I'm currently doing iGCSE physics and hopefully predicted an A*. Generally, I don't find physics really hard- how hard is A-level physics compared to GCSE??
A-Level Physics Watch
- Thread Starter
- 02-06-2016 20:54
- 11-06-2016 20:48
Firstly, I am sorry that it has taken so long for this thread to receive any replies. Secondly, that is quite a difficult question to answer; it all depends on the type of mind you have. If you are a good analytical thinker and you are fairly confident with GCSE level mathematics, you shouldn't find too much difficulty with A-level physics. That being said, the most important thing when deciding on whether or not to study anything, including physics, is to consider whether or not it interests you. Finally, if you want to follow a physics-related career, the A-level is, of course, a must-have qualification.
I hope that this has been helpful.
- 11-06-2016 21:52
- 11-06-2016 23:35
I love physics, its my favourite subject, but A-Level Physics was tough. I thought the step up was massive, bigger than any other subject. I do maths and further maths and physics makes them look easy.
You'll start off with perfecting GCSE stuff, which is quite easy. You'll get use to SI units e.g. the unit of potential difference is the volt, which is J/C in SI units (joules per couloumb) since V=E/Q. SI units basically convert other units into the fundamental units. Then you learn about all you prefixes e.g. Giga = 1 billion, nano = 0.000001. These are your bread and butter for A-Level.
The order in which you cover the content can differ quite significantly depending on your exam board, but the overall content is about the same for all exam boards.
I started off with material physics, which is the easiest content in the whole of A-Level physics, it's pretty much using chemistry in physics, you learn about covalent bonds. To be fair, the exam questions can be pretty nasty, but it's pretty much just definitions. You do a little bit of maths here like with Young's modulus which pretty much defines a materials strength, this is probably the driest content of the whole course.
Then I did what is called imaging and signalling, I learnt about binary coding which is just powers of 2 and the fact that pixels make up images. You learn about the lens equation, you would have done this in triple science physics. It's all pretty straight forward, just boring as hell, which is what made the first term of physics difficult for me, I struggled to stay interested. I love particle and nuclear physics but I had to wait till A2 to look at these again. However courses like AQA started with particle physics. You also look at polarisation, but this never actually came up in my exam This stuff was pretty much exclusive to my course (OCR B Physics) which was a terrible course for AS physics although the specs have changed now.
I also did a lot on electricity and circuits. It starts off as just using formulas from GCSE but increases in difficulty quite quickly. You will do a lot of electricity in A-Level physics so this knowledge is essential.
The final year consisted of two sections: quantum physics and mechanics. I would say that every course will do mechanics in the AS year, along with quantum physics. Quantum physics is can become quite abstract at times, but it's because it concerns the things that physicists are least comfortable with, its the topic at the forefront of physics. You will start off with light, the fact that it behaves as a particle and a wave, and so can other particles for example an electron can show wave behaviour. If you are interested in physics, you will love this topic. The trouble with this is that you have to take content with a pinch of salt and just accept that this is the theory which is what makes it difficult for most of students, it will go against your previous ideas of physics. In mechanics, it's basically just maths. If you do mechanics modules in maths or further maths, this is a walk in a park. It ranges from using the suvat equations which become trivial as you are just subsituting numbers into equations, to using calculus to find the distance travelled by an object or when it's velocity is zero. If you are good at maths this becomes very very easy. It really just builds on GCSE.
From AS Physics, the main step up is in the diffiulty of exam questions, you can't just get away with knowing the content anymore, you need to understand what the question is asking which can only be done by completing practise papers. Quantum physics and imaging/signalling are the only new topics you will learn (only quantum physics really as most people dont have to look at imaging/signalling). You will also do a lot about the measurement of quantites and lookin at errors in experiments which are essential for physics at university. Uncertainty in experiments is very tedious but has its place in physics, after all the measurements of constants are vital for formulas and will screw up our calculations if they are not accurate,
Then at A2. I found A2 easier as the topics become more interesting.
You'll build on mechanics by looking at laws of gravitiation so planetary motion and G fields. This is probably one of the hardest topics in A2 as the exam questions can be built in a way such that there are a lot of things to consider. You'll also do circular motion and simple harmonic motion which are the foundation of this topic.
You'll also learn about the evolution of the universe, which will involve a lot of GCSE stuff, I still get 2 marks for talking about red shift in an exam. But this is where things get very interesting but also complicated. You investigate time dilation and what happens when you travel near the speed of the light. This is special relativity. It's really interesting but the concepts can become very difficult.
Then you move onto magnetic fields - This is probably as hard as classical physics get, you'll do 3 types of fields at A-Level magnetic, electric and gravitational. M fields are by far the hardest in my opinion, purely because physicists still dont have a great understanding of them. Electric fields are pretty straight forward in my opinion as they relate a lot to electric circuits and particle accelerators which you will do a lot of. Relativity also comes up again in electric fields.
Finally, I eventually studied nuclear and particle physics again. The nuclear phsyics stuff is like GCSE, the only new things you learn are absorbed does and dose equivalent which basically help us understand the risk of using things like PET scanners to detect cancer and how long a worker can stay in a nuclear power plant per year. The nuclear physics at A-level is trivial. The particle physics will build on what you learn at GCSE, but it now involves a lot more maths. Basically, particle physics becomes quantum physics. This is proabably the most interesting stuff in A-level physics, and the difficulty isn't too high.
Overall, physics steps up in the level of maths and the difficulty of the concepts. You may find yourself spending hours on trying to understand quantum physics, but no one does understand it! I would say be prepared to study stuff you may hate in physics, but stay comitted. It does get very interesting and despite the difficulty, its a fascinating subject. I would say the main difficulty is the exam, I cannot stress this enough, you MUST do plenty of practise exam papers. But just stay committed. I would advise you to take maths as well, its usually compulsary if you do physics but make sure you do it. Also, do further maths as well, since there are modules in further maths known as mechanics which teaches you all the maths you need in physics, and overlaps with the physics courses quite nicely most of the time. The reason for this is that GCSE is usually 50/50 on theory and maths, A level ranges from 75-80% maths, but the maths requires good understanding of the theory in order to do it, you get 4-6 marks on one maths sub question sometimes. I did further maths, and it's probably one of the best descisions Ive ever made.
Hope this helpsLast edited by kennz; 11-06-2016 at 23:39.