"How to Study Physics" by David R. Hubin and Charles Riddell, was
published by the Learning Skills Center, Univ. of Texas at Austin, in 1977. This
revision is by Lawrence C. Shepley, Physics Dept., Univ. of Texas, Austin, TX
78712. (He gratefully acknowledges the advice of Leslie Dickie, John Abbott
College, Quebec; Kal Kallison, Learning Skills Center, UT Austin; and John
Trimble, English Department, UT Austin.) It may be found online at http://wwwrel.ph.utexas.edu/~larry/how/how.html.
You, like many students, may view college level physics as difficult. You,
again like many students, may seem overwhelmed by new terms and equations. You
may not have had extensive experience with problem-solving and may get lost when
trying to apply information from your textbook and classes to an actual physics
problem. We hope this pamphlet will help!
It's designed to help you stay out of the difficulties that come when you
think small and get too involved in memorizing formulas or other specific
details without understanding the underlying principles. It will guide you in
understanding how to apply specific knowledge to the problems, how to start, how
to seek help, how to check your answer. In short, it will help you develop the
study skills that are important not just in physics but in all of your courses.
Getting an Overview
Effective Participation in a Physics Class
Reading Your Physics Textbook
Problem Solving in Physics
Examples of the Application of the Problem-Solving
Effective Test Preparation
Weekly Flow Chart for Studying Physics
Getting an Overview
It's important to recognize that physics is a problem-solving discipline.
Your physics teacher will stress major themes and principles, and one major goal
is that you, the student, will be able to apply these principles to understand
and solve problems. You should focus on this fact, that in a physics course,
you are expected to solve problems.
An overview of your course can help you organize your efforts and
increase your efficiency. To understand and retain data or formulas, you should
see the underlying principles and connecting themes. It is almost inevitable
that you will sometimes forget a formula, and an understanding of the underlying
principle can help you generate the formula for yourself.
Take these steps to getting an overview early in the term so that all
subsequent material can be integrated into your overview:
- Examine the course outline (first day handout or syllabus) carefully, and
read the official description of the course in the University Catalog. Look
for underlying themes or a pattern on which the course is developed and how
this course fits in with your other courses.
- Preview the textbook:
- Read the introduction and table of contents.
- Read any notes to the student (or teacher) that are included and the
- Check the course outline to see what chapters are assigned and which
are omitted. If they are not assigned in the same order as in the table
of contents, can you see a reason for your teacher's decision to alter
the order of presentation?
- As you preview the course from this perspective early in the term, look
for important themes and principles. Glance at some of the problems. How are
important themes illustrated in these problems?
Effective Participation in a Physics Class
It's important that you be well prepared for class in order to use its potential
fully for integrating the course material. To prepare for the class, you should
do the following:
Prior to each class:
- Check the course outline or reading assignment to see what will be
covered. Prepare by briefly previewing the sections of the textbook
that apply to the subjects to be covered. This preview will improve your
ability to follow the class, for you will have seen the new terminology and
will recognize signposts that will help integrate the classes into an
- Read the introduction and the summary of the relevant chapter and look at
the section headings and subheadings. Try to formulate questions in your
mind about the subjects to be covered. This question-formulating helps you
manipulate and therefore better understand the material.
- Examine the drawings and pictures. Try to determine what principles they
- Make notes of new words, new units of measure, statements of general laws,
and other new concepts.
- Do not underline or highlight the text, since you do not yet know
what will be emphasized by the instructor.
- Right before the beginning of class, check your notes from the last class.
Reading your notes will prepare you to listen to the new physics class as
part of an integrated course and will help you to see the broad development
Come to the class on time and stay till the very end. Often teachers
give helpful hints in the first and last minutes of the lecture.
Unfortunately, these times are when a lot of people are not listening.
- Take good notes. It's helpful to draw up a set of abbreviations
and use them consistently in taking notes. Keep a list of them for later
reference. Leave ample margins for later comments and for questions or write
on only one side so that you can use the opposite side for comments and
questions (see After Class, below).
