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How to Solve Physics Problems

What is problem-solving?






General Problem-Solving Strategy

Step 1: Identify what’s being given

Step 2: Clarify what’s being asked.

             If necessary, rephrase the question

Step 3: Select a strategy

             Trial & error, search, deductive reasoning, knowledge-based, working backwards

Step 4: Solve using the strategy

Step 5: Review the answer



Determine the relationship between force of friction and the coefficient of friction





Identify what’s given

Force of friction and coefficient of friction


Identify what’s asked

How they relate


Strategy: Deductive reasoning

Force of friction is found with the equation: Ff = mFN

m is the coefficient of friction and is a measure of the roughness of the two surfaces.


Apply the strategy

As roughness increases, there is more friction.

If m is the measure of the roughness of the surfaces, then as the roughness increases the m increases. 

m and friction are directly related.


Review the solution

The mathematic formula matches the reasoning.

Using symbols with mneumonics:

  • When writing symbols in physics, use a mneumonic to help you remember what the symbol is representing.
  • e.g.  For mass of proton, use “mp” and for velocity of car and truck use “Vc” and “Vt” rather than “V1” and “V2”
KUDOS Method

Use the KUDOS method for solving word problems.

  • K = Known
  • U = Unknown
  • D = Definition
  • O = Output
  • S = Substantiation

Tips for KUDOS steps

  • K (Known)
    Use units to indetify information
    Write information symbolically
    Look for implied information
    Write out chemical equations
  • U (Unknown)
    What is the problem looking for?
    Write information symbolically
  • D (Definition)
    Find equalities to conver
    Choose & Re-arrange equations
    Look for missing information in other places
    If you cannot find enough information, re-evaluate your plan
  • O (Output)
    Plug in values to the equations (use constants as needed)
    Check unit cancellation & perform the calculation
  • S (Substantiation)
    Check validity of your answer
    Check units
    Check signficiant figures
  • Example:
  • What is the change in velocity if the initial velocity is 23 m/s and the final velocity is 15 m/s?


Source Information

Write down


Initial velocity

V0 = 23 m/s

Final velocity

V1 = 15 m/s


What is the change in velocity

DV = ? m/s


Change in equation

DV = V1 – V0


Output of the equation

DV = V1 – V0
DV = 15 m/s – 23 m/s
DV = -8 m/s



-8 m/s atm is reasonable for velocity
“m/s” is the pressure unit given in the problem.
0 decimal places given 0 in answer

Exam prep tips

  • Stay ahead of the game
  • Make a cheat-sheet
  • Know the format of the test and information that’s fair game
  • Make a mock exam
  • Attend the review session
  • Get help early

Exam taking tips

  • Arrive early and prepared
  • Listen & Read instructions carefully
  • Memory dump first
  • Skim the test and form a plan
  • Answer questions sequentially
  • Apply the guessing rule
  • Multiple-choice tips:
    • Scan all the choices
    • Avoid word confusion
    • Beware of absolutes
  • Essay tips:
    • Understand the question
    • Answer the whole question and only the question
    • Watch your time
  • Free-Repsonse tips:
    • Show partial work
    • Don’t forget units
    • Don’t be fooled by blank space