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HOW TO STUDY PHYSICS

From my perspective Physics is a truly beautiful subject.  It is the most fascinating, stimulating, awe inspiring subject in the world.  However, when you are first learning Physics it can seem a very difficult subject, even if you too really enjoy it or are fascinated by it.

The following are a few suggestions that may help you to study Physics in an efficient, effective and productive manner.

GENERAL POINTS:

  • Acquire a quiet place to use as your "Study".  For high school students this will often be your bedroom.
     

  • Set up a good study space - desk, comfortable chair, good lighting & ventilation, storage space for books & equipment.  You must be comfortable before you can study effectively.
     

  • Remove all distractions.  No music, TV, video or computer games or any other distractions can be allowed to interfere with your study time.  AND PLEASE - don't even attempt to convince me that YOU can study better with the TV or music turned on.  This is a complete misconception.  You may believe that it is true but I can assure you, there are many scientific studies that clearly show that not even the very top students can study as productively with such distractions present as when the distractions are removed.  So, get rid of all distractions while you study.  You can listen to the music, play games, watch TV in your breaks.  In the end you are only in senior school for a very brief period of time.  Make the most of it.
     

  • Organize a regular study routine that works for you.  Everyone is different and it may take a little bit of mucking around to find the routine that works best for you, but once you have it, stick with it.  Consistency is the key.  Study must become a habit, especially if you are thinking of going onto tertiary study.  Note that you do not have to be as rigorous as studying exactly the same subject or topic at exactly the same time each day or week.  What is important is that you give everything its fair share of time.  Things you find more difficult should even be given slightly more time than things you find easy.
     

  • Get all daily homework done each day.  Plan and set time to work on homework that is due at some time in the future.  Study something each day.  This may be for as little as fifteen minutes if you have had a huge amount of homework that day.  You may be able to study for much longer than this each day or on some days.  BUT study something each day!  Does this mean 7 days per week?  Totally up to you but I would suggest that your study program should run on at least 6 days per week.
     

  • Set goals for yourself each week and each term.  Reward yourself when you achieve these goals.
     

  • Stay fit and healthy.  Get plenty of sleep, exercise and relaxation.  You cannot study well if you are worn out.  It's all about balance.  Try to balance work with play.

     

POINTS SPECIFIC TO PHYSICS (and other Sciences):

  • Use your copy of the Syllabus as a Study Guide to help produce topic summaries in your own words.  You should produce summaries in this way as you cover the material in class.  Don't leave it until just before your exams to write all your summaries.  If you do not have a Syllabus, ask your Teacher for one or download a copy from the Board of Studies Website - the URL is on my Links page in the Favourite Links section.  Make sure you get the right version.  It is the Stage 6 Physics Syllabus approved June 1999 and amended October 2002.
     

  • Ensure you can answer all points mentioned in the Syllabus to the level required by the verb used.  You must learn the meanings of the verbs as specified in the Glossary of Terms published by the Board of Studies.  Try the Verb Practice exercises located at this link.  Make sure your teacher has supplied you with a Glossary of Terms.
     

  • Your teacher should be able to provide you with scaffolds for each verb.  Scaffolds are examples of words and sentence structures that can be used to effectively answer each verb.
     

  • You must practise writing answers to each particular verb.  Get some practice questions from your teacher or from one of the many Physics summary or question books around and write out the answers.  Discuss your answer with your teacher or with someone else who knows what they are talking about.  Ask how to improve your answers.
     

  • There is only one way to improve your skill at solving mathematical problems.  You must do as many problems as possible.  You must ask your teacher or again someone who knows what they are doing for guidance when you strike trouble.  Force yourself to practise mathematical physics problems.  Write down what you know from the question and identify what you are trying to find.  Use the things you have been told about in the question as a guide to the appropriate formula or method of solution.  Train yourself to ask the right questions to guide you through the problem.  You won't solve the problem by just staring at it.  You have to think it through and the best way to do that is to ask yourself questions about the situation.  It takes practice but you will get the hang of it if you persist.
     

  • With formulas my advice is simple.  Even though you are given formula sheets in every exam, why waste time having to look them up?  Learn all formulas off by heart.  Yes, it's boring and painful but it will save time in exams.
     

  • When trying to learn formulas or anything else off by heart repetition is the key.  Say the thing you are trying to remember out loud over and over again or write it down over and over again.  Do this until you can remember it. Then a day later see how much of it you can remember.  Test yourself and if you cannot get it 100% accurate, repeat the process.  Repeat the process at regular intervals leading up to exams.

 

EXAM TECHNIQUE:

  • Psych yourself up for exams.  Tell yourself you have prepared well, that you know everything you need to know and that you are going to do well.  Of course, you must have actually done the study & preparation for this to be of any use at all!
     

  • Have all the necessary equipment & spares.  Know the details of the exam - venue, length of exam, topics being examined, number of sections, types of questions, special requirements etc.  Also, work out how long you should spend on each section in the exam.
     

  • Arrive at the venue in plenty of time for the exam but do not stand around discussing what you or other people may not have studied.  Do not be worried by the "panic merchants".  Be confident in yourself and in what you have studied.  Be positive.
     

  • Don't try to cram 15 minutes of extra study into your head just before you enter the exam room.  If you have studied, you already know it.  If you haven't, 15 minutes will make no difference at all.
     

  • Listen to & read all instructions carefully.  Answer the questions in whatever order best suits you.  I always found it best at high school to simply do the paper from question 1 through to the end.  If you cannot do a particular question in a reasonable time, leave it and come back at the end.  Never leave a multiple choice unanswered - if you still do not know the answer at the end of the exam guess it.  Stick to your times for each section.  There is no point spending an extra five minutes getting an extra mark or two in one section and then not finishing the exam.
     

  • Stay calm in the exam no matter what happens.  Panicking wastes time and achieves nothing.  If you have a mental block on something, move on and come back later.  Almost certainly you will remember whatever it was you were trying to think of.  If you think of something important that you think you might forget before you get to use it, write it down somewhere, so you can read it later when you actually need it.
     

  • Some people find it helpful, especially in long exams to know some breathing or relaxation exercises that they can do to control their stress.  If you think this may help you, speak to your teacher, Year Coordinator or School Counsellor to find out who to see or where to go to learn these techniques.
     

  • If time permits, check over your answers.
     

  • Make sure your name or number is on all answer sheets & hand everything up as requested by the supervisors.
     

  

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Last updated:

Robert Emery 2002 - view the Terms of Use of this site.