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Tips for Physics Students

You will find scores of "How to learn Physics" tips on Google search. Today I want to write here what I wish my university students taking Physics Courses would do, based on my experience of having been a physics student, and being a teacher of the subject. And some commonsense wisdom I have gained with age.


What is the aim of your course? Every science class aims to teach not just the fundamental knowledge related to the subject, but also seeks to develop your ability to apply scientific thought. Rote knowledge that you cannot apply to life is not very useful.


What is my aim when I teach you? As a physicist and a teacher, I have three main learning objectives for my students:

(1) to cultivate in them an interest in physics, its scope and applications,

(2) to provide them the basic concepts and tools relevant to their present and future careers, and

(3) to teach them how to communicate clearly their ideas and results to a variety of audiences.


What is your aim? As a student, try to define what are the three main objectives of your taking a course? When you know what is your aims are, then you can think of the ways to achieve them.


Find how you learn best. Revisions, repeated practice and solving questions are established methods to learn something thoroughly. There are many different approaches to learning. An important approach is "The Feynman Technique", which you might be familiar with, already. You can read about it on many sites, here is one. There are millions of articles on the internet on how to learn better.


Asking questions is very important. When you ask a question, or are asked a question, think of it as an opportunity to arrive at the understanding of the physics in a deeper way when you attempt to answer that question. Investigate the questions. If you understand the current concept, you will have doubts and questions. If not, then probably you need to revisit the basics of the current concept to come up with questions regarding those. Explore books, open internet courses, educational videos, and educational sites to learn more about what you know. Keep asking questions to yourself and find their answers.


Is memorizing information relevant anymore? Some basic things have to be learnt. But in Physics, it is very important to understand and visualize the concepts. In today's world, a huge amount of information is available to everyone at one click, which has been demonstrated well by the spate of cases of cheating during online examinations during the COVID-19 era, done with the help of messaging, Google search and even group conferencing. Then, just the verbal or written replication of information that is freely and easily available online loses its importance as a means to demonstrate learning competence. More important than examination performance, is how will you perform in life, when it comes to things that count. Perhaps then the time has come where the competence lies in the ability to think creatively and to apply this free information successfully to solving real-world problems.


Learn to love data. If you are serious about learning physics, try to understand data and graphs as they will offer you the opportunity to understand how equations and formulae underpin the physical science involved. You will form an integrated theoretical and experimental view of the concepts. A lot of physics is abstract concepts, and you need to form your own diagrams or mental visuals to understand the concepts.


You are responsible for your own learning. Teachers and books are here to help you on your path. I like to encourage self-directed learning. Indian education system often makes students dependent on teachers, private tutors and "notes", whereas I believe that teachers can only show you the path and any notes should be made by you, customized to your learning and understanding. We are always here to explain the concepts, clear your doubts and offer useful suggestions. But you as a learner, have to walk the path. It helps to skim through the topic before it is taught in the class, for advanced learners like university students. Many teachers provide access to students to the teaching material before the class. If this is not done in your institute, then try to find the scheduled topics and try to read them or look them up yourself, before the class. Then, you will understand better in the class and in the next reading, grasp and retain the concepts far more deeply.


Brush up your basics. If you at a university and you feel your foundation is weak due to whatever reasons, please know that you can refresh your whole high school physics and the relevant mathematics in 6 months flat, putting in 1 hour per day. It is never too late to strengthen our fundamentals. With the internet, you have access to unlimited knowledge. Make use of it, do not limit yourself to a single book, a single teacher or a single method.


Express yourself. Try to express what you know through oral presentations, writing assignments, reports, experiments, and verbalize your doubts without hesitation. If reciprocal teaching-learning activities and seminar classes are carried out in your classroom, take part avidly. If not, create your own study buddy group and create participatory discussions, board exercises, demonstrations to each other and collaborate on problem solving. You will learn multiple ways of approaching a problem, and a better understanding of the concepts. Visit laboratories in your institute beyond your practicals. Take up laboratory projects with professors. Search the net to understand how you can write better scientific reports and present your seminars better. When student-directed revision classes are held at the end of the semester to clarify doubts, ask questions. This will help you develop the confidence to demonstrate your knowledge in the best way in the coming exams.


Find the intersection zone of your abilities and interests. Lastly, make sure where you are is aligned with your interests and aptitude. If you are in a place/course where your interest, personality traits and innate talents help you to learn the skills you are interested in learning, then you will excel. You will be enthused, fearless and confident about both learning and presenting your knowledge.