions
You should develop a regular study routine for physics perhaps along the line of the following suggestions.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 page.
  4. Before the exams you should give yourself additional practice by solving other problems, chosen from the text or other similar texts in the CSU library.
Problem -Solving Procedure
  1. Read the problem carefully.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 relationship.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.