Revision can’t start too early

Experienced teachers will be aware of the fact that the IB exams for Physics (particularly for HL) changed last year with the new syllabus – on the surface, they got harder.  It was not really clear why this should be so – certainly the feedback (as small as it was from teachers), suggested that the syllabus was too large and therefore, this made the exams more of a challenge as the syllabus coverage was therefore, also wide. In fact, it got so bad last year, that there was an online petition about the ridiculously tough nature of the papers as viewed by the students).

The petition however, suffered from one big problem – perspective! The students had little or no evidence with which to compare exams – certainly they had seen past exams, but these were for a different syllabus and as most teachers know, no matter how many exams a student practices with (through the process of revision), the exam the students do, is always the toughest one they have ever seen!

The truth as I see it (and I am talking as an active teacher, an examiner and a Principle), is that the exams were actually very tough, but it made no difference.  The few questions that were ridiculously hard, were effectively ignored because no one could do them – hence they are irrelevant. In general, the exams result came out as you would expect, with the typical proportions of the different grades – which is the way it is meant of course. However, this does not means that we take things for granted.  The IB Physics course remains one of the toughest courses in the IB and students must never be complacent.  If you have not started revision yet, you are late and need to kick-in gear as soon as possible – certainly do not wait until the new calendar year.

Students should be working every week to not only get a grip of the work they are presently doing, but also to push their knowledge and understanding of the material they covered last year. I would strongly recommend that this is done in the form of past multiple choice papers – one per week.  The advantage of these is that the questions broadly cover the whole syllabus, albeit in an often superficial way.  However, students can then look at the number of correct answers in the different topic areas and get a good idea of where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

This process is pretty crucial in my view.  I have had students go through this process in the past, alongside some that refuse to do any such work (amazingly, there is always some excuse!). In the end, it is no surprise that the students who practice multiple choice papers, do better in the real thing – their timing is better and their ‘vision’ of how to answer the different types of question that come up is also noticeably better.

It also means that the students are always going over past material which should strengthen the material they are doing at the moment with you.

So if you have not started revising with your students, I suggest a multiple choice paper – one per week – and keep this going until the end of the course – you may be amazed at how they improve.  Every now and then, go through a paper with them and show them the different techniques that can be applied. For example, the IB like the questions where a situation is described and the answer key, is a list of equations – the question is then asking which equation is correct. In these, often a simple dimensional analysis will give you the correct answer with 100% certainty.

Do not wait – start now – when it comes to revision of past material, it is rarely too early!

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