Jan 2017

Tips on Problem Solving During Examinations

January 24, 2017


One of the areas of JC physics A-level that students struggle with most is the fact that you are expected to demonstrate strong problem-solving skills. This is why students who rely on photographic memory often fail to ace physics exams. Mastering problem-solving skills during your physics tuition is your first step to conquering the paper.

What do I need to do first?

You need to understand what the question is actually asking rather than what you think it may be. Many times they are worded so as to distract the attention of an uncertain student and divert you from the real question. Once you’re sure of what’s being asked, calmly identify what information you have [and what you don’t]. This will assist you in knowing where to start from, how to apply and possibly rework formulas [where relevant] and further ensure that you understand exactly what the correct answer would require from you.

Do you have practical tips for how to do this?

Every student learns differently, so you are best placed tackling this where you are strongest- draw flow charts, scribble a summary, whatever that helps you grasp all the details. The best way you can tackle such exams is by practicing them so that you learn what to look for and how to react to them. Mock papers are always a great way to practice ‘thinking’ during the examination.

For physics, it is particularly important you not only memorize formulas but actually understand them. You may be asked to use a formula in a way that is not per the standard textbook arrangement, and unless you truly understand how it works rearranging and arriving at the correct conclusion will seem mountainous. Remember to carefully track units used, and make sure they are all converted to compare at the same unit.

How do I manage my limited time in the examination?

Physics examinations are time-consuming, so it’s critical you learn to manage time properly. Never tackle an exam linearly- rather familiarize yourself with the whole paper first. Decide where the most marks lay and tackle those first, or you can answer the questions you’re more confident with first to leave time to tackle the most stubborn ones.

Remember to budget some time at the end to look over the questions and make sure everything is in order, well answered and to the best of your abilities. If you are naturally prone to panic, invest some time in learning stress-coping techniques like deep breathing.

How can I improve my examination problem solving?

Remember that tips gained during the JC physics tuition phase will be geared to help you through the final examination. Take advantage of your tutor’s feedback and analyze your own papers to develop your skills at problem-solving. Physics examinations shouldn’t be a source of panic for the prepared mind.


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