- When you copy drawings, completeness is worth more than careful
artwork. You should not only copy what is on the board but also record
important points that the teacher makes orally about the diagram.
- If you get behind in your note-taking, leave a space in your notes
and go on. You can fill in your notes later with the help of a classmate or
your textbook. (Note: The Learning Skills Center can give you
additional information on note-taking.)
- Ask questions. Don't be embarrassed to ask your teacher questions.
Many teachers depend on feedback from students to help them set a proper
pace for the class. And of course it can happen that the teacher does not
explain a step he or she takes, or even makes a mistake when writing
something on the board.
- Immediately after class, or as soon as possible, review and edit
your notes. You need not rewrite them. Rather, you should look for important
ideas and relationships among major topics. Summarize these in the margin or
on the opposite side if you've taken notes only on one side, and at this
time you may want to add an outline to your notes. Also, this would be a
good time to integrate notes from your textbook into your lecture notes;
then you will have one set of integrated notes to study by.
- As you review your notes, certain questions may come to mind. Leave
space for recording questions, and then either ask the teacher or even
better, try to answer these questions for yourself with your friends and
with the help of the text.
Reading Your Physics Textbook
Reading the text and solving homework problems is a cycle: Questions lead to
answers that lead back to more questions. An entire chapter will often be
devoted to the consequences of a single basic principle. You should look for
these basic principles. These Laws of Nature give order to the physicists' view
of the universe. Moreover, nearly all of the problems that you will be faced
with in a physics course can be analyzed by means of one or more of these laws.
When looking for relationships among topics, you may note that in many
instances a specific problem is first analyzed in great detail. Then the setting
of the problem is generalized into more abstract results. When such
generalizations are made, you should refer back to the case that was previously
cited and make sure that you understand how the general theory applies to the
specific problem. Then see if you can think of other problems to which that
general principle applies. Some suggestions for your physics reading:
- Make use of the preview that you did prior to the class. Again,
quickly look at the major points of the chapter. Think back to the points
stressed in class and any questions you might have written down.
- Read the homework problems first. If specific homework problems
have not yet been assigned, select several and look these over. Critically
assess what principles seem to be most significant in the assigned chapter.
Based upon your brief review of the class and your examination of the
problems, try to generate questions in your mind that you want the chapter
- Read actively with questions in mind. A passive approach to reading
physics wastes your time. Read with a pencil and paper beside the book to
jot down questions and notes. If you find that you are not reading actively,
once again take a look at the problems and the lecture notes. Read to learn,
not to cover material.
- Stop periodically and pointedly recall the material that you have
read. It is a good idea to repeat material aloud and especially to add notes
from the textbook into the margins of your class notes.
- During your reading you will notice sections, equations, or ideas that
apply directly to assigned problems. After you have read such a section,
stop and analyze its application to a homework problem. The interplay
of reading and problem solving is part of the cycle of question -->
answer --> question. It helps you gain insights that are not possible by
reading alone, even careful reading alone. Passive reading is simply
following the chain of thought in the text. Active reading also involves
exploring the possibilities of what is being read. By actively combining the
questions that are inherent in problem solving with your reading, you
enhance both your concentration while reading and your ability to recall and
to apply the material.
Problem Solving in Physics
You may now be like many students a novice problem solver. The goal of this
section is to help you become an expert problem solver. Effective, expert
problem solving involves answering five questions:
- What's the problem about?
- What am I asked to find?
- What information am I to use? What principles apply?
- What do I know about similar situations?
- How can I go about applying the information to solve the problem?
- Does my solution make sense?
