Revision and exam help

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Different styles of questions

  • Some common ones are:
  • STATE – write down the answer. No need to calculate, go into detail or explain.
  • EXPLAIN – say how or why something happens using physics terms and theories.
  • CALCULATE or DETERMINE – find a numerical value. See advice on “Doing calculations”
  • SKETCH – draw an approximate graph but include known values on the axes.
  • DESCRIBE… – say what happens using physics terms. Often the outcome of an experiment, or the effect of making a change in a given situation.
  • QUALITATIVELY – using words, for example saying the speed increases.
  • QUANTITATIVELY – including numbers, for example saying that the speed increases from 15 to 30 ms-1. Always give a quantitative answer if the question gives specific values. Remember ratios, so if the length of a resistor doubles, this doesn’t just increase resistance but actually doubles it.
  • DEFINE – give the actual definition that you should have learnt. Waffle gains no marks! You may be able to use a defining equation if you state what the symbols in the equation mean.
  • SUGGEST – this is likely to be for something a bit new that you wouldn’t be expected to have learnt or even seen before, for example think of a reason or say what might happen in a new situation. There is probably no single right answer, so have a go!
  • GIVE AN EXPRESSION FOR… - write a formula for the given concept.
  • IN TERMS OF – write a formula that includes another specific concept.
  • For example an expression for velocity could be v = Δs/Δt, but an expression in terms of acceleration could be
  • v = u + at.
  • ESTIMATE – Give rough values to the nearest order of magnitude or to one significant figure. Use any information given or use common sense.
  • DEDUCE – Work it out from preceding information.
  • DISCUSS – Talk at length about something. Keep it scientific and relevant.
  • COMPARE – Focus on similarities and differences between two things.
  • SHOW THAT – Here you must clearly show every step to get to the desired answer. You must explain what calculation you are doing rather than just start writing down numbers. This can be just writing down a formula or going into more detailed explanation if you are doing anything that is not covered by a formula. For example to find the time delay of an echo from a distance, explain that you are doubling the distance because the sound has to travel there and back. Just doubling your answer will not gain marks. Set out your calculation as if you do not know the answer but need to find it out. Ideally aim to end up with your answer to an extra significant figure and then say “≈” (approximately equals) the given answer.

Some questions require longer written responses and may have quality of written communication (QWC) marks. Ensure you gain these extra valuable marks by paying special attention to two areas. Firstly your spelling, punctuation and grammar need to be good. This can be helped by learning to spell the technical words and concepts for that module, as well as common general scientific or mathematical terms. Parallel is a good example that trips up a significant minority! Secondly you need to organise your answer to help it make sense and keep it concise. Think about what you want to say first and then write it out in a logical order going from one idea to the next, avoiding repetition or leaving gaps in the argument. It is also important that you do not contradict yourself.

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