Physics Experience - Here's To Your Success
In order for your physics experience to be a success, you must have
- learned the material
1. Helpful learning hints
2. Test taking strategies
- learned an acceptably good grade.
For the pre-med student, learning the material means doing well enough on the
MCAT. For the engineering student, learning the material means subsequently doing
well in those core engineering course like statics, dynamics and circuits. For the
high school student taking the AP physics course, learning the material means doing
well enough on the AP test to gain college credit. Of course every serious students
wants or needs a good grade. However, making the good grade and learning the material
are not the same thing.
Among the worst things that can happen to a serious student is for that introductory
physics course to be an easy unchallenging experience. A pre-med student typically
invests 3 1/2 years preparing to take the MCAT. If this student doesn't do well
enough on the MCAT to get an interview, he or she may never realize that it was
due to a weakness in physics. After all, they had made an A in the course. The engineering
student who can't pass statics and/or circuits may be in the same situation. Why
would he or she think about reviewing physics; they too had made an A or B in the
The Virtual Prof. boldly makes this claim!
There is no course that is more important to your future academic career than
that serious trig based, or calculus based introductory physics course taken by
It's regrettable if the high school AP physics students doesn't do well enough
on the test to gain college credit, but at least they have another chance. They
get to take the college course and have an edge on the other students taking the
Learning the material
- Do the assigned homework.
Some teachers assign homework problems but do not «take them up» and grade
them. If you have a teacher like this you will be tempted not to do the homework.
There is plenty of pressure on your time for you to justify not doing this work.
Don't fall into this trap. Someone rightly said «Physics is not a spectator
sport». You can't become skillful problem solving without lots of practice.
Some teachers don't even assign homework! If you have a teacher like that, work
some problems anyway. Of a student in a class like this will have difficulty
deciding which problems represent the best investment of their time. For the
possible benefit of such students, The Virtual Prof. has provided the lists
of problems most recently assigned in the calculus based course which he teaches
at The University of Texas at Arlington. A similar list for other texts will
be provided in the future as time permits. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
It is possible to work a large number of number crunching type problems and
still not understand the basic concept(s) on which the problems are based. Through
the years (about 30 of them now) The Virtual Prof. has developed a very large
number of multiple choice questions that deal only with the concepts of physics,
not the numbers. These questions do help the student to come to understand the
concepts of physics. This was confirmed in a study comparing the MCAT scores
of students who had been exposed to these questions with the MCAT scores of
students who had not been exposed to them. Further, there is research evidence
that indicates that one's long-term memory of material is enhanced by the consideration
of a large number of such questions.A large sample of these questions are available
at this web site. Work your way through these questions.
- Go to class.
Sit near the front of the classroom! If you sit near the back there will
more things to distract you.
- Read ahead.
If the teacher is lecturing over material that you have already read in
the text book and you don't understand what was said, you will feel more comfortable
asking a question. If you haven't read the material you make think that yours
is a «dumb» question and not ask it.
- Avoid 8:00 am classes!
Even if you are awake, chances are that many of your classmates will not
be and your teacher may not be as alert as he or she might be at 10:00 am.
Test Taking Hints
Of course it helps to know the material, so do heed those suggestions given above.
However, it is possible to have a pretty good understanding of the material and
be disappointed in your performance of the test. Therefore The Virtual Prof. offers
these additional suggestions.
- Know the scope of the test.
Be sure you know just what material will be covered on the test. Ask the
teacher to be specific about this.
- Ask your Prof.
Ask the Prof. how he or she would prepare for the test if they had to take
their own test. Listen carefully to the answer to this question!
- Are old tests given by this teacher in this course during previous semesters
Ask! Sometimes old tests are available at a campus «Learning Center» or
they may be on deposit in the library. You may not have the same questions or
problems on your test, but you will be aware of how the questions are formulated.
The longer your teacher has been teaching the more valuable these old tests
are. Testing tendencies tend to become fixed after a few years. Try to talk
to someone who has taken this course from this Prof before. Needless to say,
review the test materials here at the Physics Shop.
- Attend review sessions.
Does your teacher or a TA provide an outside-of-class review session for
the test. If so, GO! Be sure you know when and where. Be prepared to ask your
question(s) if the opportunity arises. The Virtual Prof's Office Hours were
created specifically to help you. This help is available and should be used
each week and not just before a major exam. A record of what transpired during
the Office Hours will be available for a limited time afterwards. It can be
seen by simply going to the The Virtual Prof's Office Hours at the Virtual Prof's
Office. Or, The Virtual Prof's Newsgroups is available for a help on specific
topics. This bulletin board is meant for anyone to ask questions, get help with
problems, and to encourage one another.
- Start your preparation early!
You should actually start the first day of class. Keep up so you are not
faced with a mountain of material to consider for the first time during the
evening before the test.
- Get a good night's sleep.
Those «all-nighters» that everybody talks about are seldom helpful for classes
like physics where a lot of reasoning ability is required.
- Get up early.
Get up at least two hours before test time. Have a good breakfast. Take
a long shower. Be fully alert and at your best as the test begins.
- Write an equation reminder.
If your Prof. doesn't put the equations on the board or allow you to bring
a 3x5 card (The Virtual Prof. hopes this is the case) write such things down
before you begin work on the test.
- Do the easy ones first!
As you start the test, scan through the whole test quickly. Then do the
questions or problems in increasing order of difficulty.
- Keep your eyes on your own paper.
Don't give the Prof. or the proctor any reason to think you are copying.
If you think that they think you are cheating, this may be unnerving. Also,
you may become distracted. Stay focused. Tend to business. This is serious.
- Pace yourself!
Try to complete the entire test with at least 4 or 5 minutes to spare. Then
look back over the whole test. If you use a «scan-tron» like answer sheet, be
sure to check all your markings! If you leave out an answer this may cause you
to «get the wrong answer» to many questions that you knew cold.
- Stay calm.
If you find yourself becoming nervous or anxious, lean back, close your
eyes and take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds and then get back to
work. Remember, you are well prepared for the test. There is no reason to become
anxious. Give the test your best effort so there will be future occasion to
look back on this experience with regret.