Kinsler's rules for surviving physics and other technical courses

Never miss a class. Ever.

Do not get sick.

Never fail to do every problem of every assignment.

Organize your stuff as follows: For each course, buy a blank notebook from which pages cannot easily be torn, and resolve that no pages will ever be torn from it. This will contain both your lecture notes and the solutions to problems you do yourself. And buy a divided cardboard or plastic pouch in which you can store class handouts and loose papers like handed-back tests and assignments to be handed in. Dedicate each division to one course. Expect to have to replace the pouch after each term.

If you're required to hand in problem solutions, do the problems twice. The first version should go in your own notebook, along with all the failed attempts. The second should be a copy to hand in.

Never fail to do the reading assignments. Ever.

Write out your work for every problem clearly. Show every step, even if your calculator has 64 Mb of memory.

Use a pen and cross mistakes out with a single line. Don't ever try to erase things.

Always draw a picture for each problem and label it clearly.

Always prepare for each class. That means have a look at what's coming up in the text or notes after you've done the assignments.

To study for tests, do problems. Write down any formulas each time you use them and you'll know them by heart without any further effort.

Always carry: pen, notebook, calculator, watch, floppy disk or memory stick, pouch for handouts.

If you're falling asleep in class, it generally means that you're scared, not bored. Catch up on your work and stay on top of stuff and you'll stay awake.

Always ask for help, but make sure that you've done your part before you go to the teacher. This means that you must work out the offending problem neatly up to the point where you lose the trail.

There will be times that the professor is unavailable and you're really stuck. In such cases, it's reasonable to look to other sources, as in other physics books or the Web, for answers. Your professor might even suggest some alternate resources if you ask. But it's important not to make a habit of this: you'll very likely spend more time trying to get used to the approach taken in other teaching materials than it would take you to puzzle out your own textbook, and there's a very real danger of getting yourself thoroughly confused. If you're having difficulty in a course--and you will, most assuredly--do _not_ assume that your difficulties will all be resolved by another textbook, a Web page, or a newsgroup. All that really ever works is to review and to practice solving problems.

Co-operative study probably has some advantages, but teamwork in college is highly over-rated unless you're somehow going to cooperate with your friends when you take the tests. In general, do your problems by yourself. If you participate in group study sessions, run these as help sessions where each of you can teach something to the others and thus learn it yourself.

Do not watch television. The re-runs will be available after the term is over. Give your video games to your little brother.

Resign from chat rooms, e-mail lists, on-line gaming, Web surfing, and other massive consumers of time. Use the computer for academic purposes only. Let your long-time e-mail correspondents think you died or something.

Do not try to substitute computer graphics ability or other presentation skills for substance in laboratory reports. If something didn't work, use your discussion to analyze why it did not, what you did wrong, what you should have done, and what you learned as a result. Never fudge data: whatever you read, you record honestly and go with those readings in your report. Some experiments are designed to have non-obvious results.

Learn to draw a good graph, properly labeled and scaled.

Always do your own work, especially in laboratory settings. That means preparing your own report on your own, even if the data was collected by someone else.

Always prepare for a lab: know what you're going to do and how you're going to do it.

Never miss an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity as a student and as a person. A reputation for honesty will serve you far better than any course grade.