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Exam prep: your last minute guide to Physics

By Lily Dalton on 5 August 2016ScienceExam adviceHSCNSWblog

If it was the night before my Physics exam, I would probably be freaking out. I don’t know what the difference between velocity and momentum is, and if I was asked How does doping affect the way a current is carried in a semiconductor? I’d end up attempting to write my response on Lance Armstrong.

But it isn’t the night before my Physics exam, It’s the night before yours. Hopefully, you’re a little more prepared.

But speaking with relativity (a joke that I am yet to understand), if your exam is tomorrow, you probably aren’t going to want to listen to me telling you how little I know. When my knowledge of Physics stops at building a baking soda rocket, I’m not exactly someone you want to be taking last minute tips from.

So, I’ve consulted one of Atomi’s resident Physicists, Ian Astalosh, for his advice on how you can can smash tomorrow’s exam.

What are your best last minute study tactics to prepare for Physics?

Physics might seem like a subject with too much content to possibly cover in a night. But believe it or not, covering the whole syllabus in a night is definitely possible and looking at the bigger picture is actually the best way to prepare the night before.

Normally, the exams have a pretty broad cover of the syllabus; there’s a few dot points you can touch on in each question, sometimes with a bit of overlap. Go through some practice questions and write down the syllabus points relating to each, you’ll be surprised at how much of the content is covered in only one or two past papers.

Don’t waste time writing full answers when you’re practicing. Physics markers don’t want to read long essays, they want the physics in a quick and succinct way. In saying this, it’s good to practice lots of the mathematical/calculation based questions because they’re easy marks if can show a good understanding of the processes. Doing questions like these the night before is a good way to warm up your brain and get all your silly mistakes our before the exam tomorrow.

So the syllabus is really that good? Is it worth spending more time going over the dot points or the content?

Yeah the syllabus is really all you need to guide your study. Obviously you can’t just learn the points without knowing what content goes underneath them, but chances are by this stage you already have a pretty good grasp on the content anyway.

In saying this, looking at the syllabus requirements is a good way of triggering your memory for what content goes under each. It’s sort of like that ‘look-cover-write-check’ thing you used to do in primary school. Personally, I had a stack of cards with one syllabus dot point and every day would look at one and try to write an answer for it.

This covers everything really well, and the night before I was able to look through all my cards and feel reassured that I covered it all. Definitely recommend.

What are your thoughts on studying the morning of an exam?

I’m a big fan of relaxing the day of an exam. The worst thing you can do is stress yourself out.

But this isn’t to say you should do nothing the morning of, you still need to make sure you’re in the physics mindset.

The morning of is a good time to skim over your notes and run through a broad overview of the range of content in each topic. You’ve put in the hard work the night before so all you really need to do is just refresh your brain. Anything you don’t know by this stage isn’t going to be learned by you panicking over it the morning of.

Likewise, you shouldn’t freak out that you’re going to forget what you already know. The physics explains this situation best: matter cannot be created nor destroyed.

What did you do to prepare for physics on the day?

I sat in a room in the library with a couple of mates bouncing questions off each other, like, “tell me about the photoelectric effect” or “what was up with the Manhattan project”, and just go back and forth like that.
Doing easy questions like this was a good confidence boost and stopped us from worrying about making silly errors.

The physics paper is huge, what’s your best advice for getting through the exam?

I used to do the exam from start to finish, following the order of the paper. This made me feel good about knowing exactly where I was, how much I had left to go and how much time I had to do it in.

If you jump back and forth between questions, it’s easy to get lost and forget to return to where you left off. In saying this, I know a lot of people started with the option because they found it the hardest and wanted to get it over and done with.

Obviously it’s about what works for you, but make sure you go in there with a plan of attack. Apply all that rational and logical thinking you’ve developed in physics to your approach to the paper and everything will run smoothly.

How do you make sure that you don’t run out of time?

Timing is so important in physics.

Often it’s easy to get bogged down in a particular question and let time slip away without thinking about it. Before you begin, know how long you have for each section and stick to it. If you’re running out of time at least try writing something for each question, even if you don’t give complete responses.

At the end of the day, you can get marks for working out but you can’t get marks for leaving the space blank.

If it’s the night before the exam, my guess is that the people reading this need some comic relief. What’s your favourite physics joke?

In Star Wars they should say “may the mass times acceleration be with you”. Hopefully everyone reading this is just as much of a nerd as me, otherwise that’s pretty cringy haha.

So if your physics exam is tomorrow, take a leaf out of Ian’s book:

  • Spend the night before looking over the syllabus to make sure you have a broad cover of everything, making sure to take some time to do some practice questions as a warm up.
  • The day of make sure to remain calm and keep your study at a reasonably low intensity.
  • Approach the exam with a plan in mind and make sure to watch the clock: even in black holes (like your exam) the passage of time still exists.

Good luck for tomorrow, and as Ian said, may the mass times acceleration be with you!

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