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Banish your fear of physics

If you feel this is the toughest subject in the IIT entrance test, focus on mechanics and current electricity, and magnetism Ajay Antony reports

education Updated: Feb 24, 2010 09:22 IST
Ajay Antony

We had a quick look at three national-level engineering entrance tests recently in these columns. This time we look at the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) more closely. A good number of test takers consider physics to be the most confusing of the three subjects (the other two being chemistry and maths).

It is unfortunate that a hardcore application-based subject is treated with such apprehension. Let’s try to clear the air around this often-misunderstood subject.

First, look at the numbers relating to the physics paper in IIT-JEE 2009: 39 questions totalling 160 marks in two papers. ‘Electricity and magnetism’ carried 36 per cent of marks in paper 1 and ‘Mechanics’ in paper 2 had an equal weightage. Of the 160 marks, only questions with a combined weightage of 40 marks could be categorised as “difficult”. By difficult, we mean that these questions would be genuinely daunting for even a well-prepared student to attempt and arrive at the correct answer within the time constraints. That leaves 120 marks, or 75 per cent of the total marks, in the subject. More than half of this portion could be classified as “easy” for a well-prepared student. That translates to more than 60 marks out of 160.

Now, let’s look at the cut-off marks for physics in 2009. At 11 marks, it was the lowest among the cut-offs for the three subjects, indicating that the majority of the candidates in 2009 found physics more difficult compared to maths and chemistry. The analysis presented above — the categorisation of questions into “difficult”, “easy” etc — has been arrived at after extensive interaction with our students who appeared for JEE 2009 and by looking at the questions from their perspective, after giving allowance for the exam atmosphere (read time-pressure) inside the centre.

Based on our experience, we suggest that students take care of the following areas in physics:
. There could be questions that check only the depth of understanding in an area, without involving calculations. Students approaching physics with a mindset that
all questions will require numerical treatment will find it difficult to find the crux of the problem.
. Since some questions are calculation-intensive, students should brace themselves for a periodic check along the way, with respect to the options.

There are times when three of the four options become invalid when you have worked half way through the question. Investing more time in that question is pointless. This is largely true for single-correct-option questions.

Be careful with matrix - match-type questions. The interdisciplinary application of physics principles come into play here. Map out each option carefully against each one in the other column. You need to accept that this type could take twice the time it takes for a single-correct-option-question.

If you are among those who regard physics as the tough, you know the two areas that you need to focus on mechanics and current electricity, and magnetism. Irrespective of whatever else you do, put your best efforts into these topics.

The author is course director, IIT-JEE Training, T.I.M.E. Institute