You, the expert, will decide, "this is an energy problem," or,
"this is a Newton 2 problem." A novice is more likely to decide,
"this is a pulley problem," or, "this is a baseball
problem." The novice concentrates on the surface features of the
problem while you concentrate on the underlying principle. You, an expert
problem solver, will answer these questions, play around (briefly) with the
problem, and make drawings and sketches (either in your mind, or even
better, on paper) before writing down formulas and plugging in numbers. A
novice problem solver, on the other hand, will try to write down equations
and plug in numbers as soon as possible. A novice will make many more
mistakes than you will when you become an expert.
In a physics course it's important to remember a couple of things about
physicists and physics professors:
- A physicist seeks those problems that can be modeled or represented by
a picture or diagram. Almost any problem you encounter in a
physics course can be described with a drawing. Such a drawing often
contains or suggests the solution to the problem.
- A physicist seeks to find unifying principles that can be expressed mathematically
and that can be applied to broad classes of physical situations. Your
physics text book contains many specific formulas, but you must
understand the broader Laws of Nature in order to grasp the general
overview of physics. This broad understanding is vital if you are to
solve problems that may include several different principles and that
may use several different formulas. Virtually all specific formulas in
physics are combinations of basic laws.
General outline of how to approach a physics problem:
When you have completed a problem, you should be able, at some later time,
to read the solution and to understand it without referring to the text. You
should therefore write up the problem so as to include a description
of what is wanted, the principle you have applied, and the steps
you have taken. If, when you read your own answer to the problem, you come
to a step that you do not understand, then you have either omitted a step
that is necessary to the logical development of the solution, or you need to
put down more extensive notes in your write-up to remind you of the reasons
for each step.
- Read the problem. Look up the meanings of any terms that you do
not know. Answer for yourself the question, "What's this
about?" Make sure you understand what is being asked, what the
question is. It is very helpful if you reexpress the problem in your own
words or if you tell a friend what the problem is about.
- Make a drawing of the problem. Even a poor drawing can be
helpful, but for a truly good drawing include the following:
- Give a title that identifies the quantity you are seeking
in the problem or that describes the problem.
- Label the drawing, including the parameters or variables on
which the solution depends and that are given in the problem. Write
down the given values of these parameters on the drawing.
- Label any unknown parameters that must be calculated along
the way or obtained from the text in order to find the desired
- Always give the units of measure for all quantities in the
problem. If the drawing is a graph, be sure to give both the units
and the scale of the axes.
- Include on the drawing information that is assumed and not
given in the problem (such as g, the value of the acceleration due
to gravity), and whether air resistance and friction are neglected.
- Establish which general principle relates the given parameters
to the quantity that you are seeking. Usually your picture will suggest
the correct techniques and formulas. At times it may be necessary to
obtain further information from your textbook or notes before the proper
formulas can be chosen. It often happens that further information is
needed when the problem has a solution that must be calculated
indirectly from the given information. If further information is needed
or if intermediate quantities must be computed, it is here that they are
- Draw a second picture that identifies the coordinate system and
origin that will be used in relating the data to the equations. In some
situations this second picture may be a graph, free body diagram, or
vector diagram rather than a picture of a physical situation.
- Even an expert will often use the concrete method of working a
problem. In this method you do the calculation using the given values
from the start, so that the algebra gives numerical values at each
intermediate step on the way to the final solution. The disadvantage
of this method is that because of the large number of numerical
calculations involved, mistakes are likely, and so you should take
special care with significant figures. However this method has the advantage
that you can see, at every step of the way, how the problem is
progressing. It also is more direct and often makes it easier to locate
a mistake if you do make one.
- As an expert, you will more and more use the formal method of
working a problem. In this method, you calculate the solution by doing
as much as possible without using specific numbers. In other words, do
as much of the algebra as you can before substituting the specific given
values of the data. In long and complicated problems terms may cancel or
expressions simplify. Our advice: gain experience in problem solving by
substituting the numbers when you start physics, but gradually adopt the
formal approach as you become more confident; many people adopt a
compromise approach where they substitute some values but retain others
as symbols (for example, "g" for the acceleration due to
- Criticize your solution: Ask yourself, "Does it make
sense?" Compare your solution to any available examples or to
previous problems you have done. Often you can check yourself by doing
an approximate calculation. Many times a calculation error will result
in an answer that is obviously wrong. Be sure to check the units
of your solution to see that they are appropriate. This examination will
develop your physical intuition about the correctness of solutions, and
this intuition will be very valuable for later problems and on exams.
