Lecturer Spotlight: Mastering Physics for A Level with Lim Yaw Loong

We give the spotlight to Taylor’s College Cambridge A Level lecturer, Mr Lim Yaw Loong. Read on as he explains all about physics and how to master it!

Are you curious about the world of physics? Perhaps you wonder if you’d be able to grasp the different concepts of physics in your studies? We speak to Mr Lim Yaw Loong, Senior Lecturer II of Taylor’s College who currently lectures physics for Cambridge A Level (CAL), to understand the fascinating world of physics and how to tackle the tricky subject.

Q: Just before we dive into your teaching career, with the global uncertainties we face, many wished they could go back in time before the pandemic began. That said, do you think that time travel will ever be possible? And if you could, would you?


A: I believe it’s possible, but not in the near future. Time and space, or what we call spacetime, are dimensions like what we can sense around us. It's just that we’ve been going in one direction of time, but not the reverse. So if one day we discover and understand the fundamental theory that allows us to develop the technology to go backwards in time, time travel will be possible. 

If given the opportunity, I’d want to look at how the universe was created, what Earth looked like before humans existed, and how humans came into existence.

Q: Tell us a bit more about yourself and what draws you to the world of physics?


A:  I graduated with a BSc in Applied Physics. Then, I pursued my Master’s Degree in Theoretical Physics. My interest began in secondary school as I’d read books and find information about the black hole, the age of the universe, how stars and galaxies are formed, and what’s time dilation. 

I was also inspired by my sixth-form physics teacher who always challenged us to dive deeper and to, as we read through our textbooks, always ask ‘why’. 

Everything you learn in physics has a set of logical reasoning behind it. These beautifully and carefully designed behaviour of nature continues to pique my interest in physics, asking ‘why’ about anything that hasn’t been given logical reasoning


Q: What fascinates you the most about the world of physics that you think all students or everyone should know about?


A: Our world is basically the world of physics. What fascinates me is how physics explains everything, well, most of the things. Everyone, I believe, would sometimes and somehow wonder why our world, or the universe, functions in such a manner. Like how a rainbow is formed, what is energy, why does a car have a top speed, how is aurora formed, what is a black hole, and etc. 

Physics is a traditional field of study because it helps us understand and learn about the world around us. You might think everything has been explored and explained in the textbooks hundreds of years ago — well, that’s the fundamental part of physics and the physics laws that have been long established and verified. But there are still areas in which humanity hasn’t fully understood as we’re unable to confirm theories with experimental data such as particle physics, quantum physics, and cosmology.

Q: What mindset do you think is needed to understand physics principles and how do you encourage your students to think that way through your lessons?

Mr Lim Yaw Loong and his students

A:  Students have to stay curious. It’s human nature to want to understand something that’s happening around us. If you read a physics textbook, you most likely wouldn’t be able to explain it to another person by simply recalling the information you came across. But, if you read, pause, and start asking ‘why’, it helps to create links between facts and, hence, helps the mind to process along. 

In my lessons, I insert points to ponder upon in between teaching slides. This is to temporarily stop students from just remembering facts but to start thinking and applying what they’ve just learnt. I’d try to apply a case to help students to think and make sure they’re able to know how to apply and explain the concepts.

Q: What's the most challenging aspect for you when it comes to teaching physics? And how do you overcome it?


A: I think the challenge is that everyone has a different level of capability when it comes to understanding the concepts. So, if one way of explanation doesn’t work, I’d have to find a different method to guide my students to think from a different perspective.  

Most of the time I use analogical reasoning, that is, by comparing a phenomenon that happens around us every day, to the concept being taught. For example, current in a circuit is like traffic flow, resistance is a traffic jam. Serious traffic jams cause slower traffic flow, therefore greater resistance causes a smaller current. 

But, as we know, one size doesn’t fit all — the same analogy might not work on another student’s brain, you’ll know it from the way they look at you. So, it's a challenge to quickly think of a different approach on the spot. One way for me to get more ideas to explain is to read and watch science-related materials during my free time.

Q: Moving on, physics for A Level is deemed a challenging subject. What aspects of physics do students have difficulties with and how do you guide them? 

Mr Lim Yaw Loong and his students

A:  The challenge in studying physics is that you need to imagine things and deduce the causes from effects that you can see and listen to, apart from forming solutions for a problem. 

To help my students, I use plenty of diagrams, images and videos, and sometimes demonstrate them in real life during a lesson to explain physics concepts instead of reading out lengthy paragraphs. We can understand better with pictures and diagrams alongside some explanations. For this same reason, when you browse through a physics textbook, you’ll see a lot of pictures and diagrams being used as illustrations.

Q: As CAL is a 100% examination-based programme, how do you make learning physics for A Level easier or more interesting?


A: Physics, if you enjoy the way it paves logic to make things clear, can be fun. But if you struggle to imagine, you’ll get stuck and lose interest. Similarly, if you’re able to answer the questions, it brings joy and satisfaction, and vice versa. The fundamental point is that you must like it first. For that, I try to make my lessons enjoyable and relaxing. I tell simple and lame jokes to break the silence and to get the students' attention, not just at the start but throughout the lessons.

Q:  How much more difficult is CAL physics compared to SPM physics? If an SPM student scored an A+ for physics, are they likely to score well in physics for A Level too? 

A: SPM physics is an important stepping stone to Cambridge A Level physics. That being said, it’s the pre-requisite and it prepares the students to go a little more in-depth at A Level physics. SPM questions are good and can be difficult questions, which assess the students from many aspects. 

A student who scored an A+ in SPM physics either has mastered this subject undoubtedly, studied last minute and got lucky, or put in simple answers yet enough to score. Whatever it is, as long as they maintain a good study habit or start one if they haven’t, these A+ students shall be able to score well in CAL.


Q: What would you advise future students who're enrolling for CAL and taking up physics? How can they prepare themselves before their programme starts?


A: CAL students will relearn some of the SPM Physics topics once the lessons begin. Though it feels easy at the start, you should always stay curious as the same physics principles may be different when you think deeper. The syllabus will get progressively harder and you’ll discover a deeper understanding of the similar concepts you’ve learned previously. 

The lesson will usually be followed by a series of questions that involve problem-solving skills, and this is also where you pick up A Level style of answering techniques. In SPM, the questions are more straightforward and require perhaps only one line of the equation as your answer. However, in CAL, you may need to add 4 to 5 lines of answers. So, if you miss this process, thinking that it’s the same as SPM, then you might not be able to excel in A Level.


That’s all for now! We hope you’re now more inspired to discover the world of physics and learned valuable insights from this conversation to help you in pursuing CAL! 

If you’d like to learn more about Cambridge A Level, simply reach out to our education counsellors here.

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