Yesterday some of my fellow students and I had this homework assignment which, long story short, amounted to doing some changes of variables. One part of the problem in particular was not very transparent until we realized we were missing a factor of a Jacobian.

“I’m just going to write ‘The Jacobian enters in a natural way’ and present the conclusion as an accomplished fact.”, one of my friends said. Obviously it didn’t enter in anything approaching like a natural way, but if there’s one thing hard science books and papers like to do, it’s talk about hard stuff like it was easy. In that spirit, here’s some patented homework tricks I’ve seen. (This is not serious. Don’t try this at home or you will probably fail!)

1. Bluster. Given a proof to do, start with the given and work forward a few lines. Then work backward a few lines from the conclusion you’re supposed to prove. In the middle, write the word “trivially”.

2. Be green, recycle. Have to do an integral equation in a math methods class? Realize it’s the same as the scattering problem you’re doing in quantum mechanics class and reuse the answer. Actually you can really use this trick, it’s good to use the same knowledge across disciplines.

3. Shotgun approach. Write down everything you can think of that’s even vaguely related from the book. *Something’s* got to be right!

4. The Librarian. Make it a library science Ph.D. instead of a physical science Ph.D. by scouring every reference from Wikipedia to *Spectrochimica Acta B* in hopes that someone else will have already done your problem and written the answer for you.

5. The Socialite. Make friends with all the older grad students and hope they remember how to do your problem.

Any others you’ve seen?

Of course if you’re really in school, you’re there to learn and the best thing to do is buckle down and learn it. After all, the whole point of science is to solve problems that no one has done before, so not only does school give you the tools, it gives you actual practice in solving difficult problems that happen to have been done before. Good luck, and don’t be a slacker!