An important thing to remember in working physics problems is that by
showing all of your work you can much more easily locate and
correct mistakes. You will also find it easier to read the problems when
you prepare for exams if you show all your work.
- In an examination, you may have to do problems under a strict
time limitation. Therefore, when you are finished with a homework
problem, practice doing it again faster, in order to build up your speed
and your confidence.
It takes more time to write careful and complete solutions to homework
problems. Writing down what you are doing and thinking slows you down, but
more important it makes you behave more like an expert. You will be
well paid back by the assurance that you are not overlooking essential
information. These careful write-ups will provide excellent review material
for exam preparation.
Examples of the Application of the Problem-Solving
SAMPLE PROBLEM #1:
This problem is stated and the solution written down as you would work it
out for homework.
In 1947 Bob Feller, former Cleveland pitcher, threw a baseball across the
plate at 98.6 mph or 44.1 m/s. For many years this was the fastest pitch
ever measured. If Bob had thrown the pitch straight up, how high would it
- What does the problem ask for, and what is given? Answer: The speed of
the baseball is given, and what is wanted is the height that the ball
would reach if it were thrown straight up with the given initial speed.
You should double check that whoever wrote the problem correctly
calculated that 98.6 miles/hr is equal to 44.1 m/s. You should state
explicitly, in words, that you will use the 44.1 m/s figure and that you
will assume the baseball is thrown from an initial height of zero
(ground level). You should also state explicitly what value of g you
will use, for example, g = 9.81 m/s2. You should also state
that you assume that air resistance can be neglected. Since you don't
know the mass of the baseball, say that you don't (you won't need it,
- Make a drawing:
- The general principles to be applied here are those of uniformly
accelerated motion. In this case, the initial velocity vo
decreases linearly in time because of the gravitational acceleration.
The maximum height ym occurs at the time tm when
the velocity reaches zero. The average velocity during from t = 0 to t =
tm is the average of the initial velocity v = vo
and the final velocity v = 0, or half the initial velocity.
- Make a second drawing. In this case, try a graph of velocity as a
function of time:
Notice that the graph is fairly accurate: You can approximate the
value of g as 10 m/s2, so that the velocity decreases to zero
in about 4.5 s. Therefore, even before you use your calculator, you have
a good idea of about the value of tm.
- The concrete method can now be applied: An initial velocity of 44.1
m/s will decrease at the rate of 9.81 m/s2 to zero in a time
tm given by
tm = 44.1 / 9.81 = 4.4954 s .
During that time, the average velocity is vav = 44.1 / 2 =
22.05 m/s. Therefore the height is given by
ym = vav tm =
99.12 = 99.1 m .
Notice that for all "internal" calculations, more than the
correct number of significant figures were kept; only when the final
answer was obtained was it put into the correct number of significant
figures, in this case three.
- To do this problem in a formal method, use the formula for distance y
as a function of t if the acceleration a is constant. Do not substitute
numbers, but work only with symbols until the very end:
y = yo + vo t + a t2
/ 2 ,
where yo = 0 is the initial position, vo = 44.1
m/s is the initial velocity, and a = - g = - 9.81 m/s2 is the
constant acceleration. However, do not use the numerical figures at this
point in the calculation. The maximum value of y is when its derivative
is zero; the time tm of zero derivative is given by:
dy/dt = vo + a tm = 0 -->
tm = - vo / a .
The maximum height ym is given by putting this value of tm
into the equation for y:
ym = yo + vo ( -
vo / a ) + a ( - vo / a )2 / 2 = yo
- vo2 / 2a .
Now substitute: yo = 0, vo = 44.1, a = - 9.81.
