Many students struggle with Physics calculation questions at KS3 and KS4. Since 40% of the marks on GCSE Physics papers are for maths, this is a real worry for their teachers.
The FIFA system (if that’s not too grandiose a description) provides a minimal and flexible framework that helps students to successfully attempt calculation questions.
Since adopting the system, we encounter far fewer blanks on test and exam scripts where students simply skip over a calculation question. A typical student can gain 10-20 marks.
The FIFA system is outlined here but essentially consists of:
- Formula: students write the formula or equation
- Insert values: students insert the known data from the question.
- Fine-tune: rearrange, convert units, simplify etc.
- Answer: students state the final answer.
The “Fine-tune” stage is not — repeat, not — synonymous with re-arranging and is designed to be “creatively ambiguous” and allow space to “do what needs to be done” and can include unit conversion (e.g. kilowatts to watts), algebraic rearrangement and simplification.
Uniquely for Physics, instead of the dreaded “Six Marker” extended writing question, we have the even-more-dreaded “Six Marker” long calculation question. (Actually, they can be awarded anywhere between 4 to 6 marks, but we’ll keep calling them “Six Markers” for convenience.)
The “FIFA-one-two” strategy can help students gain marks in these questions.
Let’s look how it could be applied to a typical “Six mark” long calculation question. We prepare the ground like this:
Since the question mentions the power output of the kettle first, let’s begin by writing down the energy transferred equation.
Next we insert the values. It’s quite helpful to write in any “non standard” units such as kilowatts, minutes etc as a reminder that these need to be converted in the Fine-tune phase.
And so we arrive at the final answer for this first section:
Next we write down the specific heat capacity equation:
And going through the second FIFA operation:
I think every “Six Marker” extended calculation question can be approached in a productive way using the FIFA-One-Two approach.
This means that, even if students can’t reach the final answer, they will pick up some method marks along the way.
I hope you give the FIFA-One-Two method a go with your students.
You can read more about using the FIFA system here: ‘Using the FIFA system for really challenging GCSE physics calculations‘.
Update: Ed Southall makes a very persuasive case against formula triangle in this 2016 article.