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A-Level Physics

Background information about studying Physics

Physics at A Level comprises significantly more mathematics than at GCSE, so your maths skills will need to be up to scratch. If not, you can buy books, or most colleges offer some support for students not taking Maths to A Level as well. The course starts at the basics, and works up to some pretty tricky puzzles, such as working out collision speeds in a atom collider.

How will it differ from GCSE?


As stressed before, there is much more maths. Also, the work is much more in depth and riveting than at GCSE. It's very much a puzzle, and most questions you tackle, once finished, will give you increasing levels of satisfaction as you work through the course. Thankfully in most classes, people will find some things very easy you will find tough and vice versa, and there is a lot of emphasis on working together and collaborating to solve equations. The teachers generally hold a Physics or Maths degree, and thus will always not only help you, but answer questions in more depth than at school, which is awesome!

Taking A-Level Maths can be of good use, especially if you have the option to take Mechanics modules (M1, M2). By doing so, you should have covered some Mechanics in your Maths lessons, reducing workload and making the easier mechanics questions in the Physics exams an easy topic to pick up marks. Some content covered in your Physics course does touch on stuff covered in the Maths module M3, however this isn't really strenuous and you are given the formulae anyway. Somewhere between 40-50% of the marks in a typical Physics exam can come from questions requiring you to calculate or derive some formula, so taking both Maths and Physics is a good choice.


The workload is a bit larger than at school; but thankfully, unlike essay based subjects, you can answer a sheet of problems and be done with it. Which is much better than staring at an essay for a week keeping wanting to add things to it! There's a large amount of coursework, but the teachers will help you out if there are any problems, and they're generally pretty good at enforcing deadlines!

Required Individual Study

There honestly isn't much. Apart from a few problem sheets a week, the coursework and possibly some background reading (there's a large essay-ish thing in the second year all about a topic of your choice), you're going to have quite a bit of free time!

How is it assessed?

This is correct so far for OCR B


You will have two exams per year, one in January and one in June/July, both on one module. These combine with coursework to make a final grade for a module. Each exam in 90 minutes long; but at the end of the course, you will have a two hour synoptic paper.

For the new specification starting September 2008, there are still two exams per year, but the January exam is now only 1 hour, and the June/July exam has been extended to 2 hours long. There is no longer a synoptic paper, but both of the A2 units will have synoptic elements.


There are two bits of AS coursework, an experiment and a presentation; and two bits of A2 coursework, a essay/article, and an experiment on anything you like (within the limits of an A level lab!) Some experiments that were done in my class included: The conductivity of copper, Newton's Cradle with more than two balls, dropping different materials from different heights, and even using a wave tank to replicate the actions of a boat in the sea. If you need any more materials for this, then the department will often provide, given fair warning.


You will probably have one practical a week, sometimes only a 10 minute play with apparatus, which really helps you get to grip with the course material. Occasionally, you'll have a whole lesson or more in a lab to do a larger scale experiment, which will end with plotting graphs and putting the data into Excel and writing the experiment up.

Field trips and excursions

No field trips as such, but often you can be invited to a public lecture at a local university, or have a visiting speaker to discuss careers in physics or university courses.

Our 6th form do an annual trip to Thorpe Park which is always a good day and the year 13s go to the cycling velodrome at calshot to study circular motion

Where can I go with a Physics A-Level

Anywhere! Physics A Level is one of the most respected A levels there is, and it shows you are numerate and can handle a demanding course to a high level. Some people (like me!) will go onto a Physics degree, but it is a good subject to have for anything, from Psycology to Ecology. It's also a reccomended subject for Mathematics and Engineering degrees, and can also be used for entry into Medicine , Geophysics is also a very lucrative area of study where having done Physics is a great advantage

User Opinions

Username: Sam_Ash

What I like about studying this subject: Physics is really interesting, and A-Level fills in a lot of the holes that GCSE left. The A-Level teachers are much better than the GCSE teacher I had.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Errors.

Username: TheTallOne

What I like about studying this subject: I found that Physics was the easiest of the A Levels I took. The things you have to learn can often be prompted from the formula sheet. It is, in fact, a good idea to carry a copy of the formula sheet you will be given in the exam around with you to your lessons. Whenever you do questions in class, it is better to refer to the formula sheet than your notes. This way, you won't waste time in Physics exams looking for the formula you want and you will also know what formula you are given and what you should know (this means that you don't have to waste time remembering F=\frac{q_1q_2}{4\pi\epsilon_0r^2}). Due to the sheer number of formulae you are given, you only really need to know a maximum of 10 equations throughout the course (and only 3 or 4 per module) - the rest can be derived from the formula sheet. So, when learning, make sure you use your formula sheet to do questions, and if the formula isn't there then have a look at your notes and see if there is a similar formula already given that you could substitute in an equation (eg F=ma into gravitational field strength - g is equivalent to a). If there still isn't an equation, then it is likely that this is one of the few equations you have to learn.

