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Physics Exam Advice

Here are some simple pieces of advice that can help you to squeeze the last mark from your exam paper. Every mark is important because you could be on the boardline between grades.

Revision Tips

Give yourself Time

Don't start revising a week before the exam give yourself time to be organised. Cramming works for some people but it is often the strategy of last-resort.

Write Notes

Your physics course may seem like a lot of work to revise but repeatedly making notes from the notes will bring your course notes down to a few pages after several revisions. Make use diagrams and spider diagrams to condense the information down to the most salient points. The act of repeatly making notes will also dramatically increase your retention of the information.

Memorising Equations

I beleive it is better to understand how the equations work in an intuitive way but this is not always possible. One can become familiar with the equations by writting them down and using them.

Use the Internet to join a Forum

You will be able to discuss problems and get useful information. Popular forums include Physic Forums or or even dare I say, the Physics Forum at Not only can you find answers to your questions but you can also find links to past papers and mark schemes. Which brings me nicely to my next point.

Do Past Papers

This is the most important point. There are several reasons for this. You can read a book on Judo or playing the piano but you will not master them just by doing this alone. Both Judo and playing the piano are physical tasks. Similarly, if you are taking an exam it is no good just reading the subject from a book. Do the past papers and, if possible, do them under exam conditions, i.e. set yourself the same time-limit as in the real exam and try and do the paper without any books. Use the course book and the mark scheme to check your answers afterwards.

Past papers will help you get used to the format of the exam, such as how many questions you need to answer. You will also get a feel for the level of the questions. Many new questions will be variations on old questions since they have to cover the same material. So for example, a long question on capacitors is likely to involve the charging or discharging or the RC time constant.

Relax (if you have done the above)

If you have planned ahead and organised your revision then you will have all the knowledge to handle the exam. However, students are often worried by the exam process. Try and relax. Try not to worry that failure is going to dramatically alter your career path and destroy any potential of having a happy and successful life. Seriously.

No not really. You can probably take the exam again. With modular courses, failure is an option and it is no biggy.

During the Exam

Don't Waste Time

Don't Waste Time on answering a single question. Remember, time is ticking away, always go for the easiest questions first. You can return to the tricky questions later. In this way you make the best use of your time.

Show your working.

If you are asked to calculate something you will often get marks even if you make a mistake during a calculation and you obtain the wrong answer as long as the process by which you obtain the answer is correct. Therefore it is vital to show your thought process. Your calculator may store several results but you should go through a calculation one stage at a time. This allows you track any mistakes more easily. If you have done the past papers you will have an idea about what the examiners are expecting.

Look at the number of marks for the question. If the question is worth 2 marks, then it is going to be fairly simple and so do not spend time writing lots of information in the answer.

Some exam papers have a space for you to write the answer and it may already tell you the units to use. This can be useful even if you didn't know how to calculate the answer. As a simple example if you are given the distance in m and a time in seconds and it asks for you to calculate the velocity, with a unit ms-1. It is obvious that you can only get units of ms-1 by dividing m (distance) by s (time).

If the unit is not given, often marks are given for the answer AND the appropriate unit. A number is meaningless on its own and you will not get full marks.

Does your answer make sense?

It takes a while to get a feel for whether the answer is reasonable but if you are asked to calculate the age of the Universe and you get an answer of 2 seconds then something stinks with your calculation. Often students just write an answer without thinking. The process may be correct but the answer can be wrong because they have not converted into the appropriate units.

Another way in which your answer can be wrong is because your equation does not make sense. You have apples on one side and oranges on the other. You can use dimensional analysis to see if the equation makes sense.

Answer as many Questions as Possible

Don't leave unanswered questions. Many students feel embarrased about not knowing the answer and they leave blank questions. It is the most stupidest thing to do. If you don't write anything, you will get nothing. If you write something, then sure, it might be complete nonsense for the most part but there might be some nuggest of truth in your frantic scribbling and that means there is an extra mark or two to be had.

Time to Spare?

If you finish before the exam ends, you can draw charicatures of the invigilators on the working out paper or stare at the backs of the other people in the exam. Well you could, and that is fun, but it would be better to use this time to check over the questions.