How to Get Through Problem Sets for the First Time

April 2, 2020
Naomi Hess

Before this year, I had never had a problem set, or “pset” for short. I came to Princeton as a potential English concentrator, hoping to limit my exposure to any quantitative subject. That changed rather quickly after I changed my prospective concentration in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. I am in two prerequisite classes for my concentration that have weekly psets, worksheets filled with math and problem solving. These assignments are a lot different from my usual workload of reading and writing essays. Here are some tips I’ve learned about how to handle psets for the first time:

  1. The most helpful resource for handling psets is the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. The McGraw Center runs group review sessions and individual tutoring for many of the most popular classes on campus. I go to the group review sessions for my microeconomics class almost every week. The tutors are students who did well in the class previously, and they do a great job explaining concepts and assisting with the psets. The McGraw Center also offers learning strategy consultations, where students work with you on topics ranging from thesis planning to overcoming procrastination to study strategies. I find all of the McGraw Center offerings to be very helpful, so I highly recommend using the many programs they offer to help students.
  2. It is also very important to go to office hours when you can. During office hours, you can ask your professor or preceptor specific questions about the psets or concepts that you are having trouble understanding. It might make you a little nervous to go to office hours at first, but they are there to help you learn and succeed. If the regularly scheduled office hours don’t work for you, sometimes you can find a different time to meet and go over your questions. Even for classes without psets, office hours are a great way to talk to and learn from the amazing professors we have here at Princeton.
  3. A final strategy involves working on the psets with friends and classmates. I have several friends in my classes with psets, so we formed a study group. We work on homework together, check answers and just act as a support system for each other in these difficult classes. Working with friends is definitely more enjoyable than working alone.

While classes can be challenging, I’m glad that I have found some of the many ways Princeton supports students in difficult classes. Everyone has their own strategy about how to get through their work, so I’m sure you’ll find even more resources to help you along the way.