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The Method of Three Passes

Pass 1
Three or more nights before recitation, make a fast pass through all problems. Plan to spend 1-1.5 hours on this pass. With roughly 10-12 problems, this gives you around 6-8 minutes per problem. Spend no more than this much time per problem and if you can solve them in this much time fine, otherwise move on to the next. Try to do this the last thing before bed at night and then go to sleep.

Pass 2
After at least one night's sleep, make a medium speed pass through all problems. Plan to spend 1-1.5 hours on this pass as well. Some of the problems will already be solved from the first pass or nearly so. Quickly review their solution and then move on to concentrate on the still unsolved problems. If you solved 1/4 to 1/3 of the problems in the first pass, you should be able to spend 10 minutes or so per problem in the second pass. Again, do this right before bed if possible and then go immediately to sleep.

Pass 3
After at least one night's sleep, make a final pass through all the problems. Begin as before by quickly reviewing all the problems you solved in the previous two passes. Then spend fifteen minutes or more (as needed) to solve the remaining unsolved problems. Leave any ``impossible'' problems for recitation - there should be no more than three from any given assignment, as a general rule. Go immediately to bed.

This is an extremely powerful prescription for deeply learning nearly anything. Here is the motivation. Memory is formed by repetition, and this obviously contains a lot of that. Permanent (long term) memory is actually formed in your sleep, and studies have shown that whatever you study right before sleep is most likely to be retained. Physics is actually a ``whole brain'' subject - it requires a synthesis of both right brain visualization and conceptualization and left brain verbal/analytical processing - both geometry and algebra, if you like, and you'll often find that problems that stumped you the night before just solve themselves ``like magic'' on the second or third pass if you work hard on them for a short, intense, session and then sleep on it. This is your right (nonverbal) brain participating as it develops intuition to guide your left brain algebraic engine.

Other suggestions to improve learning include working in a study group for that third pass (the first one or two are best done alone to ``prepare'' for the third pass). Teaching is one of the best ways to learn, and by working in a group you'll have opportunities to both teach and learn more deeply than you would otherwise as you have to articulate your solutions.

Make the learning fun - the right brain is the key to forming long term memory and it is the seat of your emotions. If you are happy studying and make it a positive experience, you will increase retention, it is that simple. Order pizza, play music, make it a ``physics homework party night''.

Use your whole brain on the problems - draw lots of pictures and figures (right brain) to go with the algebra (left brain). Listen to quiet music (right brain) while thinking through the sequences of events in the problem (left brain). Build little "demos" of problems where possible - even using your hands in this way helps strengthen memory.

Avoid ``memorization''. You will learn physics far better if you learn to solve problems and understand the concepts rather than attempt to memorize the umpty-zillion formulas, factoids, and specific problems or examples covered at one time or another in the class.

Be sure to review the problems one last time when you get your graded homework back. Learn from your mistakes or you will, as they say, be doomed to repeat them.

If you follow this prescription, you will have seen every assigned homework problem a minimum of five or six times - three original passes, recitation itself, a final write up pass after recitation, and a review pass when you get it back. At least three of these should occur after you have solved all of the problems correctly, since recitation is devoted to ensuring this. When the time comes to study for exams, it should really be (for once) a review process, not a cram. Every problem will be like an old friend, and a very brief review will form a seventh pass or eighth pass through the assigned homework.

With this methodology (enhanced as required by the physics resource rooms, tutors, and help from your instructors) there is no reason for you do poorly in the course and every reason to expect that you will do well, perhaps very well indeed! And you'll still be spending only the 3-6 hours/week on homework that is expected of you in any course of this level of difficulty!

next up previous contents
Next: About this document ... Up: phy41 Previous: How to Do Your   Contents
Robert G. Brown 2008-11-05