Chapter from: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Successful-International-Baccalaureate-Student/dp/0993418783
30. Figuring Out Physics
Physics might be a subject which requires relatively less memorization; however, the concepts explored are multidimensional and the critical thinking required is advanced. You might be asked to prove things using formulas, or derive certain formulas, or explain unknown concepts through previously studied ones. It is natural that you use the Questionbank and past papers to supplement your studying. After completing a chapter in each topic, do a few questions, reflect and then continue with the next chapter. I suggest this technique with all the sciences but especially with physics.
To show the importance of practice I will bring up Pablo and use him as an example. He is a smart guy who got into Oxford, but if it wasn’t for the 7 he received in HL physics he wouldn’t have made it. He was predicted a 7 in History and Economics, however to his astonishment he didn’t get them, yet his practice and hard work for physics paid off in the form of a 7. A few weeks before the exams Pablo would come to my house on Fridays (desperate times require desperate measures, such as not partying on Fridays) and we would get to work. There really isn’t any way around it. I had always been rather good at the sciences so Pablo used me as a resource (don’t worry I don’t feel exploited). He would practice Question bank problems and if he ever encountered any issues he would ask for some help. I helped him where I could (this helped me solidify my own understanding) and where I couldn’t help him I went and did the research (this helped me spot some gaps in my learning). We did this for a few weeks until he felt confident with his physics and both of us came out on top.
This example was meant to emphasize two points: firstly that there is no way around studying, and secondly that you should work with your friends when needed (two minds are better than one).
It’s important to know what the question is asking of you, more specifically how much information you should include when extrapolating the age of the universe from the Hubble constant or how many data points you should test to determine whether the correlation of the graph is correct. To get good at this you should take a look at the science command terms. This can be achieved as easily as Googling “chemistry/biology/physics IB command terms”. (Command terms apply to all subjects and I suggest you understand all the pertinent ones).
Be greedy, it’s the IB and you need to snatch points wherever you can (this idea applies to all the subjects). In the sciences the best way to do this is to place particular attention to the internal assessments and paper 2 of the exams. If you put in the correct amount of attention into the IAs you can score upward of 90% (this sounds high, but remember use all the resources at your disposition: teachers, friends, and the Internet). You should also get better at doing Paper 2’s, as they bring you the largest chunk of the final grade (36%). This entails learning the command terms, getting good at structuring answers and time management. It also means picking up the book and learning thoroughly the data analysis techniques that will be asked of you in the first part of the paper. If you can accumulate points in these 2 parts (IA and Paper 2) then you are guaranteed a passing grade and achieving that 7 will be even easier.
The following test advice doesn’t only apply to the sciences but all subjects you will do in the IB. Memory retention techniques at their core are very similar, so listen carefully to the advice below and extrapolate as much as you can.
Reading is never enough to memorize or understand a concept (unless you are a genius, and I’m guessing you aren’t), you need to take that information and reformulate it and apply it. The more (and more often) processing your brain does of the information the better you will retain it. That’s why learning is so dynamic.
Reading is not enough on its own. To ensure a full understanding, you have to take notes, scribble on the page, highlight and connect concepts you read about. I annotate things, draw arrows that link ideas and solve problems. I also fill in the blanks or steps that might have been skipped by the book in proving formulas. The point is to transfer your thinking process onto the page.
Taking notes is extremely important. However, copying the book isn’t enough. You must add an extra level of processing to the copying. This may include rephrasing what you have read, underlining key words, creating your own examples, drawing diagrams or explaining to yourself concepts that you didn’t understand before.
I invest time and energy into my notes, so that I may refer to them in the future when I have forgotten the topic and actually understand them. Evidently this is a time-consuming process, so be smart; prioritize subjects based on how much difficulty you have retaining concepts, how technical it is, etc.
Don’t forget to pair your note taking with sessions of question answering (this is the most important step, never skip it). However before the exams (a few days) I suggest that you go over your notes, questions you did in the past and found difficult as well as all the material provided in the exams (data booklets and so on). Annotate your data booklet and make sure that you understand everything in it.
A trick I learned before the exams is that not all the useful formulas are included in the data booklets (this is more evident for chemistry that physics).