Why Study Physics?
Physics is an important stepping stone to studying the subject, and others, at A Level. It is a great preparation in giving students and broad knowledge of the science, and prepares them in what to expect at a higher level. Besides, it is an interactive subject in that it has quite a lot of "hands on" experiments, particularly those regarding electricity and circuits. Studying Physics allows one to appreciate the processes that one wouldn't usually recognise that happen in the world every moment of every day.
Physics can either be taken as a standalone GCSE or as part of a GCSE in Science - the latter often counts as the equivalent of two qualifications, with the course being made up of one third of each of Biology, Chemistry and Physics. The Physics GCSE aims to give students a basic background into the main physical principles, including waves and energy, nuclear physics, particle physics, mechanical work, electricity, sound and light. Topics included depend much upon the course and syllabus followed. Many GCSE courses involve a practical assessment which can often be a simple problem regarding, for example, an electrical circuit. Here, the student may have to plan an experiment to find the resistance of a wire, using basic lab equipment. After doing the experiment, they must calculate the answer from the data, draw conclusions and evaluate the reliability of the experiment.
GCSE Astronomy is a relatively new course available in England and Wales, though despite being a big hit with students everywhere, is not provided by many schools. The main exam boards to offer this course are OCR and Edexcel.
Why Study Physics?
The possibility of studying physics is available with many syllabi across many different examination boards. Such boards include: AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance), OCR (Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations), CCEA(Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment) and Edexcel. These three examination bodies are based in England, however, students in other nations such as Wales also undertake courses offered by them. Wales has its own assessing body; the WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee).
The traditional AQA A course has six modules. The three AS modules' main focuses are: Quantum Theory, Mechanics and Kinetics, and Electricity and Elastic Solids. The latter module also has a coursework element, usually an assignment similar to (but often needed to be looked at more critically than) the GCSE one. In the A2 year, students focus on waves, nuclear power, capacitance, fields and forces; as well as optional modules depending on what their institution chooses.
OCR offer two physics based courses: Physics A and Physics B. The Physics A course entails three modules in the first (AS) year and a further three in the second (A2) year. In the first year the three modules are: Forces & Motion, Electrons & Photons as well as Wave Properties. This third module is combined with the coursework and practical element of the course. The percentage weighting for each module is 30%, 30% and 40% respectively. These values are halved to show (if A2 is taken by student) the weighting of the modules for the full A level award.
The Edexcel specification covers a wide range of topics within Physics. In the first year, Mechanics and Radioactivity, Electricity and Thermal Physics make up the first two modules. For the third module, there is a practical which is normally taken in May which makes up half the module, with the other half being an option. There are four options to choose from; Nuclear and Particle Physics, Astrophysics, Materials or Medical Physics. In the second year, a further three modules are taken. These include: Waves and Our Universe, Fields and Forces, and the final module is a Synoptic paper which draws together all aspects of the course with an additional section on accelerators.
The CCEA specification entails six modules; three at AS: AS 1: Forces, Energy and Electricity, AS 2: Waves, Photons and Medical Physics and AS 3: Practical Techniques and three at A2: A2 1: Momentum, Thermal Physics, Circular Motion, Oscillations and Atomic and Nuclear Physics, A2 2: Fields and their Applications and A2 3:Practical Techniques.
Note that although the A2 is aided by some basic A-Level maths, in accordance with the government's scheme of no two A-Levels relying on one another (but maths and further maths) the courses are not mathematically rigorous.
Physics in the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme consists of six core topics and two options.
The Standard Level syllabus consists of the following:
- The realm of physics
- Measurement and uncertainties
- Mathematical and graphing techniques
- Vectors and scalars
- Forces and Dynamics
- Inertial Mass, Gravitational Mass and Weight
- Work, Energy and Power
- Uniform Circular Motion
- Thermal Concepts
- Thermal properties of matter
- Gas laws
- Traveling waves
- Wave properties
- Standing waves
- Electric Current and Circuits
- The Atom
- Radioactive Decay
- Nuclear Reactions
In addition to these six core topics, Standard Level students take two options out of the following list (of Options A through H).
- A Mechanics Extension
- B Quantum and Nuclear Physics
- C Energy Extension
- D Biomedical Physics
- E History of Physics
- F Astrophysics
- G Relativity
- H Optics
Higher Level students, in addition to the six core topics, are required to take options A through C above, in addition to extended material in the topics of Mechanics (Torque and Frictional Forces), Waves (Wave Phenomenae), and Electromagnetism (such as electromagnetic induction, Faraday's Law, etc.). Options chosen by Higher Level students, who are also required to choose two, also have additional material in relation to Standard Level. Again options include Astrophysics, Optics and Historical Physics.
Assessment for both Standard and Higher level students consists of internally assessed lab reports (worth 24% in total) and a final examination consisting of three papers (worth 76%). IB Physics students take the following examinations: Paper 1: Multiple Choice, Paper 2: Long Answer, and Paper 3: Options. Higher Level students are generally asked to answer more questions in a greater time limit.
Scottish Standard Grade
Physicists are more interested in black holes and the origin of the universe than making tons of money and driving flashy cars. We also realize that physics forms the foundation for biology, chemistry, geology, etc. and the wealth of modern civilization. We realize that physicists pioneered the pivotal discoveries of the 20th century which revolutionized the world (e.g. the transistor, the laser, splitting the atom, TV and radio, MRI and PET scans, quantum theory and relativity, unraveling the DNA molecule was done by physicists.
Ideally, to apply for a Physics degree, one should be studying Physics and Mathematics A Levels. Further Mathematics is always a bonus, and Chemistry can often complement Physics nicely. You can see latest requirements at myPhysicsCourse
The Recommended Physics Reading list, has some recommended reading for physics students, unsurprisingly.
The Physics Websites list suggests lots of websites that can help you directly for your physics classwork, or just helps you see that physics need not be like pulling teeth.