Solving Physics Problems

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You are encouraged to read each problem and practice the use of the strategy in the solution of the problem.

Then click the button to check the answer or use the link to view the solution.

It is much more powerful than memorizing a list of facts.

Analytical skills and problem-solving abilities can be applied to new situations whereas a list of facts cannot be made long enough to contain every possible circumstance.

That much can explain why not everyone goes for a physics career. In basic physics – material covered in high school and low level university courses – the methodology is straightforward. Quite often, it’s the panic itself that prevents students from dealing with the subject carefully and getting the most out of those courses. You look at the question and the sentences loom at you menacingly, confusing you to no end. As long as you remember these formulas, you are most of the way to an answer. The same type of problem – say, bouncing ball – can ask you to find initial velocity, maximum height or angle of launch.

In my experience tutoring for (and taking) low level physics classes, I have worked out a few ground rules that can help you conquer problems. You have no idea where to start, even if you recognize the basic concepts. From now on, the only thing that you need to concentrate on is converting the horrible, confusing chunk of text into readable bits that fit into your formulas. Each of these will require a slightly different strategy. Another good tip to remember at this point, too, is that many physics problems have very crucial information in the wording.This begins with very basic physics, but continues with higher level material.The difference seems to be that only those who like physics – and find a good way of dealing with it – stick around to deal with the higher level stuff. You don’t have to understand all the small details, but once you know what you’re dealing with in general, you will know how to formulate your answer and which equations to use.Strategy is the beginning stage of solving a problem.The idea is to figure out exactly what the problem is and then develop a strategy for solving it.This process is used in examples throughout the book.Here, we look at each stage of the process in turn.This step is clearly important because it produces the numerical answer, along with its units.Notice, however, that this stage is only one-third of the overall problem-solving process.This semester I started tutoring in the physics and math study center.I am the only “pure” physics tutor – the rest of the tutors are mathematicians or engineers who feel very comfortable with mathematics (justly so, they’re all quite awesome).


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