Sunday, March 22, 2009

Advice to Future and Potential IPhO students

One week ago I got this. I just replied it.

i am Abhimanyu from India.Being an IPhO silver medalist i would first congratulate you for your achievement.I too am preparing for the 2010 IPhO.Colud me please share your experiences and give me suggestions.
I would be very greatful

Hi, sorry for the late reply, I am very busy in University. First of all, thank you for congratulating me.
I assumed that you know me through my blog, in the below, I'll assume basic knowledge of Olympiad and you can find the relevant materials for it there too.

And now the main thing. Well, I went for the IPhO for 2 times, first in Iran in 2007 where I got an Honourable Mention, second in Vietnam, where I got a Silver Medal. So you can say that I prepared for the 2008 IPhO for 1 and a half years, but not continously. After I can back from Iran, I prepared for my High School Exam and didn't practiced physics much for half a year.

Ok let's do this in chronological order, In December 2006, I first knew of the International Olympiads when I joined the Chemistry training camp. In April 2008, I went for my 1st training camp for the Physics one. I was lucky for I get high marks in my school exam and got selected by my teacher to participate in the camp. After that it was 4 days of lectures on 1st year physics and 3 hour exam on the last day. I can still remember the thrill and excitement of getting into the next training camp, one after another. Until finally I'm in the top 5. So from the last training camp on, just one month before the Competition (I'm sure India's system is better than Malaysia's last minute one), I began doing the past year papers of the Olympiads, even during school hours, I persisted on every question until I can get the solution. At that time it was like walking in the dark, I don't know which road to take to get to the solution, especially since the effort of trying out a solution is so tremendous. But with courage and patience, I managed to break the mystery one by one. The more I do the past year papers, the better I get. But one thing I managed to overlook. I didn't trained to do the 3 questions in 5 hours. So I found that I haven't got enough time to finish up the theoretical part of the olympiad (only 1 question fully answered, 1 more I wrote what I can based on imcomplete understanding and the last one is mostly blank!)

So pausing at this part, I would advice you to train yourself to understand the question as soon as possible and in the correct way. Reading and doing lots of example from 1st year physics text books (althought the level of Olympiad is higher than 1st years) and at other books like "Major American Universities Ph. D Qualifying Questions and Solutions" on the topics based on the sylabus (I assume you know the syllabus) may help too. That said, relax on the exam day, calm down and just treat it like any other practice of past years you have done. This needs to be done because IPhO and other International Olympiads are the most unique exams in the world, stepping into the hall, you're stepping into the most prestigious exam EVER! So get used to the idea and relax and "fight" fast, correct and accurate during the 5 hours exam.

There are ussually some snacks and drinks provided at your desk and you can go to the toilet at anytime during the exam. You might like to simulate the environment a bit to see how many time can you spare for toilet, and how good can you think while eating.

Ok continuing the story, I didn't do very well on the experimental exam either, mainly because I'm not used to the time limit and also took too long to understand the questions. You'll have to learn to think during the 2 minute interval for each measurements for 60 measurements! So the best training maybe to train in a Year 2 lab at a nearby University (if you can) and try to complete the year 2 experiments as fast as possible. You can also read up on the experimental past year papers too and try to see when is error analysis required (I assume you know the importance of error analysis).

Once you reached the venue it is like a heavenly place, totally unsuitable for (last minute) studying, but if you still want to burden you baggage with the books, you are welcome to. Cause there're bound to be a lot of people doing the same thing. And Remember to bring enough souvenirs to give to the new friends you make there!

Ok. So I felt bad at getting only Honourable Mention, and started planning for the next year. I aimed for the Absolute Winner!
After not studying and releasing my stress due to the High School Exam, I was invited to go to the University Kebangsaan Malaysia to attend year 1 and 2 physics lectures. I am regretful to say that I didn't make full use of that time to study as hard as I can. (Don't tell anyone but I also skipped a lot of lectures and played lots of Computer games there.) It's my first time living on campus and I didn't got used to it, most probably because I was alone, so it's hard to get motivated to study. But overall it's a nice experience. Staying there from mid- February to mid-April, I went through the training camps again and got into the top 5.

After that, the semester at the University ended and I also went back to my home to do some "personal studying" there. In truth, I was busy with my University preparation stuffs and otherwise did a minimum effort on IPhO. So here's the advice, if you ever find that you have no motivation to study, find your friends and study together. Spend at least a few hours on Physics, reading and more impartantly doing the 1st year physics stuffs and PhD qualifiying exam stuffs and around 1 past years per week (for you it is possible).

I didn't think I did well on the Theoretical Exam too. The first question was a killer, the rice pounder (do the past year and you'll know).
But I think I must have done quite well on it too to get a Silver Medal right? lol, sorry didn't bothered to remember. I just felt very bad that I lost my Absolute Winner and gold, perhaps... even silver or Bronze here. So I accepted the reality and calmed myself for the Experimental 2 days later.
The Theoretical was hard.
I think I was lucky that the experimental turned out to be very easy! (I'm sure you'll agree with me) I just lost 3 marks out of 20 out of insufficient time. Ok, quite a serious mistake if you aim for a gold, but I'm grateful. After that, I forgot all about grades and enjoyed myself in Vietnam. Except that I got sick after the Experimental and missed out on some fun! lol.

Well, I was surprised that I got a Silver (quite high) for it. But I'm disappointed that I didn't do better looking at the time given for me to prepare. But the past is past.

Lastly most IMPORTANT advice is that DO lots of practice, it's all practice for olympiad. Understanding can be minimal, or perhaps just what 1st years student know. The most important thing is to know how to apply rather that to verify or prove a physical law.

Hope this all helps and I'll publish this in my blog too.

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