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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Physics Tips: Physics Study Skills

  1. Math is at the heart of physics. So the better your math, the better you'll do in physics. A good working knowledge of algebra and trigonometry is needed for Physics 121 and of calculus for Physics 210.
  2. Get a good overview of your physics textbook before tackling it in depth.

    a. Read the topics in the table of contents. If you look at several physics books you'll notice that many are laid out the same way. For example, in both Physics 121 and in Physics 210 your book will have chapters on motion, work and energy, heat and thermodynamics, vibrations and waves, sound, electricity and magnetism, optics etc. TIP: So if you have difficulty with a concept in Physics 210, why not review it in a Physics 121 book?

    b. Read the preface. It will give you an overview of the author's intentions, emphasis and arrangement of the book. For example, here are quotes from a preface written by author W. Thomas Griffith: "An unusual feature of this book ... is the carefully worded conceptual questions at the end of each chapter... Many of these have been classroom-tested on quizzes..."

    "Another unusual feature of this book is that each chapter begins with an illustration from everyday experience that motivates the introduction of the relevant physical concepts."

    "Each chapter also include an 'Everyday Phenomenon' box that analyzes some common phenomena in more detail."

    c. Skim through the book. Notice the chapter objectives, the chapter outline, highlighted boxes, tables, illustrations, graphs, diagrams, terminology, summary statements and practice exercises.

  3. Read your assigned chapter BEFORE attending class and again after. You will get the most out of class if you read the material ahead of time. Notice that each chapter in your physics text has new vocabulary, terms, definitions, concepts, major ideas and many mathematical equations and practice exercises to be worked out.
  4. Make problem-solving part of each study session. The more you work out problems and test yourself, the better your physics will get. Devote your time to learning how to do each problem rather than in obtaining the numerical answer given in the solutions' manual. Even if you don't have homework problems to do, try working out at least five new problems every time you study.
  5. When working out a physics problem, determine what principal it is illustrating or what kind of problem it is. For example, is it a momentum problem or a force problem? This will help you to set up the problem.
  6. When working out a problem, try to visualize what it is asking you to do. Draw it out and/or set up a chart, then identify the variables and set up the equation. Remember setting up the problem is the most important thing you can do. Next, solve your equation for the unknown, and substitute your numbers into the problem, to see if it checks out.
  7. The true test for determining if you know your material is to do a problem you have never done or seen before. So when preparing for a physics exam, look for new problems. With each problem ask yourself what kind of problem is this, and how are you going to do it? Then do lots and lots of problems.
  8. Use more than one physics text when studying. Employ these other texts as reference books for reviewing or illustrating difficult concepts and for obtaining practice problems to test yourself on.
  9. Take notes while you are reading and organize yourself well. Write down all new vocabulary, terms, definitions, concepts, equations, major ideas, problems types, and the do's and don'ts for avoiding mistakes.
  10. Know your physics' terminology. Practice using the words of physics again and again so they start meaning something to you.
  11. Use small review cards for learning terminology and for testing yourself on concepts. Put a difficult term or concept on one side and the meaning on the other. Carry these cards where ever you go and review them at odd moments - you won't even feel like you're studying.
  12. To make physics more fun, keep relating it to your everyday life. Look for situations or occurrences that illustrate what you are learning. For example, what causes hairs to repel one another on a dry winter day? How does your engine use gasoline to produce motion? What causes the heat on a drill bit after drilling a hole in metal?
  13. The physics lab is wonderful for setting up experiments to illustrate and practice what you are learning. Use it often, but why not make the whole world your lab? Set up your own experiments at home, at work, in your backyard, or in your workshop.
  14. Form a physics study group to talk aloud and test yourself on your new learned knowledge. Explaining physics to others is an excellent way to reinforce new concepts. Study groups also help students to do better by increasing their motivation and confidence. If group is out of the question for you, try explaining new ideas to a family member, a friend or even your dog!
  15. Research has shown that we remember 90% of what we say and do. So practice, practice, practice (do, do, do) physics and explain it to others (say, say, say).
  16. Physics takes a lot of time and effort, so don't take it with a heavy course or work load or lots of family responsibilities. Give yourself time to really learn it and enjoy it. In addition to the hours you spend in lecture and lab, plan to spend at least 10 hours per week on homework problems and at least one hour for writing up your laboratory report.
  17. Physics is cumulative; one topic builds on another - so don't fall behind. Attend every class if you can. Keep up with the material. If you need help, get it immediately. You can get assistance from your instructor, the Math Learning Center, physics lab aides, your classmates, family or friends, other physics texts, the college outline series (ex. Schaum) or the library reserve shelf (problem solutions, study guide).
  18. Review immediately after class and again 8 hours later. Most of the information we learn is lost within the first 20 to 60 minutes after learning. So be sure to review as soon as you can.
  19. Begin studying for exams well in advance and avoid cramming. Throughout the semester, as you learn each new concept test yourself on it. The best students are testing themselves continuously throughout the learning process. In addition, make up your own difficult practice tests and practice working out all types of problems.

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