Physics 206 — Mechanics

Texas A&M University, Spring 2020

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Dept of Physics & Astronomy » PHYS206 common webpage » How to do well
Student FAQ

How do I make a good grade in Physics 206?

First and foremost, let me point out what will hopefully become obvious to you very quickly: I want every last one of you to ace this class! Why would I want anything else? It is much more enjoyable and fulfilling as a professor to have bright, motivated students who participate in class, do well on exams, and take away positive memories and skills from succeeding in this class.

Next, let me point out a reality you're probably already aware of: this class has a reputation for being hard...according to some, it is the hardest of their entire education at A&M. There's a reason for that: it is hard! We expect you to learn the material, not regurgitate facts; the only way to get an A in this class is to understand all of concepts and learn how to solve any problem thrown at you. If you try to memorize solutions to as many questions as you can, you won't do well. We strongly stress learning over rote memorization.

So you're probably wondering: "what approach should I take?"

Not surprisingly, there is no easy, magical way to guarantee success in this course. But the basic approach is not a mystery nor is it surprising: you can't take shortcuts and you need to spend time learning the material. For some who have stronger backgrounds and already have developed good study habits, it may come a little more naturally than it does to others. But believe me when I say that everyone needs to work to do well in this class—I still remember the long hours I put in every week when I was in your shoes!

In no really particular order, here are some suggestions on what you can do to help increase your chances of getting your desired grade in PHYS 206:

Get serious (right away!)
Take this course seriously, starting on the first day. That means scheduling study time everyday, starting today. There is an old axiom: study 3 hours outside of the class for every 1 credit hour. This is a 3 credit hour course, so you should be spending 9 hrs/week on this course in addition to attending the lectures and recitations.
Do all of the assigned work
There is a lot of material to cover, and not enough time to do it in. We have switched to the flipped-classroom model which will help us use the time we do have more efficiently, but it doesn't reduce the amount of material you are expected to learn. Which is a lot. I strongly suggest you read the textbook, go through the examples in it, watch the pre-lectures and do the bridge assignments before coming to class. Don't skip the recitations and do the homework do the homework do the homework! In fact…
Do the homework!!
There is a lot of homework assigned, and you will have to invest a lot of time to complete them. Sorry, but that's just how physics is: you have to do a lot of practice problems in order to learn how to solve similar (but different) ones on the exams. Combined, the homework and exams which are all based on solving similar problems add up to nearly 80% of your grade! So I strongly encourage you—and I can't encourage you enough, actually—to do all of the homework problems on a timely basis. It is not good practice to attempt the homework before studying the chapter, but start the homework assignments as early as possible; if you wait until the last day, you will likely run out of time, or may get stuck, or may encounter technical difficulties resulting in being penalized for being late.
Participate in Class
In addition to viewing the pre-lectures and doing the bridge assignments, read the relevant sections in the text before class and jot down some notes or questions about things you don't fully get. Pose these questions to me during class! Bring your i>clicker and get involved, rather than falling asleep or surfing the web on your phone.
Develop good study habits for exams
Often I hear students say they did well on the assignments, but blew the test. Invariably, they admit they got a friend to show them how to do the homework, or looked up the solution on the web or in the solution manual, or otherwise didn't really try to do it by themselves. My advice on doing the homework such that it prepares you for the exams is to do the following:
  1. Do not attempt the homework without studying the chapter first. But start your homework assignments as early as possible. If you wait until the last day, you will likely run out of time, or may get stuck, or may encounter technical difficulties resulting in being penalized for being late.
  2. Once you feel you know the material, put away your book and your notes, print off the relevant formula sheet, and try to do the homework with nothing else other than a pocket calculator.
  3. If you get it wrong, then maybe review your notes or the book.
  4. Still can't get it? Maybe then go to your instructor's or TA's office hours (or any other instructor or TA this semester!).
  5. Let yourself get frustrated if you don't get it right away. You only lose 3%/try (up to six tries) on the homework, so it's okay to not get it on the first try. If you spend hours on a problem and then are finally shown how to solve it, you're way more likely to remember what you were missing than if someone shows you right away.
  6. Do more than "just" the assigned questions to get more practice. You'll never run out of questions with answers: all odd-numbered problems have the answers at the back of the book; try doing unassigned ones when practicing for exams.
  7. Try doing the corresponding exam from the previous semester of PHYS 206.
Don't fall behind
It's easy to fall behind, and it's next to impossible to catch back up. Stay on top of every aspect of the course from day one.
Be an aggressive learner
Not a passive listener. You must constantly ask yourself: "Does what (s)he said make sense?" and "Do I understand it?" It's true that you really don't know something until you can teach it, so also ask yourself "How would I explain this to someone else?" If it doesn't make sense or you can't explain it, do something about it until you have a solid understanding of it.

If you do the homework, watch the pre-lectures before class, attend and participate in class, attend and participate in the recitations, work conscientiously and pro-actively, and take responsibility for your success, then there is every reason to expect that you will do well in PHYS 206.

That is certainly our hope for every student who is registered in PHYS 206.