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Considering Physics GCSE or A Level? Read our FAQ here! watch

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    Physics: the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy.

    This subject is usually compulsory at GCSE level - but what should you expect from the physics course? Here, we will answer all of the FAQ regarding GCSE and A Level, giving you an insight into what's studied and whether it's right for you.




    GCSE


    What is the workload like?
    Physics is a science subject, so is a little more "involved" than some others, but the workload isn't much different from that of any other GCSE. You should expect to have to recall facts and understand concepts.

    What sort of topics will I be studying?
    This varies from exam board to exam board - find yours below and see what you'll be learning about!
    AQA
    Energy
    Electricity
    Particle model of matter
    Atomic structure
    Forces
    Waves
    Magnetism and electromagnetism
    Space physics - only if you're doing triple science!

    Edexcel
    Motion and forces
    Conservation of energy
    Waves
    Light and the electromagnetic spectrum
    Radioactivity
    Astronomy
    Energy - forces doing work
    Forces and their effects
    Electricity and circuits
    Static electricity
    Magnetism and the motor effect
    Electromagnetic induction
    Particle model
    Forces and matter

    OCR Gateway
    Matter
    Forces
    Electricity
    Magnetism and magnetic fields
    Waves in matter
    Radioactivity
    Energy
    Global challenges

    OCR Twenty First Century
    Radiation and waves
    Sustainable energy
    Electric circuits
    Explaining motion
    Radioactive materials
    Matter - models and explanations
    Ideas about science

    WJEC
    Electricity
    Energy
    Waves
    Forces
    Space
    Radioactivity

    How will I be assessed?
    Again, varies between exam boards!
    AQA
    You will sit 2 papers, both 1 hour 45 minutes long, out of 100 marks and worth 50% of the GCSE each.
    Paper 1 covers Energy, Electricity, Particle model of matter and Atomic structure. It consists of multiple choice, structured, closed short answer and open response questions.
    Paper 2 covers Forces, Waves, Magnetism and electromagnetism, and Space physics. It consists of multiple choice, structured, closed short answer and open response questions.

    Edexcel
    You will sit 2 papers, both 1 hour 45 minutes long, out of 100 marks and worth 50% of the GCSE each.
    Paper 1 covers Motion and forces, Conservation of energy, Waves, Light and the electromagnetic spectrum, Radioactivity and Astronomy. It consists of a mixture of different question styles, including multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, calculations and extended open-response questions.
    Paper 2 covers Energy - forces doing work, Forces and their effects, Electricity and circuits, Static electricity, Magnetism and the motor effect, Electromagnetic induction, Particle model and Forces and matter. It consists of a mixture of different question styles, including multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, calculations and extended open-response questions.

    OCR Gateway
    You will sit 2 papers, both 1 hour 45 minutes long, out of 90 marks and worth 50% of the GCSE each.
    Paper 1 covers Matter, Forces, Electricity and Magnetism and magnetic fields.
    Paper 2 covers Waves in matter, Radioactivity, Energy and Global challenges.

    OCR Twenty First Century
    You will sit 2 papers, both 1 hour 45 minutes long, out of 90 marks and worth 50% of the GCSE each. Both papers assess content from all 8 chapters.

    WJEC
    You will sit 2 papers, both 1 hour 45 minutes long, out of 80 marks and worth 45% of the GCSE each. The other 10% is made up of the practical assessment.
    Paper 1 covers Electricity, Energy and Waves. It consists of a mix of short answer questions, structured questions, extended writing and data response questions with some set in a practical context.
    Paper 2 covers Forces, Space and Radioactivity. It consists of a mix of short answer questions, structured questions, extended writing and data response questions with some set in a practical context.

    Do I need to be good at maths to be good at physics?
    There is maths involved in physics - particularly with things to do with forces - but these will usually just be basic formulas that need numbers putting in to them. Some of the things you'll need to be able to do are rearrange formulas, round correctly and be able to multiply and divide accurately. So don't worry, if maths isn't your strong point then you're not doomed with physics!

