Or maybe it should be titled "how to avoid failing?"

Over the years I have heard many students cry out "but I don't know how to study!" It is my firm belief that by the time the exams come around at the age of 16 this is a fallacy. The students DO know how to study, but often don't want to - which is a whole different problem. The thing with the sciences especially is that you can't just "wing it" and hope for the best and last minute cramming is not terribly effective either. Usually, if the student has worked consistently hard over the duration of the course they will pass as they will have developed an understanding of the basic concepts and practiced how to answer the questions. More thoughts on effective study techniques will be in future posts.

That being said, there are a few sure fire quick tips that should boost grades - or at the very least avoid failure...

This simple axiom has gone in and out of teaching fashion over the years, but experience has demonstrated to me that it is absolutely fundamental. There is an understanding in sailing that learning the knots will not make you a sailor - but not knowing the knots will definitely show that you are not. The same is true in physics. Knowing the equations will not prove that you understand the concepts - but not knowing them shows the examiner that you

As an aside: make sure that you are 100% confident about rearranging the equations algebraically. Banish any thoughts of using those wretched triangle-things that were popular a few years ago. They are evil and nasty.

Over the years I have heard many students cry out "but I don't know how to study!" It is my firm belief that by the time the exams come around at the age of 16 this is a fallacy. The students DO know how to study, but often don't want to - which is a whole different problem. The thing with the sciences especially is that you can't just "wing it" and hope for the best and last minute cramming is not terribly effective either. Usually, if the student has worked consistently hard over the duration of the course they will pass as they will have developed an understanding of the basic concepts and practiced how to answer the questions. More thoughts on effective study techniques will be in future posts.

That being said, there are a few sure fire quick tips that should boost grades - or at the very least avoid failure...

**1 - LEARN THE EQUATIONS**This simple axiom has gone in and out of teaching fashion over the years, but experience has demonstrated to me that it is absolutely fundamental. There is an understanding in sailing that learning the knots will not make you a sailor - but not knowing the knots will definitely show that you are not. The same is true in physics. Knowing the equations will not prove that you understand the concepts - but not knowing them shows the examiner that you

__definitely__don't. So, by hook or by crook learn the equations. So many easy marks are commonly lost by not knowing the equations and getting the subsequent calculations wrong. Techniques vary from fully understanding the basic concepts (by far the best) to the brute force method of writing them out 20, 50 or 100 times. Flash cards may help too. Think of equations as the vocabulary of physics. No excuses - knuckle down and learn the equations. As with music notes in a recital: don't just learn them until you get them right, learn them until you can't get them wrong.

As an aside: make sure that you are 100% confident about rearranging the equations algebraically. Banish any thoughts of using those wretched triangle-things that were popular a few years ago. They are evil and nasty.

**2 - LEARN HOW TO PRODUCE DATA TABLES AND PERFECT GRAPHS**

This will have been covered repeatedly during any physics course. It is a standard part of any experimental work. Data tables should be clear, drawn with a ruler, have clear labels with units in brackets. Data should be recorded with no more than 3 significant figures. The variable that you changed (independent) should be on the left column and the variable that you measured (dependent) should be on the right.

Graphs should (usually) be plotted with the independent variable on the

*x*-axis and the dependent on the

*y*-axis. The axes should be carefully scaled. The graph paper grid in the exam will always be the perfect size. Graphs should be drawn NEATLY in pencil (you can go over in pen if you wish at the end of the exam). Take your time, you usually have 5-6 minutes to draw it. Use a ruler. The line of best fit (aka trendline) is not always straight - sight along the data points. Data points should be small dots with small circles surrounding them. The AXES SHOULD BE LABELLED, with units. These are easy marks to gain and put in the bag. Anomalous data points should be circled

__and__labelled.

**3 - DRAW DIAGRAMS**

Often the examiners will ask you to design an experiment. There will be a space to "draw a diagram if you wish". This is examiner-language for "draw a blinking diagram". Diagrams MUST be clearly labelled. Always draw experiments assembled. You will have practiced this during the course.

**4 - PRACTICE THE STANDARD QUESTIONS**

During revision in class you will notice that certain questions come up almost every year. If you don't understand the concepts - just learn them. The most common ones are:

a) Using particle theory, explain how gases exert a pressure (3 marks)

b) What is the weight of a 5 kg mass? (1 mark)

c) Add the forces to the diagram and label them (2-3 marks) *

*by the way - don't use the word 'gravity,' it is weight**

d) Anything to do with conduction, convection and radiation. (usually lots of marks)

e) Converting between Celsius and Kelvins - then using the conversion. (at least 1 mark)

f) Difference between transverse and longitudinal waves (2-3 marks)

g) Vectors and scalars (2 marks)

**5 - BE CAREFUL WITH UNITS**

The classics are milliamps instead of amps, minutes instead of seconds, kW instead of W and cm instead of m.

**6 - BE CLEAR AND SPECIFIC**

Avoid vague and waffly statements - such as 'he measured it wrong' , 'human error', 'using a light gate', 'it is different' . The examiner is looking for a clear and precise answer. Examples "the error could have been caused by the human reaction time", "the trolley may not have started in exactly the same position each time", "he may not have allowed the thermometer to have stabilised before reading it".

**7 - PACE YOURSELF**

As a rule of thumb, you have ONE minute per allocated mark. For example a 120 mark paper lasts 2 hours (120 minutes). The majority of students will have plenty of time to finish the exam. Don't rush. Slow down, write neatly, take the time to think and answer questions carefully.

**8 - AVOID SILLY SPELLING ERRORS**

This just annoys the examiners, which could lose you the benefit of the doubt for a certain question... Here is a short list of some of the most common mistakes that irritate teachers and examiners: experiment (expirement), neutral (nuetral), neutron (nuetron), weight (wieght), stretched (streched), ammeter (ampmeter or ameter or ammetre), temperature (tempurture), thermometer (thermometre), and the usual grammar issues of: there/they're/their, are/our, where/were/we're, here/hear etc.