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How to get 100% in Physics course?

  1. Sep 21, 2012 #1
    OK, this question is for those who is genuinely amongst the group to which I am referring to. I just got my physics exam back (college) and I got a 39%. Don't ask me how it happen. The teacher displayed our grades on the black board....there was...and it IS always...ALWAYS, that 100% in the midst of failures...Who is that person? Once and for all I want to use the internet to issue a request...Please can That SPECIFIC category respond to this ONLY..HOW DO YOU GET 100% on a physics examination?I appreciate all genuine responses from this group of people...No ad-homeniems...as i does not develop the yaddah yaddah ya....
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  3. Sep 21, 2012 #2
    I find that the more I study, the better my grade is on a test. Of course, it has to be good studying. I like to ask my professor about the kinds of problems to expect on the test. Usually they put problems that are incredibly similar to the ones found on the homework. Thus, doing the homework over again can be really helpful for studying.

    it's not like good grades happen because of magic, you have to work hard for them. I'm sure if you put more effort into studying and spend some time asking your professor for help on problems that you don't understand, then you will do a lot better next time :)
  4. Sep 22, 2012 #3

    Simon Bridge

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    I only got 100% on easy exams.
    I have got 100% on exams where everyone else got much less ... so it only has to be easy for me. The secret is to understand the physics. OTOH: it is unusual for one person to always get 100% (it happens - but it takes a great deal of work). Basically, if you keep getting 100% on exams, you are in a year-level below your learning level. I mean, if I went back to High School, I'd get 100% on everything - even Shakespear.

    BTW: this is an age old question, not just from students, but teachers too. You won't get anywhere by asking the A+ students how they got their grades: they don't understand how people can fail. They will just tell you to work harder and smarter. For teachers the problem is how to teach students so they have a high pass-rate. There is quite a lot of inconclusive research on the topic.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2012
  5. Sep 22, 2012 #4


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    Despite the popular opinion that 'rote learning' should be a thing of the past, you cannot do well in exams without having actually learned quite a few facts / formulae/ scientific relationships. Rote learning is actually, not a bad way of getting some of this stuff into your head. That, in itself, is not sufficient - of course - because you then need to be able to apply that knowledge. Answering past exam questions and reading textbooks (also, not a popular habit these days) will allow you to assemble the things you learned and to reach some 'understanding' of the subject.
    It is not 'just an old fashioned idea' that actually learning stuff off by heart can be useful. It represents the necessary pain before the gain of serious understanding. I wish more people could take this on board. They are not doing students any favours by ignoring the (self driven) 'learning' half of 'teaching and learning'.
    Most young people are more than capable of learning the words of songs, the names of sports teams etc. etc., most of which parcels of information are totally arbitrary and just have to be learned. So it is a nonsense to say that they couldn't 'just learn' a handful of formulae and statements. Perhaps the reason that many teachers are not doing more high level and better paid work is because they, themselves never took the trouble to 'just learn stuff'. (I will probably need to duck now, to avoid flying brickbats. :wink:)
  6. Sep 22, 2012 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    The first thing you need to do is to pay more attention to what you read. For example, you initially posted in the wrong section.

    The second thing you need to do is show more care in what you write. Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent. If you always write like your first message, you are dramatically increasing the chance someone - perhaps the grader - will not understand what you mean and take off points.

    Once you regularly start doing that, one can focus on other issues. But without those two as a foundation, its far too early.
  7. Sep 22, 2012 #6
    I agree with you about working hard to learn stuff, but I think that doing nothing but memorizing techniques and formulae is not a great way to succeed in math/physics/engineering. When you seek to understand why, then all the techniques and formulas actually make sense, and so they're much easier to remember. Not only that, but when you really understand stuff, you can come up with new methods/formulas, so you're not restricted to solving problems that are in the exact same form as the ones you did in class.

    Of course, I should reinforce that focusing on understanding rather than memorizing does not mean you get to slack off. You still spend a LOT of time reading the textbook and doing tons practice problems, it's just that your focus is on understanding why rather than memorizing how.
  8. Sep 22, 2012 #7
    agreed. My physics teacher does not believe in memorizing. i don't either. like Richard Feynman said "you can know all the names of the bird in every single language, by the end of it, you will know nothing about the bird, only what people from different areas call the bird" ( not an exact quote, just from what i remember ).

    From past experiences, once i understand something i can remember everything about it.

    i used to be a C student from grade 9-12, i always skipped class, partied and got drunk on the weekend, went out with girls all the time.