The result is
ym = 0 + 0.5 (44.1)2 / 9.81
= 99.1 m/s .
- Look over this problem and ask yourself if the answer makes sense.
After all, throwing a ball almost 100 m in the air is basically
impossible in practice, but Bob Feller did have a very fast fast ball
There is another matter: If this same problem had been given in a
chapter dealing with conservation of energy, you should not solve it as
outlined above. Instead, you should calculate what the initial and final
kinetic energy KE and potential energy PE are in order to find the total
energy. Here, the initial PE is zero, and the initial KE is m vo2
/ 2. The final PE is m g ym and the final KE is zero. Equate
the initial KE to the final PE to see that the unknown mass m cancels
from both sides of the equation. You can then solve for ym,
and of course you will get the same answer as before but in a more
- To prepare for an exam, look over this problem and ask yourself how
you can solve it as quickly as possible. You may be more comfortable
with the concrete approach or with the formal approach; practice will
tell. On an actual exam, you might not have time for a complete drawing
or a complete listing of principles. By working this problem a couple of
times, even after you've gotten the answer once, you will become very
familiar with it. Even better, explain the problem to a friend of yours,
and that way you really will be an expert!
SAMPLE PROBLEM #2:
Again, this problem is stated and the solution written down as you would
work it out for homework. As in Sample Problem #1, we go through the eight
steps of the general outline.
A one kilogram block rests on a plane inclined at 27o to the
horizontal. The coefficient of friction between the block and the plane is
0.19. Find the acceleration of the block down the plane.
- The problem asks for the acceleration, not the position of the block
nor how long it takes to go down the plane nor anything else. No mention
is made of the difference between static or kinetic coefficients of
friction, so assume they are the same. The mass is given, but you will
eventually find that it doesn't matter what the mass is. (If the mass
had not been given, that would be an indication that it doesn't matter,
but even in that case you may find it easier to assume a value for the
mass in order to guide your thoughts as you do the problem.)
- Here is the first picture. Note that the angle is labeled , and the coefficient of friction is labeled . In addition, the use of m for the
mass and a|| for the acceleration down the plane are
defined in the picture.
- There are two general principles that apply here. The first is
Newton's Second Law:
F = m a ,
where F is the net force, a vector, and a is
acceleration, another vector; the two vectors are in the same direction.
The mass m will eventually be found not to make any difference, and in
that case, you might be tempted to write this law as a = F
/ m, since a is what you want to find. However, the easiest way
to remember Newton's Second Law is F = m a, and so that is
the law to work with.
The second principle is that the frictional force is proportional to
the normal force (the component of the force on the block due to the
plane that is perpendicular to the plane). The frictional force is along
the plane and always opposes the motion. Since the block is initially at
rest but will accelerate down the plane, the frictional force will be up
along the plane. The coefficient of friction, which is used in this
proportionality relation, is .
- It is now time to draw the second picture. It helps to redraw the
first picture and add information to it. In this case a vector diagram
is drawn and various forces are defined.
Note that in the vector diagram, the block has been replaced by a dot
at the center of the vectors. The relevant forces are drawn in (all
except the net force). Even the value assumed for the gravitational
acceleration has been included. Some effort has been made to draw them
to scale: The normal force is drawn equal in magnitude and opposite in
direction to the component of the gravity force that is perpendicular to
the plane. Also, the friction force has been drawn in parallel to the
plane and opposing the motion; it has been drawn in smaller than the
normal force. The angles of the normal and parallel forces have been
carefully drawn in relation to the inclined plane. This sub-drawing has
a title and labels, as all drawings should.
- We will do this problem using the formal approach, leaving the
concrete method for a check (see below).
- Now for calculation using the formal approach, where you work with
algebra and symbols rather than with numbers. First state in words what
you are doing, and then write down the equation:
- Magnitude of gravity force = weight = m g.
