How to Solve Physics Problems

How to Solve Physics Problems
Below are a few guidelines about how to go about solving a physics problem. These
guidelines have been proven to be used by many “masters” in the field and are helpful to
solving lots of word problems. The best way to become a “master” problem solver is do
what masters do.
1.) What are they talking about? The first step in the problem is determining what
type of problem are they asking you, is it about buoyancy, motion, forces? Begin
by reading the problem thoroughly and then labeling the problem as something
that you think the problem is about.
2.) Draw a Picture. A picture can be worth a thousand words. The picture does not
have to be perfect or nice but some pictorial representation of the word problem is
always helpful especially for multiple step problems. A picture could also be a
3.) Declare your variables. Now is the time to start writing down what you are
given. Each number should be paired with a unit and given a variable it will
represent. This can be done on your picture, or below your picture. The key is
organizing it so that it is easy to understand and read.
4.) Begin Calculations. You can not begin calculations before you know what the
problem is about and what variables you have. Now using what you have just
done, look over your given variables, your picture, and the type of problem you
said it was and try to find an equation which seems to best fit what you are given.
Do not be afraid of writing down the wrong equation, this is a work in progress
and often you may need several equations and not just one to finish the problem.
5.) Substitution. Now is the time you start plugging in your variables and
manipulating the equations to find your answer(s).
6.) Check your answer(s). Does the answer seem to make sense with what you
know about the world and how it behaves? Does it have the right units? If not go
back to rereading the problem to see if there was something you missed,
mislabeled, or forgot to include in your picture and begin again.