    Now i have A+'s and A's because i realized i WANT to LEARN and UNDERSTAND. i have a sticky note on my homescreen of my phone that says READ AND ANALYSE so every time i check what time it is when i am studying i will see it and make sure i analyse everything i read and understand it. if i don't, i read it over and over and look stuff up on the internet until i fully understand it.

    Another thing that i found really helpful is i would give myself a little "preview" the night before or a few days before the class for what we will be learning.

    i am not an 100% kinda student( i know that is the people you want to answer your question but i think i know a little something about getting there) . i keep aiming for it and it IS very very hard. i keep getting mid - high 90s and at that point i realized that its the LITTLE mistakes on exams. so for ME getting mid - high 90s what I will have to do is check all my calculations to make sure i didn't make anything errors because i have realized going from 95% - 100% is small errors. it isn't that i don't understand the material, it's that double checking and triple checking.

    but first you have to get to that 90's range!
    i look back now and i always catch myself saying " wow how did i get C's back in highschool... " then i realize that i was doing everything wrong.

    find a studying technique that works for YOU. my approach may not be a fit for you, you can give it a try, but at the end of the day you have to find the right plan for you.

    ** a little funny thing i do before a test(i am sure everyone will think its weird) is i go find a mirror and pump myself up haha
    now don't laugh hahaha its because i was a hardcore athlete all my life so now that i don't play sports i have carried the tradition to academics. it gives me that confidence and cockyness i always had when i played sports into tests and exams. Also, another thing i learned to do is create a " game plan ". when i used to play sports we always had game plans and talked about it before our games. so i always have a "game plan" before an exam.

    like sports, i look at exams as MY chance to SHOW OFF what i can do. Because thats what an exam really is. its not made to make you suffer.

    its your chance to show off your knowledge.

    thats just my mindset and my way of doing things. bottom line, if you don't like what your doing, change it, if it still doesn't work, change it again. until you find something that works
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2012
  9. Sep 22, 2012 #8


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    You answer every question correctly, or at least, in a manner consistent with what your marker is expecting.

    One immediate, and perhaps obvious approach to improving your ability to do this is to go to the student who is getting 100% on the exams and figure out what he or she does differently from you. There is no guarantee that particular student's methods will work best for you, but since you're not happy with your current results, you don't have much to lose by changing your approach to studying.

    Another great source for suggestions is your teacher. If this person has taught the course several times before he or she will likely have made some observations about which habits lead to successful results.

    One thing that I've noticed about those students who score incredibly well is that they aren't just trying to get the good grade. They immerse themselves in the material, often pushing their studies beyond the assigned problems. They come up with their own problems and try to solve them. They think about real-world applications of the material.

    Also, they quickly identify ideas that they don't understand and correct this, either though additional reading or by seeking help. This means realizing that you don't understand something perhaps even before it's covered in class because you've read ahead. Realizing that you don't get something the night before an exam isn't going to help you too much if you have no manner of recourse to correct it. Start early.

    Learn to predict the types of questions that could be asked. The most successful students I've known had an aility to guess the general types of questions that were asked on exams. I'm not saying they knew the answers ahead of time. Just that they got to a level of understanding where they could place themselves in the instructor's shoes and make pretty reasonable guesses at what kinds of questions they might encounter.

    There's a bit of an art to taking exams. Learing how to properly alot your time for example is a skill that, if you haven't mastered, can cost you a lot of marks. Learning how to quickly read a question and isolate what specifically is being asked for is also as skill.

    I might also add that you shouldn't always expect to get 100% anyway. If you get perfect marks in every class you attend, it brings up the question: are you really challenging youself?
  10. Sep 23, 2012 #9


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    That goes without saying and is not what I wrote. The fact is that kids are given formula sheets in exams and seem seldom to be prepared to learn even the simplest formulae. When I go to my Doctor, I don't want to see him dive into his computer to find an answer. I want him to have enough facts at his finger tips to be able to come up with a solution to my problem. Anyone who is incapable of learning a substantial amount will just not be capable of proper analysis of a situation and neither will they be able to approach the 'why' question because they will not have enough actual knowledge at their instant disposal to synthesise an answer.
    Any assessment process that is not demanding is just not worth submitting yourself to and will give no indication about what you are capable of. It's a matter of 'being bothered' to learn the stuff and to be strict about following the rules of arguments and the actual mechanics of the Maths. Inspiration and 'a feel for Physics' are not enough - and they weren't how the top Scientists ever got to the top.
  11. Sep 23, 2012 #10
    If you are getting 39% this could be good/bad depending on class average.

