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I Just Can’t Memorize Equations!

  • by Allison Chae
  • May 24, 2013
  • MCAT Blog, MCAT Info, MCAT Long Form, MCAT Prep

Physics is one of the toughest things on the MCAT for a whole bunch of reasons, but one of the ones we hear most often here at Next Step is the lament, “I just can’t seem to memorize all those equations!”

To that end, we’re producing a small workbook that students can use to make the equation memorizing process much more manageable.

The key to memorizing equations is to stop trying to memorize them! Instead, try to understand the equation. Even though it looks like a mish-mash of abstract symbols, in truth an equation is a sentence about how the world works. It tells you about important relationships that exist in the physical world.

Take a really simple one – Newton’s Second Law. Sure, we could write it in the normal abstract way, “F=ma”. But we could also think of it as a sentence that says, “the harder you push on something (F), the faster it’s going to speed up (a)”. Or something like, “If you want to move a really heavy object (m) at the same rate (a) as a really light object, you’re going to have to push harder (F) on the heavy object”.

Stated that way, it makes much more sense. Of course you have to push harder on a heavy object. Imagine trying to push a dining room chair vs. trying to push the whole table. The table’s got a lot more mass, so you need a greater force to get the same acceleration.

So how do you go about learning the most important equations in this deeper way? Make study sheets! (or if you don’t have the time to do it yourself, buy our forthcoming workbook)

To make the study sheet, fold a piece of paper in half. On the left side of the paper write down a bunch of questions to quiz yourself on an equation. On the right side, put the answer. Then fold over the right side of the page so the answers are hidden. It’s like making 15 flashcards in a single sheet of paper.

Here are two free examples of the study sheets in Next Step’s workbook:



You’ll notice that with these study sheets you can quiz yourself on the equation itself, the units involved, the variables, and a couple of practice questions that get at the relationships involved in the equation. You’re not actually solving any arithmetic here – the goal isn’t to be doing long division by hand. Instead, it’s to get a stronger underlying sense of the relationships the equation is telling us about.