Physics exam trigger words

Commonly used words/phrases used in physics exams.

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  • Created by: Matthew
  • Created on: 08-01-12 21:11
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Examiners use certain words that require you to respond in a particular way. You must be able to
distinguish between these terms and understand exactly what each requires you to do. Some
frequently used commands are shown below.
· State -- the answer should be a brief sentence giving the essential facts; no explanation is
required (nor should you give one).
· Define -- you can use a word equation; if you use symbols, it is essential to state clearly what each
symbol represents.
· List -- simply give a series of words or terms; there is no need to write sentences.
· Outline -- this word is often used when asking you to give a brief description of a process; a logical
series of bullet points or phrases will suffice.
· Describe -- for an experiment, a diagram is essential; then state the main points concisely (bullet
points can be used).
· Draw -- diagrams should be drawn in section, neatly and fully labelled with all measurements
clearly shown; but don't waste time -- remember that this is not an art exam.
· Sketch -- usually a graph is called for, but graph paper is not necessary (although a grid is
sometimes provided); axes must be labelled and include a scale if numerical data are given; the
origin should be shown if appropriate, and the general shape of the expected line or curve should be
drawn clearly.
· Explain -- use correct physics terminology and principles; the amount of detail in your answer
should reflect the number of marks available.
· Show that -- usually a value is provided (to enable you to proceed with the next part of the
question) and you have to demonstrate how this value can be obtained; you should show all your
working and state your result to more significant figures than the given value contains (to prove that
you have actually done the calculations).
· Calculate -- show all your working and include units at every stage; the number of significant
figures in your answer should reflect the given data, but you should keep each stage with more
significant figures in your calculator to prevent excessive rounding.
· Determine -- you will probably have to extract some data, often from a graph, in order to perform
a calculation.
· Estimate -- this means doing a calculation in which you have to make a sensible assumption,
possibly about the value of one of the quantities; think -- does your assumption lead to a reasonable
answer?
· Suggest -- there is often no single correct answer; credit is given for sensible reasoning based on
correct physics.
· Discuss -- you need to sustain an argument, giving evidence for and against, based on your
knowledge of physics and possibly using appropriate data to justify your answer.

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