- Resolve gravity force into normal component and parallel component
whose magnitudes are:
FG|| = m g sin and FGN = m g cos .
- The magnitude of the normal force due to the plane is equal in
magnitude (but the direction is opposite) to the magnitude of the
normal component of the gravity force:
FN = m g cos .
- The frictional force opposes the motion, and its magnitude is
equal to the coefficient of friction times the normal plane force:
Ff = m g cos .
- The net force (which is along the plane) is the difference between
the parallel component of the gravitational force and the friction
force; its magnitude is:
F = m g sin - m g cos .
- The acceleration is net force over mass:
a|| = g sin - g
cos = g ( sin -
cos ) .
- The numerical answer is (given to two significant figures since
the given numbers have two):
a = (9.8 m/s2) (sin 27o
- 0.19 cos 27o) = (9.8) (0.454 - 0.19 x 0.891) = 2.79 =
2.8 m/s2 .
- When you look over this answer to see if it makes sense, try doing the
problem by substituting numbers in at each step (the concrete approach).
The weight of a kilogram, for example is 9.8 N. The normal
(perpendicular to the plane) component of the gravitational force is 9.8
times cos 27o or 8.73 N. This makes sense, for if the angle
were very small, the normal component of the gravitational force would
be almost equal to 9.8 itself. Notice that although the final answer
should be given to two significant figures, you should keep three in
these intermediate calculations.
The parallel component of the gravitational force is 9.8 sin 27o
= 4.45 N. The normal force due to the plane is equal in magnitude to the
gravitational normal force (but opposite in direction), and so the
frictional force is 0.19 times 8.73 or 1.66 N. The net force is down the
plane and equal to the difference 4.45 - 1.66 = 2.79 N. Divide this
value by 1 kg to get the acceleration 2.79 m/s2 (which is
rounded off to 2.8f m/s2).
Again examine your solution. It says that the block does accelerate
down the plane because the final answer is positive. The acceleration is
less than g, again a reasonable result. Notice that if the angle were
more than 27o, then its sine would be larger and its cosine
smaller, so the acceleration would be greater. If the angle were less
than 27o then the opposite would be true, and the
acceleration, as calculated above, could become negative. But a negative
value for acceleration would be wrong, because that would say that the
block would accelerate up the plane because the frictional force
dominates, and that is impossible. Instead, if the calculation had
produced a negative value for a, you would have had to change the
solution to a = 0, meaning that the frictional force was enough to
- Now anticipate how you'd do this problem on an exam. Is the concrete
approach faster and easier for you? Or would you be more comfortable
using the formal approach on an exam? It is a good idea to practice
doing this problem when you study for an exam, if you think a similar
problem will be asked.
Effective Test Preparation
If you have followed an active approach to study similar to the one
suggested in this handout, your preparation for exams will not be overly
difficult. If you haven't been very active in studying, your preparation
will be somewhat harder, but the same principles still apply. Always
remember: Physics courses, and therefore physics exams, involve problem
solving. Hence, your approach to studying for exams should stress
Here are some principles:
- In the week prior to the exam, follow the three steps below.
These steps should give you a reasonably good idea of what has been
stressed and on what you can expect to be tested.
- Review your notes and recheck the course outline. Your goal
at this point is to make sure you know what has been emphasized.
- Reread your solutions to the homework problems. Remember
that these solutions, if complete, will note underlying principles
- Review the assigned chapters. Once again, your purpose in
this early stage of exam preparation is to make sure you know what
topics or principles have been emphasized.
- From this rapid overview, generate a list of themes, principles,
and types of problems that you expect to be covered. If samples
of previous exams are available, look them over, also, but do not assume
that only previous types of problems will be included. It definitely
helps to work with others at this stage.
- Review actively. Don't be satisfied with simple recognition of
a principle. Aim for actual knowledge that you will be able to recall
and to use in a test situation. Try to look at all the possible ways
that a principle can be applied. Again, it helps to work with others and
to explain things to others (and have them explain things to you).
