We know how confusing calculation exam questions can be, but unfortunately, there’s no escaping them!

Do not fear though, help is at hand! This quick 2-minute read will help you to understand how best to approach calculation questions, PLUS it can be used across subjects!

What to do when you see a calculation question?

Firstly, DON’T PANIC! Use a tool like CUSTARD (see previous blog) to highlight the key information in the question! Especially useful is to:

CIRCLE COMMAND WORDS (in this instance, probably ‘calculate’ and ‘give’)

UNDERLINE KEY WORDS/INFORMATION (numbers, units, terms that will form part of the equation)

Another thing you will want to do at the start is any appropriate CONVERSIONS, for example, minutes/hours into seconds, MegaWatts into Watts (x 1,000,000), mm into m (÷ 1,000) etc.

What is FIFA?

FIFA is one way of approaching calculation questions, allowing you to break down what is required, make sure you complete your answer as fully as possible in order to get the most marks! FIFA stands for:

F - FORMULA - write out the equation/formula either from memory or using your equation sheet. This can be in words or symbols, but remember, if you’re using symbols they have to be the correct letters and case!

I - INSERT - substitute in the values to the equation from the question prompt (this is where underlining these is super important!)

F - FINE TUNE - This is where any REARRANGING of the equation can happen, as well as any SIMPLIFICATION.

A - ANSWER (INCLUDING UNITS) make sure to use the correct number of decimal places or significant figures and also check if the answer should be in standard form. ALWAYS include the units (written correctly).

What does FIFA look like IRL?

Here’s an example of a long-answer calculation question, with annotations, and a model answer showing the full working out. This would gain full marks in an exam!

Conversions (mass): 100g = 0.1kg [1]

F: Energy change = mass x specific heat capacity × temperature change (E=mcθ) [1]

I: Energy change = 0.1 x 880 x (500-100) [1]

F: Energy change = 0.1 x 880 x 400

A: Energy change = 35,200 joules (J)[2]

As you can see, this model answer includes the equation, conversion, substitution and working out, the answer to 3 sig fig, and the correct units. FULL MARKS!

Try it yourself on some past exam questions, and see if it helps!

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