The Student Room Group

How do i improve physics problem solving?

I'm not that great at problem solving regarding physics, and ive tried questions but still struggle, anyone got any tips?
Original post by sarank
I'm not that great at problem solving regarding physics, and ive tried questions but still struggle, anyone got any tips?


Could you elaborate on the problems you encounter when trying problems?

I say this because typically there are a couple of areas that cause the issue: not knowing the theory required, not having enough confidence in mathematics or English language to express your answer, some combination of both, not knowing how to approach laying out your answer (these are not criticisms, these are just observations I've had from my peers and tutoring people).

If you have any examples of problems you have tried recently and could highlight where you found difficulties that would help to make your situation clearer.
Reply 2
Original post by Joseph McMahon
Could you elaborate on the problems you encounter when trying problems?

I say this because typically there are a couple of areas that cause the issue: not knowing the theory required, not having enough confidence in mathematics or English language to express your answer, some combination of both, not knowing how to approach laying out your answer (these are not criticisms, these are just observations I've had from my peers and tutoring people).

If you have any examples of problems you have tried recently and could highlight where you found difficulties that would help to make your situation clearer.

To do with theory
Reply 3
The exam questions are like puzzles - you get better by practising them.

to start breaking down the question write out all the quantities you're given... this includes looking for 'hidden' quantities like the word 'stationary' which means velocity=0 or 'elastic collision' which means zero energy is converted from kinetic energy to another form of energy.

then you've got to think about equations that contain the value you're looking for and some (or all) of the quantities you've been given.
Original post by sarank
I'm not that great at problem solving regarding physics, and ive tried questions but still struggle, anyone got any tips?

Exam questions in A-level aren't too great in problem solving, although to get A/A* in physics you definitely need a good foundation.

If those are too easy, try Isaac Physics, BPhO questions, Physics Challenge, PAT, NSAA (physics, advanced physics).
(edited 12 months ago)
Original post by sarank
To do with theory


If it is to do with the theory side of things then there are a couple of things I suggest you try out: I would really recommend the so-called 'Feynman Technique' (probably has very little to do with him though). The goal of this essentially is you are trying to explain a topic as simply and easily as you can (the simpler and easier generally reflecting how well you understand it).

The basis of how you can do this is as follows:

1) Identify what it is exactly you are studying (so not just Physics, the specific topic), and on a sheet of paper write the Topic in big letters as a Title.
2) Underneath this, write out an explanation of what the topic is about as if you were the one teaching it to someone (do not just copy exactly what you may have to look at in Notes, Textbooks etc)
3) Following this (since it's physics) include some examples demonstrating the topic you have been discussing.

The idea is that in trying to write out your own explanation you will identify details you missed out entirely or details you found harder to explain. You then repeat this process whereby you get increasingly more confident in explaining the topic.

This has worked rather well for me in the past when I have had certain topics in a subject that just wouldn't go in properly as part of my general studying.

Another thing to do is this: when you are answering questions as part of your own private study work (i.e. not work that will be marked) write notes to yourself about certain points where you want to highlight why you are doing something (Relating to the theory) or any parts that you stumbled over a bit and what the solution was (as a reminder to yourself in future if you come across similar issues).

I will echo some of the other comments (though they are somewhat more about exam technique) but you should tackle the solving of every problem methodically and following the same approach each time (this means you know where you can start every problem and psychologically helps calm you down):

1) Draw an outline sketch of the problem (if appropriate) and fully label it with any information you are given in the question
2) List all knowns you are given and any unknowns (the unknowns are where you can highlight what it is you are actually solving for)
3) Note any assumptions you are making in the question (these are as someone else has alluded to, words like 'stationary', 'elastic collision etc)
4) Write down any equations you think you are going to need to solve for your unknowns
5) Substitute in your known values and solve to the end

The above is a general outline and the idea is that in doing all these steps before actually writing down the equations you will use you are critically analysing the problem and by the time you start coming to do some maths you've already started solving the problem in your head.

Let me know if there is anything in this you want described in some other detail.
Reply 6
Original post by Joseph McMahon
If it is to do with the theory side of things then there are a couple of things I suggest you try out: I would really recommend the so-called 'Feynman Technique' (probably has very little to do with him though). The goal of this essentially is you are trying to explain a topic as simply and easily as you can (the simpler and easier generally reflecting how well you understand it).

The basis of how you can do this is as follows:

1) Identify what it is exactly you are studying (so not just Physics, the specific topic), and on a sheet of paper write the Topic in big letters as a Title.
2) Underneath this, write out an explanation of what the topic is about as if you were the one teaching it to someone (do not just copy exactly what you may have to look at in Notes, Textbooks etc)
3) Following this (since it's physics) include some examples demonstrating the topic you have been discussing.

The idea is that in trying to write out your own explanation you will identify details you missed out entirely or details you found harder to explain. You then repeat this process whereby you get increasingly more confident in explaining the topic.

This has worked rather well for me in the past when I have had certain topics in a subject that just wouldn't go in properly as part of my general studying.

Another thing to do is this: when you are answering questions as part of your own private study work (i.e. not work that will be marked) write notes to yourself about certain points where you want to highlight why you are doing something (Relating to the theory) or any parts that you stumbled over a bit and what the solution was (as a reminder to yourself in future if you come across similar issues).

I will echo some of the other comments (though they are somewhat more about exam technique) but you should tackle the solving of every problem methodically and following the same approach each time (this means you know where you can start every problem and psychologically helps calm you down):

1) Draw an outline sketch of the problem (if appropriate) and fully label it with any information you are given in the question
2) List all knowns you are given and any unknowns (the unknowns are where you can highlight what it is you are actually solving for)
3) Note any assumptions you are making in the question (these are as someone else has alluded to, words like 'stationary', 'elastic collision etc)
4) Write down any equations you think you are going to need to solve for your unknowns
5) Substitute in your known values and solve to the end

The above is a general outline and the idea is that in doing all these steps before actually writing down the equations you will use you are critically analysing the problem and by the time you start coming to do some maths you've already started solving the problem in your head.

Let me know if there is anything in this you want described in some other detail.

Right makes sense, thank you.

Quick Reply

Latest