Physics Problem Solving
- Draw a diagram of the situation, if possible.
- Identify the specific question:
- What physical property is required?
- What object possesses this property?
- What are the units for this property?
- How many significant figures should the answer have?
- Identify the pertinent information given in the problem.
- Identify information that is required but must be obtained outside of the
- Do any necessary unit conversions.
- All of the units in the problem should be compatible with one another
and appropriate for the quantities involved.
- e.g. - Meters per second is not compatible with kilometers. Light
years is not appropriate for the depth of a swimming pool.
- Identify the general physical concepts and laws that are appropriate to
- List the appropriate equations.
- Restate the problem for clarity, if necessary.
- Solve the equations as necessary
- Do the necessary substitutions and calculate the result(s).
- If the unit conversions were done correctly in step #5, the result
will have the correct units.
- DO NOT carry the units through the calculations. They
will get in the way and cause confusion!
- State the answer in an appropriate form with reasonable units. Clearly
identify the answer in some visual way.
The order of these steps should be adjusted whenever it aids the solution.
Joseph's Preparatory School
13 August 2008