Physics tips anyone?

Hi. Well, my favorite course is upon me now-physics. Ugh. I don’t hate it per se, but it is not my strongest area. I’d rather do abstract math than decipher some of these word problems but there in lies the point of physics. Yes, I know all the mumbo jumbo about developing problem solving skills, etc. Of which I think I’m generally pretty darn good at except when placed inside a wacky physics question. What can I say, it’s just not my strongest subject so I know I have to work extra hard on it.

So, on top of doing a million problem sets to get practice does anyone have any tips they found useful to getting in the groove with physics? I especially am aware of the fact that some of these types of problems are going to need to be broken down and solved fast in a timed exam so any time saving tips would also be great. Not looking to cut corners, of course, but any way I can speed up how I break down a word problem would be great. I’m so concerned at exam time I just won’t be able to come anywhere close to finishing.

I was feeling on “top” of things at one point and then doing some problem sets today I felt like a complete idiot. It was as if all the concepts I thought I understood changed and I no longer was sure I did understand. I do, however, understand this is a common phenomenon of physics, but I also thought that taking a physics 110 class last summer would have helped me with that issue. Guess not. It’s helped some, but we just did not delve that heavily into the word problems in that more basic class. I have a hard time picturing concepts because my brain doesn’t work in the way that is optimal for physics. However, I did find myself helping others out in lab yesterday, but that was more calculations stuff and not at all a word problem. Once I (finally) get the problem figured out and set up, I’m a-ok, but I’m sure that’s true for most people. Anyone can plug in numbers to a formula, I guess. It’s not all problems that are difficult. Some I can set up and solve rather quickly. Others having my eyes crossing! I’m following along in class, I don’t feel lost at all, and it appears I’m ahead of the curve on at least a few classmates (though, seriously some of them must just know this stuff left and right if they can spend the entire class texting-seriously? I’m being facetious of course. lol. Don’t I sound old? I don’t get this attitude, but it’s not my issue.), but I need to really “get” this stuff and be able to do it quickly, too. Another semester on top of this one plus the MCAT is a lot more Physics to get a handle on. So far my work has been A’s but it’s taking me longer to do assignments than I would like and I need to get better at this to do well on exams.

So, physics tips, please!!!

Also, anyone who excelled in Physics despite not being super quick on the word problems please give me your inspiring words.

If I’m stuck I try to work backwards (in a way). What is the question asking? What information is given? Which formulas will take me from the given facts to the solution. We always had formula sheets on exams. This is kind of a plug and chug tactic but I used it when in a jam.

Also, Khan Academy helped with topics that weren’t clear in class and my textbook.

Thanks for the work backwards thought. I never thought of trying it that way. I’ll give it a whirl! I’m a big Khan Academy fan already so I’ve certainly used those videos numerous times. Plus, I like MIT open courseware, too. It’s getting down to dissecting word problems quickly that is getting me down. I downloaded a pdf on problem solving skills with a little physics spin from MIT’s site and that may give me some ideas, too. I will try out your advice for sure, too.

Happy 4th!

I bought “Mathematics for College Physics” by Biman Das to help me through my algebra-based physics class. I’ve used it as a reference book. But the most useful thing was its section on “Solving problems in Physics.”

  1. Read the problem carefully…look for key words that indicate safe assumptions to make (like constant velocity = zero acceleration)

    2)List all the givens/data

    3)Check units…do all necessary conversions

    4)Draw a sketch or diagram of problem (this was HUGE for me and helped me catch errors before I got too far)

    5)Figure out which equations can be applied. For my formula sheet on exams (and for studying), I listed all of the kinematics equations in green, then listed in a contrasting color what was missing in each one (eg for [velocity = initial velocity + acceleration * time], it’s missing the change in displacement)

    6)Work out your equations, without numbers first…sometimes things cancel. Then plug numbers into equations, and work it out. I liked working in Excel at times, because I could find my dumb math mistakes more easily. But know your calculator well, too. Mine had a lot of constants already programmed in, which really cut down on wrong #'s.

    7)Finally, look at the answer and see if it makes sense.

    I really had to work at physics, especially the first term. I consider myself a very good problem solver and critical thinker, but physics really does come at things from a very unfamiliar angle. Find your resources, use them, and just put in the time manipulating the equations and concepts until they start to make sense.

    Along with the equations, I had the questions “What do you know? What are you looking for? What’s missing? What does the problem ASK? Check for errors” on my formula sheet. I also listed essential checks - “Correct transcription? units? Signs (+)/(-) and exponents? and a reminder not to plug in numbers till the end.”

    Good luck!

Geez - we did NOT get formula sheets on exams, and could only use non-programmable calculators, although they would give us constants on the exams.

I used the “make a drawing” method for almost everything, looked first at what they were asking for, and then looked at which pieces of the data given were needed. Would list the equation I would use to solve the problem at the top, and reaarange it if necessary so the answer they were looking for was isolated on one side of the equation. Sometimes they gave too much info, sometimes they left out something you needed but gave something else that could be used to figure out what you needed, so would do that step first.