You Can Quickly Improve In Physics By Adopting These 3 MindsetsAug 19, 2020
Adopt these three mindsets to accelerate your progress as a physicist and excel in physics exams.
Let’s be honest, you need the best mark possible in your Physics exams. Ideally, you want top marks in physics because it will offer you possibilities and potential. “Possibilities” is one of my favourite words. Imagine a world with unlimited possibilities. Imagine a world where it is possible for anyone to become the next President of the United States (😳 bad example?!). Imagine a world where it is possible for you to go to a top university. Imagine a world where it is possible for you to do anything you want in your career and beyond.
- Travelling? It’s possible!
- Kite-surfing? It’s possible!
- Goat Farmer? It’s possible!
That world where anything is possible already exists. The possibilities are just getting harder to realise. It’s possible to get really dark here and despair at the state of world politics, climate change and never-ending consumerism, but we have to try and see small lights at the end of every tunnel and THIS is where I know I can help. I can offer you a light at the end of the “physics exam” tunnel. Once you get to the end of that tunnel - more possibilities will be available to you.
I’m here to make that little step towards limitless possibilities a little bit easier.
When you strip back all the scary content of physics, it is actually really simple. Physics is a problem-solving subject and you will thrive within any physics curriculum if you have the right mindset. The awesome thing about your mindset is that you have an element of control over it.
I personally believe that you need to welcome the following three mindshifts to be an amazing physics student.
Mindshift 1: Learn To Love Problem Solving
Don’t think of physics as scary, impossible, or difficult. In fact, don’t think of it in negative terms at all. Just think of it as straightforward problem solving. You cannot pass any physics exam by just learning facts from a flashcard - you need to be able to solve problems. Ideally that would be an enjoyable experience for you!
Picture the scene...
You have been set 25 physics problems for your homework. They are pretty tricky Mechanics problems and you know they are not going to be easy.
What do you do?
- Do you “google” each problem word-for-word and head to Reddit to find solutions?
- Do you roll up your sleeves and get your calculator out?
If you choose roll up your sleeves embrace the challenge of problem solving, you’ll get better grades in Physics.
The fantastic thing about adopting the mindset of "loving problem-solving" is that:
- You have a new hobby 🤓
- With a little practice, you'll get better at problem-solving (and physics) really quickly.
OBVIOUSLY, don't turn into that annoying person in class who cheers when the teacher gives homework.
Hide your excitement about being given some extra problems to solve (if you can) but please, please try to embrace a love of problem-solving.
This is a mindset that will not only help you in physics exams but in real life.
Guess who loves problem-solvers?
EVERYONE! (Teachers, Employers, Friends, Parents....) Be a positive problem-solver and be loved by everyone!
Mindshift 2: Be Resilient
Let’s say you learn to love problem solving and you’re given a class test. Let’s now imagine that you subsequently fail that class test.
How do you react? (It’s important you are honest with yourself.)
- Do you become despondent?
- Do you tear up the paper in fury?
- Do you tell everyone you’re terrible at physics?
- Do you blame your teacher for poor teaching?
- Do you forget it ever happened?
- Do you accept failure and look for ways to improve?
Not many people would choose Option 6, but it’s a mind shift that we should all try to adopt. One of the biggest barriers to progress in physics is the lack of resilience in the face of failure.
I get it, nobody wants to hear that they’ve failed, but so what if you do? There isn’t a single famous scientist out there (alive or dead) that hasn’t failed at some point. Physics is all about trying, failing, testing and learning. You’ve heard of Issac Newton - right? He was so confident in his understanding of forces that he published his Principia in 1687 detailing Laws of Motion. Then he sat back and relaxed....? WRONG! He released a second edition in 1713 after trying, testing, listening and learning. He was resilient. He improved. He was a legend.
Be like Isaac Newton. Be a legend!
Since then, his successors have figured out that Newton’s Laws were not complete. Although the laws work most of the time, they don’t hold true all scenarios (e.g. at the atomic scale) so Newton’s Laws aren’t really “laws” at all. Ever since, physicists have hedged their bets and referred to their theories about the universe as “postulates” (fancy work for idea or proposal) to allow the idea of trying, failing, testing and learning to become integral to the progression of science.
In Physics, if you become more resilient about failing, you can use the process to learn and avoid making similar mistakes in exams.
It’s time to become more resilient and make failure your friend.
PERSONAL STORY ALERT! I got to the age of 34 without really failing at anything. I did pretty well at school and university. I got a job straight out of university and was promoted quickly. At 33, I decided to start my own business and I was confident (too confident) that I would succeed. I started selling schemes of work to other physics teachers. Guess what? My first business failed because I made the mistake of building a product and not working out how to sell it..... When my first business ran out of money, that first significant mistake in my life hit me hard. I got myself a job and licked my wounds for 6 months. What a mistake is was to be so self-indulgent to allow myself to be sad about that mistake. That mistake was the best thing that ever happened to me! I've since started three other businesses and they are a success BECAUSE I learned from the first big mistake.
Embrace your mistakes. Be proud of your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes.
Mindshift 3: Practice Independent Learning
The hard truth is that, after school, you’re pretty much on your own. You’ll start a new chapter of your life (college, university, career) that will require you to learn, and learn quickly. At school you have the safety net of a teacher to ensure that you are adequately prepared for your exams. After school, this safety net is gradually dropped.
If you choose to attend university, your lecturer is not going to provide the same safety net as a school teacher. They are not going to make sure you’ve completed all your work, they are not going to check you’ve attended all your lectures and they are not going to write up a report for your parents.
In the workplace, the safety net is almost non-existent. You will be paid to provide a service and your employers will rely on you to obtain the specific knowledge to provide the service. Yes, there will be training and conferences BUT the day-to-day learning is down to you. You won’t get a ‘bad grade’ if you don’t learn your job. You’ll get fired!
I don’t mean to be horrible or pessimistic here. I’m trying to bring you into the real world about the importance of becoming an independent learner.
It is not your teacher’s responsibility to spoon-feed the entire IB Physics course into your brain. It is your responsibility to take the resources you have to acquire the skills you need to achieve highly in the IB Physics exam. You have to be an independent learner.
The great news is that you are the luckiest generation EVER for having a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips: YouTube, online revision courses, niche forums, etc. All the information you could ever need to teach yourself anything is available online.
I love learning and I try to learn something new every day. I don’t tend to learn silly facts like, “how many bees can fit into a helicopter?”. I like to learn how to do things like, “how to add a quiz to a wordpress website?”. These things make me more of an independent learner and I have more skills at the end of every day.
What could you independently learn today online that would get you one step closer to acing your IB Physics exams?
The mindset of a physicist is not a difficult one to adopt. The next time you attend your IB Physics class, or start a class test - remember these three mindshifts:
Hope this helps