When it comes to the theory, you can use the formula sheets as prompts (again), but there are a few set topics you may have to learn (eg Ideal Gas Theory). Here, look at the mark schemes for the ideal answers and learn what to write down as it is near certain that the answers are the same every time this question is set.

What I dislike about studying this subject: I find it really boring. In fact, I drifted off and fell a sleep for about a minute during one lesson. Because of the way the course is structured, you don't really learn much as 50% of the work is based from the formula sheet. It is too easy, especially if you do Further Maths - don't be surprised if you end up with 570+/600. The most able candidates should be capable of taking both the AS and A2 course in a year. Practicals I'm indifferent about. As long as you can follow instructions it should go OK, although if something goes wrong it could have a disastrous affect on your results from this section. Graph drawing - you have to use good axes (that take up more than half a page) and plot well. Always draw your graphs to exam standard and never get lazy drawing graphs which don't use up most of the page and would drop marks if it were an exam.

Username: trollman

What I like about studying this subject: It really is interesting, knowing how things work is really the best feeling. I enjoyed the matsh and knowing that there is an answer, its not subjective. It was a nice contrast to history and biology and although i didnt study maths i could cope! I really did seriously consider it to degree level but i didnt do maths a level so it want an option! Best advice practice papers are really good and cement your knowledge dont be lazy!

What I dislike about studying this subject: some topics are really boring like for me i depised electricity but thats the same with any subject it has its boring and interesting stuff. Although i have to say "how science works" was horrible

Username: JAKstriked

What I like about studying this subject: Physics is interesting and require very little work. The maths is very basic and requires probably only about 10 minutes on homework a week. Not much need to learn very well for exams as you can work out most questions on the fly. If you have some natural ability take it for a well respected, minimal effort A.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Experiments are aimless as you can gather as much from a textbook. As far as I can see they just mean the teacher has less work to do. If they fail it is due to experimental error and if they work out then you will still have to learn the law or formula regardless. People can also tend to be very stupid in physics and ask ridiculous questions so having a cool head helps. There is one jackass in my set who will ask stupid questions and fling around popular science terms like a monkey throwing its faeces. I usually feel like the lessons aren't worth attending as the majority of the time I could learn far quicker from the textbook and the teachers tend to struggle with fairly easy mathematics. Apart from all that is a laugh.

Username: Xero Xenith

What I like about studying this subject: Maths! Many marks can be gotten just for being competent with basic (not even GCSE) algebra. Can you substitute this into these equations we give you? Yes? Have six marks! There's also not much to remember for each test, but the content is discussed to a fairly high level. You'll be confident with many advances from the first half of the 20th century, and you'll recognise famous physicists just from their namesake, like Planck, de Broglie, Dirac, and more.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Practicals and practical tests. If you do AQA A with the centre-assessed practical (basically coursework under test conditions), you will be subjected to RIDICULOUS grade boundaries. 88% for an A, 60% for an E? Downright crazy, especially as it's only out of 50, so there's only two or three marks between grades! Thankfully this is only 1/5 of the marks available. Practicals are also time-consuming and often a complete waste of time.

Username: wrexhamfc

What I like about studying this subject: The fact that there's far more emphasis on number-crunching than the more (very vaguely) descriptive GCSE course. This has the added bonus of making Mechanics lessons an absolute cakewalk if you're doing Maths as well. The ability to derive equations is awesome and an ability to do so well saves you from having to memorise so much. You also learn a fair bit about how the laws of physics were originally derived, such as how Einstein hypothesised the existence of the photon from the photoelectric effect. It's far less of a memory test than GCSE. The WJEC course also offers an optional module at the end of PH5 which enables you to focus on whichever topic most takes your fancy from Alternating Current, Revolutions in Physics (Newton's laws of motion/Einstein's spacetime), Material Physics, Medical Physics, and Energy Matters. If you've got teachers like ours, it's a right laugh as well.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Mainly, it's the practicals. There's very lofty grade boundaries and they don't exactly capture the imagination. I also hate doing work on electricity and circuits, which make up a sizable portion of the A-level syllabus. For me personally, I'd much prefer if the syllabus featured more on modern physics, i.e. relativity and quantum. With WJEC quantum is scarcely mentioned at all and relativity only pops up if you're studying the relevant optional module in PH5. Also, while it's not completely necessary to study Maths A-level alongside Physics, it's a major help. Understanding calculus and logarithms makes your life so much easier.

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