    Also the person that is getting 100% could well be someone that failed the course last semester, and is retaking the course, and is getting 100%'s because they've seen the test questions before.
  12. Sep 24, 2012 #11


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    What sort of a system uses the same questions for subsequent tests? Frankly, I don't think I'd want to be a part of it. For all that people say about the UK system, it's better than that!

    I might also say that anyone who needs a re-sit is hardly likely to be bright enough for a couple of hours test experience to make that much difference. People who score 100% on worthwhile tests (other than short, interim tests) are usually just damn good and probably work at it.

    Otoh, that post may have been a joke :smile:
  13. Sep 24, 2012 #12
    Not the same, but there are only so many ways of doing a calculus problem, and I have seen situations where professors will use exactly the same test question from year to year.

    It's not uncommon in the US for someone to totally mess up freshmen year, and then unmess themselves.
  14. Sep 24, 2012 #13
    I was taught that memorization is pointless, and my physics undergraduate program very strongly discouraged memorization. What it did encourage was "problem solving" (i.e. we give you all the formula and you have X minutes to figure out how to apply them).

    One problem with formula memorization is that you are often hosed if the formula changes. One way of see if someone really understands Newtonian mechanics is to ask them what they world would look like if F=ma^2.

    That's what doctors often do. The reason that doctors are doctors is that they have enough experience to make sense of the data that they are getting. Also a lot of the reason that people have doctors is that you the critical thing isn't knowledge. Doctors have doctors and lawyers have lawyers. The reason why is that when you are ill, you want someone else to do the thinking since you aren't in the mood.

    The interesting questions in physics and those that I was taught to deal with are those in which no one has the right actual knowledge of a situation.

    That seems like an odd and categorical statement. My undergraduate education put a great deal of emphasis on feeling and intuition. The mathematics were a means to get to the intuition, and but people were very strongly against memorization. This actually hurt a lot of people that were used to passing tests through facts and memorization.

    There are probably different ways of teaching physics, so I'm not going to say that the way that I was taught is the only way or the best way. But it works pretty well.
  15. Sep 24, 2012 #14
    Also don't try to get 100%.

    If class average is 60%, you should try to get 70%. If class average is 20% and you are getting 40% you might consider switching to a harder class. If you are failing, then you need to consider dropping the class.

    The danger here is that if you try to stress yourself too hard, you run the real risk of burning yourself out.
  16. Sep 24, 2012 #15
    Depends on the nature of the tests. One of the things that I liked about my undergraduate tests is that they were designed so that you just couldn't do well if you memorized stuff.

    But it's interesting *how* people learn songs, sports teams, and other arbitrary information. Most people do not stare at lists of songs or sports teams. The way that people memorize these sorts of things involves putting them into some sort of context. One problem is that without context, people will forget information as quickly as they memorize it.

    If I make you memorize F=ma, then that's a formula that will be forgotten as soon as the test is done. If I ask you to think about how the world would be different if F=ma was something else, then you'll put that information in context, and then whatever memorization you have is going to stick.

    There's also "muscle memory." If I toss a ball at you, you are going to know where that ball is going to end up. Your brain is doing some very complicate calculations, and your muscle knows where to put your hand. A lot of physics is to imprint equations at a "deep" level.

    There's also motivation. People memorize what they want to memorize.

    It actually works the other way. One good thing about rote memorization and rote testing is that it really doesn't require very skilled teachers, and so you can rapidly deploy lots of teachers very, very quickly and cheaply. If you have a situation in which you have to teach very large numbers of people very cheaply, then rote memorization is a good way of doing it.

    Also rote memorization can be very useful in "math therapy." When I taught Algebra I at the University of Phoenix, I was faced with lots of students that were terrified of math, and I felt more like a therapist than a math teacher. So what I ended up doing was to "package" the math formulas into some very simple rote memorization steps that they could repeat on an exam. The other thing that I did was create problems that were *relevant* (i.e. here are some math tricks that you can take back to the office and make money from.)
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2012
  17. Sep 24, 2012 #16


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    I'd agree that short tests to establish skill / knowledge in one particular area can be very useful - just like homework questions. Those test questions are more like what you find in textbooks and, of course, you don't need to have new ones every year. My comment was more about tests where the marks contribute to an overall grade. In those cases, the questions really should be different each year (of course, there are stock topics that need to be dealt with every time).
    I was interested in the notion of results being posted up on a board. In the UK, there would be uproar about that sort of thing; results tend to be kept 'private' because of the culture against 'excellence' and in favour of 'no-blame' for bad results. Things have changed, in that respect, since I was at Uni - all exam results were posted on the faculty notice board and your mates would sometimes know what you'd got before you knew yourself. Never did me no 'arm.