    Will I get to do practicals?
    Yes. In fact, you have to do practical work. You will have around 8 or 9 required practicals (AQA have 10, Edexcel have 8, OCR have 8) that you have to do in class and then report your findings afterwards. For some exam boards (namely OCR) you will be assessed on practical skills in your exams at the end of Year 11 (and for WJEC this will be more in the style of coursework that is later submitted to the exam board).

    What is physics useful for post-GCSE?
    GCSE Physics is usually mandatory in schools, whether you take it separately from chemistry and biology, or if you take a combined qualification like Science, Combined Science or Additional Science. You will need a good pass at GCSE to get onto an A Level Physics course and some level 3 BTECs that involve science. The grade needed is usually around a grade 6 but this varies between sixth forms/colleges.




    A Level


    How is A Level Physics different to GCSE?
    The main difference, as with any A Level, is that the work will be mainly self-directed. Your teachers won't spoon-feed you everything you need to know and you'll be expected to do a lot of the work yourself. And then of course the content is different - and the required practicals are now standalone as part of the Practical Endorsement.

    What's the workload like?
    HUGE. Physics is definitely not an easy subject by any means, so be prepared to dedicate an awful lot of time to it! Expect to be revising for small class tests regularly, as these count as revision! You will have to thoroughly learn the content - memorising won't get you far anymore sadly!

    What sort of topics will I be studying?
    This varies from exam board to exam board - find yours below and see what you'll be learning about!
    AQA
    Particles and radiation (AS and A Level)
    Waves (AS and A Level)
    Mechanics and Materials (AS and A Level)
    Electricity (AS and A Level)
    Further Mechanics and Thermal Physics (A Level only)
    Fields and their consequences (A Level only)
    Nuclear Physics (A Level only)
    Option A: Astrophysics (A Level only)*
    Option B: Medical Physics (A Level only)*
    Option C: Engineering Physics (A Level only)*
    Option D: Turning Points in Physics (A Level only)*
    Option E: Electronics (A Level only)*

    *you will only enter for one of these options. This is usually decided by either your physics department, teachers or a class vote.

    Edexcel
    Mechanics
    Electric Circuits
    Further Mechanics
    Electric and Magnetic Fields
    Nuclear and Particle Physics
    Materials
    Waves and Particle Nature of Light
    Thermodynamics
    Space
    Nuclear Radiation
    Gravitational Fields
    Oscillations

    OCR
    Forces and motion
    Electrons, waves and photons
    Newtonian world and astrophysics
    Particles and medical physics

    WJEC
    Motion, Energy and Matter
    Electricity and Light
    Oscillations and Nuclei (A Level only)
    Fields (A Level only)
    Option A: Alternating Currents (A Level only)*
    Option B: Medical Physics (A Level only)*
    Option C: The Physics of Sports (A Level only)*
    Option D: Energy and the Environment (A Level only)*

    *you will only enter for one of these options. This is usually decided by either your physics department, teachers or a class vote.

    How will I be assessed?
    Again, this depends on your exam board...
    AQA
    At AS (if entered) you will sit two papers that are 1 hour 30 minutes long, are out of 70 marks and worth 50% of the AS each.
    They will both cover all AS content (Particles and radiation, waves, mechanics and materials, electricity). Paper 1 will consist of short and long answer questions, and Paper 2 will consist of 20 marks of short and long answer questions on practical skills and data analysis, 20 marks of short and long answer
    questions from across all areas of AS content, and 30 marks of multiple choice questions.

    At A Level, you will sit three papers that are two hours long and are worth roughly a third of the A Level each. Papers 1 and 2 are out of 85 marks, whereas Paper 3 is out of 80.
    Paper 1 covers particles and radiation, waves, mechanics and materials, electricity and periodic motion. It consists of 60 marks of short and long
    answer questions and 25 multiple choice questions on content.
    Paper 2 covers thermal physics, fields and their consequences, and nuclear physics, and knowledge of the other topics is assumed. It consists of 60 marks of short and long answer questions and 25 multiple choice questions on content.
    Paper 3 is split into two sections. Section A covers practical skills and data analysis, and Section B is the optional section - you will enter for one of Astrophysics, Medical Physics, Engineering Physics, Turning Points in Physics and Electronics. The paper consists of 45 marks of short and long answer questions on practical experiments and data analysis, and 35 marks of short and long answer questions on optional topic.

