Department of Physics and Astronomy, George Mason University

Tips to paying attention in a physics class and getting an A

So it’s the start of the new semester and you’ve got a full load of classes. You tell yourself that this semester will be different. This semester, you will get an A in your physics classes. So what’s the secret to doing well in physics classes? Here are my top 10 tips to succeed.

Read the material in the textbook and lecture notes (if available) prior to coming to class

There is nothing worse than being unprepared and sitting in a classroom for over an hour, trying desperately to grasp something from a lecture. Even if you spend only 10 minutes before a lecture looking at the material, it will make a tremendous difference in what you gain during the class.

Take at least a few notes in class in order to stay engaged.

They say that the average human attention span is less than that of a goldfish. I find it very difficult to stay engaged in a lecture unless I am writing down material, and processing it in my own head.

Ask questions in lecture.

If there are too many, or the questions will distract from the lecture, write them down in your notes. Remember the goal is to learn the material. Resist the urge to feel self-conscious. Read my blog on asking questions.

Go over material immediately after class.

Spend at least 15 minutes going over the material you just learned sometime within 12 hours. I know it’s easy to put this task aside and to make excuses. Just do it. It makes a world of difference.

Start homework the moment it is distributed.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and put it aside when it’s due a week later. Do not do this. At least glance at it so you can process what you may find difficult once you start it.

Always attempt a problem on your own.

If you don’t get anywhere in 30 minutes, ask for help. I find that it’s important to claim ownership of your own learning. By attempting the problem first, you resist the tendency to believe that you are not capable of figuring it out without the help of your professor or fellow students you tell yourself are “smarter than you”. You are completely capable. Believe this.

Work in study groups.

Synergy can help with understanding, and provide motivation. But remember to attempt work on your own first. It can also help to have a study “coach”.  Accountability can make all the difference in staying on track.

Practice.

Do as many problems as you can. Physics, like anything in life, is all about practice. I remember that I would do every problem in the textbook or any textbook I could lay my hands on to simply practice problem solving. This is a really vital piece of advice. You cannot learn from just sitting in lectures or watching youtube videos alone.

Sleep.

Never compromise on sleep for anything. In my experience and observations of others, it never pays off. There are numerous studies that show that sleep deprivation leads to memory, mood, and cognitive problems, and a new study showed that sleep is crucial for the body to flush out toxins, including proteins known to accumulate in Alzheimer’s disease,  through the cerebrospinal fluid. I tell this to all my students.

Lead a disciplined lifestyle.

I find that meditation, exercise, and having healthy regular meals can have a tremendous impact on the ability to focus. If meditation is difficult, trying running, lifting weights, or any sport that you can do on a regular basis.

Most importantly, try to follow your curiosity and enjoy learning physics. Physics is an amazing field, and I consider myself so lucky to be able to study it and share it with you.

” The scientist does not study nature only because it is useful to do so. She studies it because she takes pleasure in it, and she takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.” – Henri Poincaré

 

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