Physics Survival Guide

Chang Sheh Lit and Haw Jing Yan

[Editor's note: This article first originated as part of the Physics Survival Guide produced by the earlier Management Committees]

Coping with the Physics Course at NUS

The Physics Society would like to compile some strategies in studying Physics so that it will enhance your learning experience in NUS. We hope some of them are useful for you so that you can gain the most from the courses.

(a) Talk to your seniors

Your seniors are always one of the best sources of information about the things at NUS. They will be more than glad to share their experiences with you, therefore do make some efforts in knowing some of your seniors. If the senior you talk to don’t know the answer to your questions, they may know somebody who knows. They may also help you in your physics assignments and recommend you which modules to take in the future.

How to know your seniors?
  • Your lab demonstrator for your Year 1 labs
  • Come for Physics Society Orientation, Annual General Meeting, Physics Society activities (Staff and Student Games, Festival celebrations)

Consult your professors

Most of the physics professors are very friendly and student-oriented. Don’t be afraid and just send them an email to make an appointment with them if you have any doubts in your course materials. If not, just spend some time going to their office and knock on their doors. Make your own initiative and we are sure you will benefit a lot. It’s not restricted to talk about course materials (though usually that’s the case), you can also ask them about their research and their lives besides spending time in physics labs.

(c) Crashing into physics lectures

The first 2 weeks of every semester are always lecture weeks, most tutorials will start in week 3, but definitely there are some modules have tutorials starting in week 2. You may consider crashing into higher level physics lectures if you have the free time. This will give you an impression on how the higher level physics modules are being conducted. By doing this, you will have an idea on what physics electives to take in the future.

(d) Get yourself a study group

We believe study in groups is efficient and beneficial. Study groups will make your life easier on tutorial problems as well as online assignments. You will be able to understand the material better through discussions. You will also get to know more of your fellow physics majors. As to where you can study together, Science Library and Central Library are quite good. If you don’t like the libraries, you may consider study inside the teaching labs or outside the teaching labs as there are study benches outside.

(e) Learn your mathematics well and remember them

We cannot stress enough the importance of mathematics in the learning of physics. The mathematical techniques in solving physics problems are crucial in modules like quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism etc. The 2 engineering mathematics modules (MA1505 and MA1506) are used to prepare you with the mathematical foundations for future physics courses. Make sure you learn them well and remember the solving techniques, they will help you a lot in the future.

It’s true that the professors will teach new mathematics throughout the courses, these are also important things to remember as there is always a reason as to why certain physics problems are being solved in this manner. Do try your best to understand the solving technique, and use them in your future physics modules. You don’t know when you will find it handy.

Of course, the 2 engineering mathematics modules are not enough, especially if you are interested in theoretical physics. The Physics department has 2 more modules on mathematical techniques, do take them if you are going to do string theory or cosmology. If you think it’s still not enough, go and check out the modules offered by the Mathematics department, I am sure you can find modules which suit you the best.

(f) Problem solving strategy

Develop some problem solving strategy during your course of study, so that you will have an easier life when it comes to tutorials and exams. As to how you can develop it, we have actually found some good references for you all to read up. We hope it can benefit you a lot!

(g) Practice past year papers

You can always access the past year papers for your modules from the NUS Library website by just logging in. It is a good way to prepare for your final exams. However, if the professor for the class has changed, the final may look different from the past years. Nonetheless, it gives you a good opportunity to practice.

The Physics Society has kept an archive of the solutions for the past year papers, prepared by kind and helpful seniors in the committee. The solutions for core modules will usually be uploaded onto the Physics Society website a few weeks before the exams and you all can download it for free. However, solutions to the elective modules may not be complete and we welcome contributions from anybody who have taken the elective modules.

Computational Skills

Computers have become part of our lives, and so do physicists’ lives. Theoretical physicists use them to do modeling and simulations, while experimentalists perform data analysis to generate meaningful results. If you have some programming background, you will be highly sought after by the professors, especially those who are doing modeling and simulations. But don’t fret if you are interested in doing experiments, you can write some simple software to save the time for taking measurement, which is something useful for the research group. If you want to learn some programming language during your undergraduate years, you can always check the modules offered by School of Computing (SoC), they have modules on C language, C++, Java etc.

However, physicists don’t restrict themselves to these programming languages only. They also utilize good mathematical software such as MatLab and Mathematica. If you happen to know how to use them, that’s a good news to both the professor and you. As the professor will want you to utilize what you know to help them, and it will help you to secure a temporary job during the holidays. If you don’t know what they are, don’t worry, try to ask around the teaching assistants and graduate students, they may have a copy for you so that you can start to play around with them. Once you are familiarized with them, it will give you further advantage during your research, as well as your graduate studies and future career.


This is a question that will present in those minds who are interested. If you are interested in taking up UROPS, just check your NUS email regularly (at least once a day) to take note of the registration deadlines. If not, you can consider taking up temporary jobs during the 3 months holidays (May – July), you can earn rather good money during that time.

However, you must know that opportunities to do research are always there, you need to take your own initiative to get involved. One thing you can be sure is that there are professors who are willing to hire students, and they are waiting for you to approach them, so just make your presence known to them.

Here are some tips we would like to offer:

(i) Talk to professors

This has been proven to be the most effective method to make your presence known to them. If you want to work with your lecturer, just drop them an email to introduce yourself, make an appointment with them and knock on their office doors to let them know you are interested. Don’t be shy to ask them whether they have temporary positions for you or not. If you want to know where their offices are, you can always check the physics departmental website.

(ii) Talk to honours year students

Your year 1 lab demonstrators are mostly honours year students and they will be doing an honours year project. Their projects could be theoretical, experimental or computational. You can be a bit busybody by asking them what they are doing, and from there you will know more about the research areas in our department.

(iii) Attend departmental seminars

Check out the notices that are put up on the notice board outside the lift of block S13 level 2. The information on upcoming departmental seminars will be put up there. You can always make a quick trip and have a good look at the notices put up there, you may find something that interests you. Make sure you don’t miss it, as our upcoming events will be put up there as well.

(iv) Approach your tutors

Your tutors will mostly be physics majors graduated from NUS, so they are also a good source of such information. It is highly possible that they are doing a part time master as well. Being a curious physics major, you should find out more about what their project are. They may have some good suggestions for you, and you can heed their advice.

(v) Consult your academic mentor

Every physics major will have an assigned academic mentor. Do make your initiative to send an email to them to make an appointment with him. He could be able to suggest to you which professor you can work under if you are interested to do research.


Some of you may be interested in doing internship, and there are opportunities to do so. The Physics department or the Physics Society will send out emails to every 2nd and 3rd year physics majors in the 2nd semester, regarding the chances to do internships.

Data Storage Institute (DSI) and Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) are two research institutes under A-STAR which will provide internships for physics majors. They will send an email to the department when they are in need of interns, and then the department will disseminate the information via email to all 2nd and 3rd year physics majors. So if you are interested, prepare a resume and send to them.