8 important tips to ace the Physics practical exams

Students doing physics practical

The Physics Practical Exams are a silent killer – at 20% weightage, it might seem small but it is mighty.

A slight mishap is all it takes for you to make or break that ‘A’ grade just like that. If you are worried and losing sleep on how to make sure all goes smoothly during this exam – Don’t worry, we have got you covered! 

Here are 8 vital tips that can help you secure marks confidently:

1. Make sure you nail all your concept fundamentals

Before any Physics lab sessions, ensure that your content knowledge is present and prominent. You will not be able to do an experiment and understand how it works unless you have all your fundamental concept understanding down pat. 

 

If you are unsure of any concepts within the chapter, try to clarify your doubts or pre-read your notes before going into the laboratory. 

2. Do look through past (internal and external) practical papers

Practical experiments usually overlap and try to achieve similar objectives. In essence, they are similar experiments that are modified to confuse students. It is extremely useful to go through past school papers as well as national exam papers, since experiments are repetitive and sometimes almost identical. They can help guide a student on the general gist of experimental objectives and thus be able to help you answer questions more accurately.

3. Know the type of experiments associated with each chapter

In every chapter, there are only a few experiments that can be linked to it. For example, in the very first chapter (Measurements), some experiments that fall under this chapter would be oscillations (using pendulum bob or otherwise), measurements using vernier callipers/micrometer screw gauge, and observing zero/parallel errors etc. 


As you attend more Physics Lab sessions in school, you can easily spot the different experiments tied to the chapter you are learning, and thus make it easier to narrow down the content you need to remember. It keeps you from going out of point (i.e. overlapping similar but wrong formulas and concepts from different chapters). Additionally,  being familiar with associated experiments also gives you an advantage in carrying out the physics practical more accurately and quickly.

4. Get friendly with the equipment (How to use and precautions to take)

In a Physics laboratory, there will be a selection of Physics equipment for students to use. It is most likely that you would have come in contact with most of them during lab classes and learnt how to use them. It is paramount that you be familiar with how to use equipment to save time and confusion during examinations. 

 

A good example would be the use of the Bunsen Burner. Many students often run into trouble here, in lighting up the burner or turning the air-holes to change the luminosity of the flame. This delays the procedure and also takes up valuable time in practical examinations! Be sure to go the extra mile to master most of the common equipment and their associated precautions as well (to be used in answering questions, practical ‘Planning’ component, and personal safety usage in general)

5. Read the experiment carefully BEFORE proceeding

Many students often start off the experiment almost immediately. 

 

Which is a mistake. 

 

What you should do instead is to take a few minutes to read through the experiment carefully and highlight details you might miss out in the midst of doing the experiment. 

 

Mentally walk-through the procedure briefly and picture a rough outline of how your set-up should look and how to carry out the experiment. This is a step that is often missed out because students may feel like it wastes a lot of time, but it is in fact one of the most important things to do in a practical exam. 

 

Exam questions may sometimes be modified in a tricky way (i.e. oscillating vertically instead of horizontally) that deviates from the norm even though it is a similar experiment. If you do not read the question thoroughly, you may even end up carrying out the wrong experiment!

6. When in doubt, do not be afraid to ask for help

If you truly have no idea how to carry out the experiment, ask the invigilator in the room. A minor deduction of points far beats not completing the paper (and complete deduction of points instead!) 

 

To add on, if there are any faulty equipment or other factors affecting the experiment, do not be afraid to bring it up even if you are unsure!

7. Look out for precision errors! (s.f. and d.p.s)

In Physics, precision is of the essence. Depending on what instrument you use, the various values you derive with it should end with the correct decimal places and significant figures. Make sure you know the different precision of your equipment like the back of your hand before the examination. Similarly, remember to add units to your final answers – such mistakes are not worth the marks they are being deducted for!

8. Sleep early

Last but not least, the Physics practical exams do inevitably demand detailed movement and hands-on activity. Ensure you are well-fed and well rested to be in your best physical condition on the day of the examination; this keeps you focused and in sync with the revision you put in. Having enough sleep also boosts your memory and quick-thinking skills. 

At the end of the day, the Physics practical is crucial to your final grade and should not be taken lightly even though it is less content-heavy. Ensure that you have been sufficiently prepared and ready to ace it! 

For any students looking to get guidance for Physics Practical Lab, Concept First is Singapore’s First and Only Physics Tuition Centre that has an in-house fully equipped laboratory complete with full O level Physics lab classes and A Level Physics lab classes (covering all chapters and all experiments). Get in touch with us to kickstart your way to excelling at Physics now.