For you final year school students contemplating doing the scholarship physics exam, you should check out the examiners’ report on last year’s exam which has just been released on the NZQA website. (Scroll down to ‘physics’ and then download the 2008 files). It gives a summary of the skills successful and unsuccessful candidates possessed. Even if you are not doing scholarship physics, have a read anyway because it outlines the qualities that successful students had; these will be helpful in many other contexts.
I’ve followed the scholarship exam for about three years, and this report as just as depressing as its predecessors. The reason is that it is almost identical to its predecessors. What that means is either:
1. Students don’t use the resources available to them
2. Students ignore the advice that is given to them.
For example, the examiners, yet again, moan about how candidates spent too much time writing and not enough time thinking, leading to confused responses. Thinking before you write applies to any exam, whatever the level, and whatever the subject. In fact, it doesn’t just apply to exams – any piece of writing that you do that will be read by others should be properly thought out before it is written.
I had the frustrating experience yesterday of reviewing an article written by another physicist for a physics journal. This ‘peer review’ is pretty common throughout science – before a science journal will accept a piece of work it needs to be looked at carefully by other scientists (peers) to ensure it is of acceptable quality. Now, with this article, the science looked good – the guy had done some very clever work – or at least I think he had. The trouble is that it was so terribly written that I wasn’t able to know for sure. Don’t you do the same with your writing – if you understand something perfectly you still need to be able to communicate this to your target audience (whether it be an examiner, customer, boss or whatever), and that means thinking about your words carefully before writing.