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Testing Hard Exams

  1. Aug 30, 2008 #1
    I heard that the most difficult problems are the one made up by the professors on exams.Is this true? Is there any way around this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 30, 2008 #2


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    Pay attention in class, take good notes, and highlight the concepts that the prof stresses. Chances are that he/she will make up exam problems that test your comprehension of the concepts and analytical tools that were stressed in class. You don't have to waste your time taking voluminous notes. Today's technology will let you record what is being said so that you can spend time paying attention, highlighting your texts (if the lectures follow the texts well) and making brief notes in the margin of the text. Later, you can review the audio of the lecture (store it on the HD of your PC if you want) and flesh out your notes.
  4. Aug 30, 2008 #3


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    In my first year as an undergrad, I noticed that, in my linear algebra and calculus classes, the problems in the exams were all more difficult than any exercise we had ever done in preparation. I suspect this was meant to "eliminate" weaker students.

    In any case, yes there is something you can do to circumvent (as much as possible) the surprise of coming across an unexpectedly hard exams, and that is to work out the exams of the previous years.
  5. Aug 30, 2008 #4


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    No, that is not always true. It depends on the philosophy of the professor. From what I understand, in engineering, it is still common to have 30/100 be the average score on an exam. Other professors believe students should get good grades if they have been well taught, and that there should be no law against all students scoring As, if they deserved (Daniel Kemp actually enunciated this in his organic chemistry course; I believe he also said that all students getting Fs would also be ok, if they deserved). One technique some Professors use to ensure that students get challenged is to put the really hard problems on problem sets when students have time to ponder questions, and leave the exams to test students' grasp of major ideas. My solution was to take classes that didn't have exams :tongue2:
  6. Aug 30, 2008 #5


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    That only works for like about 15% of all classes, unless you're majoring in business or something. And if it is any consolation to the OP, I should note that it is often difficult for a professor to come up with an original problem meaning one which does not differ from the textbook excercises (which themselves can be challenging) just by varying the numerical data or the given variables. Anyway, it's expected that every exam would have at least a few tough questions to differentiate between good students and the best.
  7. Aug 31, 2008 #6
    But don't just focus on the questions, check out the structure. For instance, is there always a question on topics A, B, C, and D. Is C always the impossible one? Can you choose which questions to answer? Can you skip C and D and concentrate on revising for A and B?

    If you can choose courses/universities ask around BEFORE THE COURSE STARTS to see which courses/lecturers set impossible exams. If you are thinking, say, of applying for an MSc course somewhere, email all the postgraduates in the department to get feedback on what the course is like. (That approach could have saved me a year of real pain! I was forced to take an astrophysics course, the mainstay of the MSc, that all postgrads agreed was impossible on every level -- information that could have been invaluable for the poor slobs applying for next years course. Believe me I would gladly have spilled the beans about how bad it was to any enquirer!)

    Keep a close eye on this very useful forum. If people keep on saying the advanced mechanics course at institution X is impossible and 50% of the brightest of the bright drop out, take that as a big hint to look elsewhere! Also check the recommended textbooks for courses, if they stink then you can be almost certain the exam, lecturer and course will as well! Be especially wary of courses with no recommended textbooks or a long list of recommended textbooks -- both signs that the course is likely to be a pot pourri of indecipherable nonsense.
  8. Sep 1, 2008 #7
    There's only two real skills in physics* at I can think of; having some physical understanding of what the hell is going on, and constructing mathematical arguments. The first comes from thought, and the second from practice. First get your head around the physics of your lecture courses, then do past paper questions to develop the skill of playing with the associated maths, accurately and quickly.

    *as a theoretical discipline that can be examined in a paper, i.e. excluding practical lab skills!
  9. Sep 1, 2008 #8
    Exam problems are actually below the level the Prof. thinks the students can handle. The reason is that you only get a few hours to do the exam. Also, a student who has mastered the subject perfectly should score 100% but if you give a challenging problem to that student then even that student would not score 100%.

    The best way to study most physics subject is to solve detailed challenging problems from first principles that are much more dificult than anything you'll get at the exam. When doing practice problems you should not use formulas from the book unless you fully understand how these formulas are derived. I.e. you should be able to solve all the problems without using the book using only a blank sheet of paper. You only look up things in the book to save time.

    When you study this way, you will have mastered the subject almost as well as the Prof.
  10. Sep 1, 2008 #9
    In my grade 10 &11, I had a chemistry teacher, my best try for his tests yields 5/10, a classmate made highest score among grade 10 students 6/10. And I don't know where the tests were taken from ? Seriously hard! Although I went to social sciences, I passed easily all colleges entrance exams I took that has chemistry tests a year after that
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