Physics has a reputation for being tough. It’s less memorization-based than many other technical subjects, and requires critical thinking to link concepts into a unified vision. To succeed in physics, you’ll need some effective study strategies.
Here at Brainscape, we’ve got a few tips to share on how to study physics. These are based on the experience our team has studying and teaching physics, as well as our conversations with students and professors. If you need more help, check out our flashcard sets for AP Physics and Physics 101.
Otherwise, read on for our favorite tips for learning and mastering physics!
Tips on how to study physics effectively
1. Listen to your intuition
Have you ever thrown a ball or played a sport? If you have, then congratulations: you’re an expert in basic physics and calculus. Anytime we engage in activities like this, our minds are calculating vectors, force, gravity, and the area under curves. When you’re getting started in physics, trusting your intuition by applying basic common sense can help.
Just remember that more advanced physics moves beyond the realm of our everyday experience. Common sense doesn’t apply when it comes to astrophysics or elementary particles.
2. Think conceptually
More so than most subjects, physics goes beyond simple memorization and review. Of course, studying helps, but physics requires big-picture conceptual thinking.
Knowledge in physics is built on a series of conceptual stepping stones—the fundamental principles and laws of the universe—that allow exploration of a huge range of topics. Success in physics depends on a firm knowledge of these basics, and a flexible mind that can assess these rules and determine when and how to apply them to a given problem.
Whether you’re searching for a unified field theory or studying the basic dynamics of force and motion, taking a conceptual approach helps you break down your problem into a series of basic steps. Focus on the fundamentals, but keep the big picture in the back of your mind. Bringing together concepts into a unified understanding of the problem at hand makes finding a solution much easier. Stop beating your head against the wall, and instead use conceptual building blocks to break through.
3. Keep up with reading and studying
Physics is one of those subjects where falling behind gets you in trouble. This is because it’s generally a series of linked principles that build upon each other. As a subject, physics is more interlinked than most disciplines. In history, if you miss a few lessons, you might not learn about a certain war. In physics, you’re lost for the rest of the course.
Take the time to keep up with assigned readings, practice problems, and homework as the content builds on itself. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for trouble!
4. Drill the core concepts
After you've done your reading, make sure you retain the concepts you learned by drilling the ideas, definitions or formulae. Brainscape can be a huge help for that since it is the most effective way to learn content. Brainscape already has some flashcards for physics courses ready to go, or you can always create your own for flashcards online for free.
5. Catch up on math
Good math skills are a prerequisite for success in physics. If your math skills aren’t up to scratch, you should definitely spend some time building up your understanding. At the very least, you should have a good grasp of algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.
6. Get in the zone
Like many subjects, physics requires uninterrupted studying. To be successful, it’s important that you work out a routine for staying in the zone. Whatever that means, make it happen. Consider turning off your phone and disconnecting from the internet.
For some people, finding a quiet room and working in absolute silence is the way to go. Others may find music or background noise helps them study. Whatever helps you focus, make it happen – or check out our guide to improving your focus for studying.
Either way, you’ll need a clear, open mind to succeed in physics, but if you implement these strategies, you should be in a good position to get the most out of your studies. For more great study tips, check out how to create effective study habits, or see our full guide on studying effectively. Onward!