Academic Group 4 Subjects Tips

How to Ace HL Physics Papers (Part 2)?

This is the second instalment of the 2 part series on how you can maximise your score for the HL Physics papers, specifically paper 2. 

Paper 2

Make full use of the reading time

Before the start of Physics paper 2, you will be given 5 minutes of reading time. You will not be allowed to look at the data booklet or write anything down.

Skim through all the questions and choose a question you know how to answer well to start off the paper once the reading time is up. Being able to solve one question can be a big confidence booster for the rest of the paper.

I was better at doing questions from Topic 7: Atomic physics and Topic 8: Energy production, so I would usually start the exam by doing those questions first.  This prevented me from stumbling on hard questions in the beginning and stressing out as I lost precious time. 

Definition questions on Physics paper 2:

For most exams, there will be 1 or 2 questions that ask you to define a key Physics term.

Since there are so many key terms, it is not wise to memorise the definition of all of them. Rather, think about the topic it relates to and use keywords in your answer.

If you truly don’t know the definition of the term, write the related equation and explicitly state what each variable stands for. This should earn you partial or even full credit. This is allowed because in Physics, oftentimes, the definition of key terms comes from equations themselves!

For example: to define “intensity” in Topic 8: Energy Production:

You can just write I = P/A where I is intensity, P is power and A is surface area. 

This will give you the full mark!

Identify the topic and turn to the relevant page on the data booklet

For each question, you should identify the topic being tested. After which, use the data booklet to see the equations you have been given.

For calculation questions, I will write all the variables from the question. Then, I will find an equation that allows me to use the information I have been given to reach the answer.

During calculations

  • Round off to 5 decimal places for intermediate steps
  • Only round off to the required decimal places/significant figures for the final answer
  • For multi-part question:
    • These are questions where you need to use an answer in (a) for (b)
    • Use the calculator value in (a) rather than the rounded off answer to prevent rounding error in the final answer of (b)

Look at the marks for each part of a question

This will give you a good idea about how long the solution should be and how much time you can give yourself to think of the solution.

Explanation questions on Physics paper 2:

These questions do not require you to do any calculations. However, it can still be useful to incorporate the respective equation/formula into your answer. This allows you to easily explain how the change in one variable can affect another. (This is very similar to what I mentioned regarding relational questions in part 1 of this series).

Look out for keywords in the question:

The following list is some of the keywords I’ve seen from past papers:

  1. State/ write down/ identify

No explanation is required, write the answer and move one.

  1. Calculate

You might need to use some equations to arrive at a numerical answer.

  1. Determine – an extension of calculate

Apart from getting to the numerical answer, you may need to give some form of explanation.

For example: the question may ask you to determine if the ball will go past the net.

  • Firstly, calculate the height of the ball. (calculation)
  • Secondly, check if the height is higher or lower than the net.
  • Thirdly, explain that the ball did/ did not go past the net. (explanation)
  1. Show/ deduce – an extension of calculate

For such questions, the answer is already given. All you need to do is show how you can get to this answer.

  1. Estimate – an extension of calculate

This may happen because the question does not give you sufficient information or the question is being simplified to a level which you can handle.

You might need to make some assumptions or use a value that is close enough to the true value to get an estimate.

  1. Explain/ discuss/ describe (with reference to)

Write an extended answer explaining why/ how something happens.

  1. Outline/ describe (with reference to)

Write a summarised step-by-step explanation or process that occurs.

If the question explicitly states that you need to describe it “with reference to XX”, be sure to incorporate “XX” into your answer.

  1. Suggest

These questions may require more thinking as you need to give your own input.

Some examples:

  • Posibility A: Suggest a random/systematic error in this experiment
  • Possibility B: Suggest how this error can be mitigated
  • Possibility C: Suggest another method to find…
  1. Sketch the graph/ draw on the diagram/ label

For graph sketching, check if you are required to just draw the shape of the graph, or if key values need to be calculated.

For drawing on diagrams and labelling, just follow the instructions in the question!

I hope that this two-part series has taught you how to tackle the IB Physics papers. Wishing you all the best for your future Physics paper 2 and 1!

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