    Edexcel
    At A Level, you will sit three papers. Papers 1 and 2 are 1 hour 45 minutes long, out of 90 marks and worth 30% of the A Level each, and Paper 3 is 2 hours 30 minutes long, out of 120 marks and worth 40% of the A Level.
    Paper 1 covers Mechanics, Electric Circuits, Further Mechanics, Electric and Magnetic Fields, and Nuclear and Particle Physics. It consists of short open, open-response, calculations and extended writing questions.
    Paper 2 covers Materials, Waves and Particle Nature of Light, Thermodynamics, Space, Nuclear Radiation, Gravitational Fields and Oscillations. It consists of short open, open-response, calculations and extended writing questions.
    Paper 3 includes questions that may draw on any of the topics in the specification. The paper will include synoptic questions that may draw on two or more different topics. The paper will include questions that assess conceptual and theoretical understanding of experimental methods (indirect practical skills) that will draw on students’ experiences of the core practicals.

    OCR
    At A Level, you will sit three papers. Papers 1 and 2 are 2 hours 15 minutes long, out of 100 marks and are worth 37% of the A Level each, and Paper 3 is 1 hour 30 minutes long, out of 70 marks and worth 26% of the A Level.
    Paper 1 covers Forces and Motion, and Newtonian world and astrophysics. It consists of 15 marks of multiple choice questions, and 85 marks of short answer question styles (structured questions, problem solving, calculations, practical) and extended response questions.
    Paper 2 covers Electrons, waves and photons, and particles and medical physics. It consists of 15 marks of multiple choice questions, and 85 marks of short answer question styles (structured questions, problem solving, calculations, practical) and extended response questions.
    Paper 3 covers content from all modules. It consists of short answer (structured
    questions, problem solving, calculations, practical) and extended response questions.

    WJEC
    At AS (if entered) you will sit 2 papers that are 1 hour 30 minutes long, out of 80 marks and worth 50% of the AS Level each.
    Paper 1 covers Motion, Energy and Matter, and consists of a mix of short answer and extended answer structured questions with some set in a practical context.
    Paper 2 covers Electricity and Light, and consists of a mix of short answer and extended answer structured questions with some set in a practical context.

    At A Level, you will sit the same two papers as above, plus an additional two.
    Paper 3 covers Oscillations and Nuclei, is 2 hours 15 minutes long, is out of 100 marks and is worth 25% of the A Level. It consists of 80 marks of a mix of short answer and extended answer structured questions with some set in a practical context, and a 20 mark comprehension question.
    Paper 4 covers Fields and the optional topic, is 2 hours long, out of 100 marks and worth 25% of the A Level. It consists of 80 marks of a mix of short answer and extended answer structured questions with some set in a practical context, and a 20 mark comprehension question, and 20 marks of questions on the optional topic.

    What is the Practical Endorsement?
    The assessment of practical skills is a compulsory requirement of the course of study for A level Physics. It will appear on all students’ certificates as a separately reported result, alongside the overall grade for the qualification.
    Students must carry out a minimum of 12 practical activities, which vary from exam board to exam board. Students who demonstrate the required standard across all the requirements will receive a ‘pass’ grade. Students may work in groups but teachers who award a pass to their students need to be confident of individual students’ competence. Schools will be visited to observe practicals taking place, so be aware of this!

    If I fail the Practical Endorsement does that mean I fail my A Level?
    Nope! The Practical Endorsement is completely separate from the A Level, and will be recorded as a 'pass' or a 'fail'. If you pass the Practical Endorsement you can still fail the A Level, and vice versa. Note: to study a science subject at many universities, you need to pass the Practical Endorsement. To check whether this applies to you, check the entry requirements of the course you wish to study.

    Do I need to be doing A Level Maths to do A Level Physics?
    It is not a requirement, but it is recommended. Physics at A Level becomes a bit more maths-heavy, so having a good ability will help you out. However if you really detest maths but want to study Physics you don't have to rule it out

    What is it useful for post-A Level?
    Loads of things! Physics will set you up very nicely for a degree in any scientific field - not just Physics. It's also useful if you don't wish to go down the degree route, as you'll gain a lot from the course and learn about how the world works!
 
 
 
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