How to Remember Equations and Models (Maths/Physics)

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This phrase is often (mis)attributed to Einstein and is eerily apt for IB revision. Despite its suspected apocryphal nature, I have found the witticism to hold true for IB maths with its equations and models especially. 

Too often, I have witnessed a student trying to memorise information from a sheet of paper by blankly staring at it. Too often, that student has been me thinking my brain would work like a sponge. I hoped that if I looked at the information intensely, it would seep into my brain through intellectual osmosis. It did not. 

To save you from trying this rudimental method of memorisation, I will share a few tips and tricks that helped me memorise all the equations and models I needed to get top grades in Maths and Physics. 

Mnemonic Techniques

A mnemonic is a pattern you create to help you memorise complex ideas. Essentially, you associate new concepts that feel almost random with pre-existing ideas in your head. This way, you can systematise the chaos! It is customary to use letters or words. Here is a helpful example for trigonometry:

  1. You must know that sine, cosine, and tangent are all positive in the first quadrant. 
  2. You must also know that only sine is positive in the second quadrant, and the remaining trigonometric functions will yield negative values for any angles here. 
  3. In the third, it is only tangent that is positive. 
  4. For the fourth quadrant, only cosine can boast values greater than 0. 

If we take the first letter for all the bolded words, we get ASTC. We can now assign new words to these letters and complete our mnemonic. I like all silly turtles crawl. 

You can use this technique for just about every topic. Use this other useful one to memorise the electromagnetic spectrum for physics: 

Radio -> Micro -> Infrared -> Visible -> UV -> X-ray -> Gamma 

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As you might have noticed, the mnemonics tend to be rather silly. It is intentional, though, as it makes it that much easier to remember. The more whimsical, the better! When you design your own, which I very much encourage, keep this in mind. 

You can also use it to memorise equations and models such as PV=nRT. Try to come up with a mnemonic for this equation. Don’t be self-conscious about making it strange – embrace it! 

Models and Tables

Circling back to trigonometry, most maths AA students need to know the exact values for many trigonometric ratios (AI lucked out here and does not have to!) There are many ways to do this. No matter what method you choose, I recommend that you write out a table with all values on the front page of your exam paper so you can always refer to it. 

To help you memorise complex models like the standard model of particle physics, I suggest you practice the techniques I talked about last week and design puzzles. You can also employ this method to learn how to draw a few of the fundamental Feynmann diagrams (like electron-electron repulsion and beta decay). 

I am confident that these tips and tricks can help you memorise equations and models and reach your goals for the IB! However, if you want to optimise your results, I suggest you get in touch with one of our expert tutors here and check out our other blog posts here

Written by Jascha Schäfer

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