Surviving IB: HL Physics


What do you feel about HL Physics?

Here’s a cool trick to play on your friends – ask them to think of the first scientist that pops into their head. Newton? Einstein? Hawking? Galileo? Chances are, it’s probably a physicist! Physics. It doesn’t get any cooler. Anything from basketball during lunch break, music in your earphones, nuclear reactors, and subatomic particles – you’ll study it. Physics continues to intrigue me because it’s alive. I hope you enjoy your 2 years of Physics ahead as much as I did (as with any other subject, it helps tremendously if you love what you do).

Three to five most vital survival tips to studying HL Physics

Remember your mistakes. Forgive but never forget. Keep a running list of mistakes you made (one list per topic), and these mistakes will hopefully stop recurring.

Practise by doing, not reading. Physics will often come down to a short statement, a few values, and a formula during an exam. Memorise what’s needed for the open ended questions, but there are no better ways to consolidate topical knowledge than to drill at the practise questions.

The formula booklet – my best friend! <3 Solving problems in Physics almost always requires “plugging in the values” into a formula. Thus, I strongly recommend keeping two copies of the booklet – a clean copy for practise tests and an annotated copy for note-taking. It was always the last piece of paper I stared at before entering the exam hall. “Speed revision”, so to speak.

Clarify. Many terms are deceivingly similar: electric force, electric field strength, electric potential, etc. The nuances of each term are rarely intuitive, but an understanding of them will make the “plugging in” process so much easier. My teacher spent hours working through these details with me till the eleventh hour, so tie up any loose ends ASAP.

Ration your practise papers. Practise papers are limited. Prior to IB, space them out evenly, so you don’t finish too soon or leave it too late (it’s like binge-watching a TV series at the end of a season – it only leaves you with a headache, haha). Going through each paper thoroughly prior to the next will ensure that you’re more prepared to tackle the next paper with ease.

Three to five most vital survival tips to taking (subject) exam

Even with solid prep, Physics is brutal for the careless. Fortunately, time’s on your side and we’re often left with ample checking time. Hence:

Read the questions. Read the questions again. I’ve lost way too many marks missing out a “downward” or “initial” in the question. Read carefully to ensure that you’re searching for the right value, or starting with the right value.

Calculate. Ensure that your often-laggy calculator isn’t missing a zero or a decimal point.

Show your working. I was always the lazy one, often skipping the working once I saw the final answer in sight. In the exams, careless mistakes occur most frequently in the “skipped” steps. Hence, detailed working creates a safe path to the final answer, and helps to salvage method marks (which were more generous than I thought) if you’re stumped.

Three to five most vital survival tips to HL Physics IA

Go simple, but go deep. There’s no need to do something overly complicated/beyond syllabus. By studying the rubric, I realised that knowing the purpose behind each procedure, each data value, or each experimental limitation was far more important. It’s not the what – it’s the why.

Make it yours. Go beyond “plugging in the values” to design a unique experiment. My teacher encouraged me to work along where my interests lay, and (since swimming/fluid dynamics was too difficult) I ended up doing my IA on the roller coasters I used to obsess over in P6!

Start typing early. As with other subjects, getting down to write the report itself requires lots of time and patience, even with all the preliminary data. I encourage you to begin the actual report-crafting early, such that any gaping holes can be filled quickly before the deadline.

One thing to look out for

Everything, haha (you can’t not look out for anything). Never miss a word, number, or step in the exam, as mentioned above.

If I could turn back time…

I’d have made a definitions list. Each paper has marks allocated purely for definitions. I had awesome friends who made a “definition compilation” of every past-year question that came out. I strongly encourage you to make a running compilation as you go, and share freely with others!I’d probably have tried not to lose my first annotated formula booklet 🙁

In short…

Compared to Bio and Chem, Physics is more conceptual intuition than memory work. It’s great if you pick up concepts quickly, and have a pliable mind to adapt to any weird question that comes out, yet I’ve had many friends who took a while to “get it”. Still, with patience, help, and diligence, the “Eureka” moment will come (same goes for most things as well). Have a blast (figuratively)!

Kevin Ong was from the graduating batch of 2016. Kevin is known for his role as President of the Student Council, as well as his brilliance in the water.

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