People often say that physics is a very difficult subject and the reason they say this, is usually because, the questions at times seem almost impossible to solve, however this simply isn't true. This lack of confidence when faced with a challenging physics question is often simple a result of just not understanding the correct methodology of problem solving. I this post I will attempt to list all of the steps that I personally use when working with physics problems: **Read And Understand The Problem Statement Carefully**– This first step seems elementary, but as a teacher, I strongly have to point out that 'sometimes ENGLISH is harder than physics'. If the question isn't clearly understood and meditated on before you start to write, then you are doing yourself a disservice. I recommend if possible, to form a mental picture in your head of what is going on in the problem statement and gather from your memory reserves all of the relevant information that you learnt that will help you with the question.
**Draw A Labeled Picture**(even if it’s crude) illustrating the problem for both you and the examiner/teacher. There are also some physics specific diagrams that you will learn for and therefore should seek to draw them when ever they turn up in an exam. (e.g. Free-Body diagrams, Ray Diagrams, Energy Conservation Diagrams).
**Write Down Your Equations And Principles**that pertains to the question at hand and also because most teachers/examiners always give at least one mark just for knowing the concept and equations.
**Write Down The Known Variables**neatly on the side of your paper and**Convert Them To SI Units**if needed.
**Use Simple Algebra Methods To Simplify The Equations And Solve For The Unknown Quantity**and we do this step before we actually put in numbers and I also give marks for this step.
NB. The main algebra skills to brush up on are:**Substitute Given Values, Including Units Into The Final Equation(s) And Calculate**.
**Check Your Answer To Make Sure It Seems Reasonable Based On The Problem Given.**If not, repeat steps 4 -7. If it is correct however, you can breath your sigh of relief (Ahhh), smile and go on to the next one.
Once you internalise the seven steps I have outlined above I believe your physics nightmares will soon be over and that you can confidently approach any physics related question and maybe you can even apply some of these steps to help solve real world problems. This post was inspired by the following video by Art Wiggins about the Joy of Physics.
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July 2016
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