For example: If velocity and acceleration principles have been
emphasized in the course, look over all of your homework problems to see
if they illustrate these principles, even partially. Then if you also
can anticipate an emphasis on friction and inertia, once again review
all of your homework problems to see if they illustrate those
- Effective examination preparation involves an interaction among
homework problems, the classes, your notes and the text. Review
actively, including self-tests in which you create your own problems
which involve a combination of principles. You need to be sure that you
can work problems without referring to your notes or to the textbook.
Practice doing problems using both the concrete and the formal
approaches, to see which you are more comfortable with.
- Remember that exams will include a variety of different
problems. You want to look back on an exam and say, "I know how to
do friction problems so well, that even though they were asked in a
weird way, I could recognize them and solve them."
Weekly Flow Chart for Studying Physics
These tips are based on a list "17 Tips that UT Seniors Wish They'd
Known as Freshmen" by Dr. John Trimble, a professor in the English
Department. He is a member of The University of Texas's Academy of
Distinguished Professors. These tips have been adapted to fit physics
courses, but they are good tips for any university student. I have
abbreviated most of these tips but have not omitted any. You can find the
complete version at the Learning Skills Center (and elsewhere).
- Get to know your professor. Go to his or her office hours early in the
semester and often. Go to their office hours early in the semester and
- As soon as you can, trade names and phone numbers with at least two
classmates. Don't ask the professor what you missed if you happen to
miss class; ask your classmates.
- Make sure you are enrolled in the course you think you are enrolled
in. Correct any enrollment mistakes as soon as you can.
- Read and study your course policy statement (the first day handout or
the syllabus). It is a legal contract!
- Buy and use an appointment book.
- Keep a notebook of unfamiliar words and phrases. Look them up or ask
what they mean. Buy and use a good dictionary.
- If you haven't yet learned to use a computer, do so. If you don't have
a good calculator, which you know how to use easily, buy one and learn
to use it. A particular calculator may be required for class; be sure
you get the right one. Study its manual and practice using it until you
can do so quickly and accurately.
- Learn to touch-type. If you hunt-and-peck, you will be at a
disadvantage. Learn either through a computer program such as Maevis
- Bring two calculators to each exam or one calculator and extra
batteries. Bring your text book to each exam. Bring extra paper to each
exam. Bring two pencils and two pens to each exam. Bring two blue books
if required. Ask which of these you are allowed to use, but of course
don't use the items that aren't allowed.
- Go to each and every class session. Be punctual. Look professional.
Don't disturb the class by talking. But do ask questions!
- Exercise at least every other day.
- When you write papers, do so in at least two editing stages, with a
few hours or a day or two between drafts. Type your papers. When you
write up homework problems, do so neatly and carefully. If possible, ask
your instructor, or the grader for feedback before you turn in the final
version of an assignment.
- Understand that you are reinventing yourself. You are defining what
and who you are for a good many years to come (you may want to reinvent
yourself later, at 30 or 40), so be careful about how you go about it.
- Hang out with the smartest, most studious people you can find. Watch
how they work. Eventually people will be watching you; help them in
developing good study habits.
- Take the teacher, not the course. Shop for the best teachers by asking
older students who they are. Try to meet prospective teachers before
enrollment. Keep a "Best Teachers/Best Courses" notebook.
- Assume responsibility for your own education. Exercise initiative.
Learn to love the whole process of education, not just the end-product.
- Dr. Trimble's seven reasons for going to college:
- To meet a lot of interesting people, some of whom will become
- To gain an enlarged view of an enlarged world.
- To learn better how to learn. (Most of what you later learn,
you'll teach yourself.)
- To reinvent yourself -- that is, to discover and explore more of
yourself than you normally could at home.
- To acquire at least a dilettante's knowledge about a lot of
different things, since being informed beats the hell out of being
- To learn how to handle adult responsibilities while still enjoying
a semi-protected environment.
- To identify and explore career options.