    It's very true that some people can seriously turn themselves around after an initial failure but, otoh, many students are so re-assured by the possibility of a re-sit that they really don't work very hard the first time through - ignoring the fact that, in addition to the extra revision for the re-sit, they have still the main course to work at.

    Many of these discussions suffer from the fact that we all have such widely disparate experiences and our reactions are coloured differently, according to where we live. (Similar cross-purpose arguments are frequent when we discuss the Electricity Supply Industry.)
  18. Sep 24, 2012 #17


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    You make some interesting points here an I think we may be arguing at cross purposes about some of this. As an example, formulae are absolutely essential in order to solve problems - otherwise why have a 'formula sheet' on exam questions? My point is that learning formulae off by heart represents (or at least it should) a very small part of a subject like Physics so why not just get down and learn them. Having to trawl through a list of vaguely familiar formulae in an exam (or in future life) will just waste time. Brains are very good at storing stuff like that; they just need a bit of training / motivation. If a student just can't be bothered to learn the small number of formulae involved in, say, what we used to call statics and dynamics, in A level - or the very few formulae used in simple circuit theory - then I would say they haven't shown much commitment. It's along the lines of a concert pianist needing the names of the notes to be marked on the keyboard.

    I'm wonder whether you just missed out the word "just" in this passage??? I can't think of an instance when actually knowing something would not help in solving a problem. When would using a printed list help you better?

    I really don't know why people think that rote learning should exclude any other form of intellectual process. The two go together and the whole is a lot greater than the sum of the parts. Just read the huge number of questions that we read on this forum, clearly written by actual Physics students, which show that they just have no recall of some of the most basic relationships - or they have possibly even rejected the importance of them. Are they ever going to get a grasp with that approach? Formulae are only concise statements of models, after all, and isn't that what Science is all about?
  19. Sep 24, 2012 #18
    They really should be, but if the professor that administrates the course doesn't want them to be, then he has tenure.

    The US tends to be more flexible. If you retake a course, then you can take an extra year. Also for the US, often freshman year is the first time that the student has been away from home, so there are often a lot of personal issues. One thing that does happen a lot is that you end up with freshmen that burn themselves out because they are working too much rather than too little.

    There are also terminology issues. What exactly constitutes "rote learning"? For example, if you go through the Physics Problem Solver and then work though each of the problems, I wouldn't consider that rote learning. "Rote learning" and "memorization" consists of asking someone to write down the definition of Newton's Second Law which is pretty useless.

    There is also what the students want. One of the first courses I taught at University of Phoenix is one in which I ended up with scathing teacher feedback because I was dealing with an audience that weren't interested in being physicists.
  20. Sep 24, 2012 #19


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    To me, rote learning means learning things like formulae and the wording of 'laws' (which is usually a verbal version of a mathematical expression. Going through example problems wouldn't be included in that because it involves 'synthesis' and I don't think anyone would object to that.
    Even learning good phrases and sentences which put across ideas well can be a good thing. I often say to students "just run that by in your head and see how it applies to a new situation". All these nuggets of knowledge are so useful when a 'real' problem presents itself. I just can't understand how, as a matter of principle, such learning is considered to be bad.
    I recently had surgery and the guy who did it had done something like 5000 similar ops. He knew that part of me upside down and inside out and, before anyone else would be let loose on a patient, they would also be expected to 'know' the layout, to be aware of variations and to have learned (by sitting down for hours with the information) all the different angles of the procedure. In the case of surgery, they can't just screw their mistakes up into a ball and chuck them in the wastebin, so it may be a slightly different situation but the surgeon can't have a book open or a web browser there to help him through step by step. It all has to come from within. Decisions need to be made there and then. But, when sitting at a desk, with an Engineering or theoretical Physics problem to solve, you still need stuff 'just there'. You can't hold enough balls up in the air at a time if the information is not all already there in your brain.
    Is this present fashion (in the UK, at least) just there because subjects like Physics would appear too scary for students to risk approaching them?
  21. Sep 24, 2012 #20
    Actually, there was a study recently that showed having a simple checklist significantly reduces death rates from surgery:


    Granted, this was for everyone in the operating room and might not be what you were talking about, but it's still interesting. Apparently, even professionals benefit from cheat sheets!
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