How to Study for PHY138 Tests and Exams

First, I strongly recommend that you do not study right up to the last minute. PHY138 is not a course in memorisation, so the last minute attempt to cram in more information will almost certainly do more harm than good. You can easily not be able to "see the forest for the trees" if you study up to the last minute.

Related to the above is to be sure to get a good night's sleep the night before the exam. You want to take the exam in a state where you can think and reason as clearly and effectively as possible. So try to walk into the examination room rested, calm, and confident.

The above 2 pieces of advice do not totally apply to courses where there is a huge number of facts to be learned and recited back on the exam. But I hope you have at least begun to realise that in PHY138 there are not a lot of facts per se, but rather a few general, powerful, and subtle concepts. If you understand the concepts then applying them on the exam is comparatively easy; the converse is also true, that if you don't understand the concepts you are extremely unlikely to do well. This also makes PHY138 very different from many high school physics courses, where memorisation and plugging-and-chugging formulae into a problem can be a successful survival strategy.

For most students, going over past tests and exams is not a productive use of their limited time. Similarly, passively reading solved examples is not very useful.

Going over the class notes, In-Class Questions, and the textbook is a good idea. Pay particular attention to the Stop To Think questions in the text. Spending a little time reviewing all the activities that you did in tutorial this year could also be worthwhile: they are designed for the sort of conceptual understanding which is important to do well.

Many of the MasteringPhysics questions are excellent at building this conceptual understanding. However, at this stage do not think that just looking at the solutions that you did all those months ago will be helpful. Look at the questions but don't look at the answers. Can you answer the question without peeking? Remember to use the official Problem Solving Strategy.

Finally, preparing the "cheat sheet" is a great study aid. It helps you to identify the essential concepts, which should go on the sheet, and the un-important things, which should not. So spend some time in preparing it. You may have already noticed on the tests that if you understand the material the cheat sheet usually doesn't really help that much. Also if you don't understand something the cheat sheet doesn't help then either.

I'll close by repeating something I wrote above: try to walk into the examination room rested, calm, and confident.

David Harrison, April 2007.