Physics is a class which is not based on memorization but on understanding. It takes time to understand the concepts and even more time to apply them. Problem solving in physics is important, but this is not just plugging values into equations and getting an answer using your calculator. It is more important to understand what the numbers mean and what it is you are actually finding.
To do well in physics you first need to have a good conceptual base. In my classes this is usually what is focused on first. Classroom discussions are usually started with some conceptual ideas presented by myself followed up with questions which students are asked to think about and then discuss with your neighbor. I usually do as many demonstrations as I can to help the students understand the concepts.
Once a good conceptual base
is established we many times will work on problem solving in class.
The normal procedure for problem solving which I will use in my
classes is a) drawing a diagram with knowns and unknowns to help
understand the problem, b) solve the problem using basic formulas,
and c) seeing if the solution seems reasonable. All the problems done
in my class, whether they are homework assignments or on tests, are
graded on the solution presented - not the answer.
First and foremost you need to have time to spend studying physics. There are no shortcuts. If you do not have the time needed to spend studying physics it will be difficult to understand the subject. How much time? On average you will need to attend lecture and spend about 2 to 4 hours outside of lecture understanding your notes, reading the book, and working on problems. A full time student with 16 credits should have the time to commit to understanding the material - but if you also work or have any other extracurricular activities make sure you evaluate your situation. Once again - you need to have the time to spend studying the material.
It is very important that you follow the discussions in the lecture period. If you do not follow what is being discussed then chances are you are not well prepared for class (Reading what is going to be covered, reviewing notes, and working the assignments of course should be done). Get actively involved with the discussion. In my discussions I frequently ask the students to check with their neighbor about a question. Discuss the ideas with your neighbors.
One of the most important strategies is to approach the problems (& the course) as a challenge, not just some assignment (or requirement) that has to be done. The more problems you work out the easier the tests will be. When working problems it is best not to get frustrated (blankly staring at the page wondering what to do), but rather to get some help moving in the right direction when you get stuck. Help is available from the tutoring center, help sessions run by TA's, and from your instructor (Be careful when getting help from friends). It is always best if, when you go in to get help, you can point exactly to the place that is giving you trouble and explain the types of things which you have tried.