What is A/AS Level Physics?
What can physicists tell us about our bodies, our world, or the universe we inhabit? How do ultrasound scanners or fibre optic communications work? What did Isaac Newton have to do with landing a space probe on a comet? How did physicists at CERN develop PET scanners used in cancer diagnosis? These are just a few of the many questions addressed in the A-level Physics course. We look at the nature and behaviour of matter from the subatomic scale to that of the universe itself.
To understand all this, of course, we have to study principles of mechanics, electricity and magnetism, optics and waves, photons and quantum phenomena. You will need an enquiring mind and an ability to cope with mathematics. The analytical and numerical skills you gain will be useful in a wide variety of careers, including architecture, engineering (structural, mechanical, aeronautical, electronic, sound…), medicine (radiology, optometry, dentistry…) materials science, meteorology, satellite imagery, consultancy, finance, and many more.
The one-year AS Level covers 4 specific areas of physics:
- Practical Skills in physics (laboratory-assessed)
- Foundations of Physics (quantities & units, measurement & analysis)
- Forces and Motion (motion & projectiles, forces & work, energy & power, momentum & collisions)
- Electrons, Waves and Photons (charge & current, energy & power, resistance & circuits; wave behaviour, interference & stationary waves, photons, electrons & quantum physics)
As well as continuing to develop Practical Skills (Centre Assessed component), two more modules complete the two year A-level course:
- The Newtonian World and Astrophysics (thermal physics & ideal gases, oscillations & circular motion, gravitation & planetary motion, stars, stellar distance & cosmology)
- Particle and Medical Physics (capacitors and electric fields, magnetic fields & electromagnetism, behaviour of charged particles in fields, nuclear atom, radioactivity, fission & fusion, fundamental particles; medical imaging & diagnosis using X-rays , PET scans, ultrasound and more)
For A-level students, exams will be taken at the end of the two year course, with an option to take AS at the end of year 12. However, an AS no longer counts as part of a full A-level.
How will I learn?
The A Level Physics course provides a distinctive structure to allow students to learn about fundamental physical concepts and about physics in everyday and technological settings.
The course is supported by a range of resources on Moodle, the college VLE; and extensive use is made of computers within our laboratories. Resources will include questions, images, displays and texts to read, as well as video clips and interactive animations, virtual experiments and quizzes; all designed to help you grasp the fundamental physics concepts. To make full use of this, you will need a computer at home with a fast internet connection. There is also a textbook which accompanies and supports the course; a new edition will be published to go with the revised course from 2015. A typical week may include a class experiment, working on material stored on CD or moodle, discussion & development of ideas and research into applications, as well as practice questions in class and for homework.
The amount of homework for both AS and A Level will be about 4 hours per week. The style of homework will include experiment reports, numerical questions, and research. Students will be expected to take increasing responsibility to work independently outside lessons.
How will I be assessed?
Assessment will be by means of written exams at the end of each course. Students will also gain a Practical Endorsement based on skills developed and demonstrated during the A-level course. The table below details the percentage weighting of each assessment in the overall A level.
|Assessment||AS (Year 1)||A Level (Year 2)|
|Paper 1||90 mins (50%)||135 mins (37%)|
|Paper 2||90 mins (50%)||135 mins (37%)|
|Paper 3||90 mins (26%)|
Practical Endorsement is Centre Assessed
To achieve a Practical Endorsement you will undertake a range of experiments to display your competency in:
- Following procedures
- Applying an investigative approach when using instruments and equipment
- Working safely
- Making and recording observations
- Researching, referencing and reporting
Physics is an excellent qualification, well thought of by employers. It is an essential subject for a wide range of degree courses in Science and Engineering. The career possibilities are extensive ranging from industrial and scientific research through management, business and finance, to medicine and education.
Some of our past students:
Gina –studying Engineering at Cambridge University
James – studying Mathematics at Oxford University
Grace – studying Biomedical Engineering at King’s College London
Ben – studying Mathematics at Leeds University
Mary – studying Structural Engineering and Architecture at Sheffield University
Alex – studying Electronics at York University
Amelia – studying Physics at Southampton University
It is essential that you have gained at least grade B in Higher Tier Maths and a B in Physics or Double Science GCSE. Most students will take Maths AS/A Level alongside Physics. Students studying for Physics A-level should normally have achieved an average GCSE point score of 5.5 or above and at least a grade C in English.
In common with all subjects, at A Level there is a significant leap in the intellectual demands made on you and in the expectations of the staff teaching you. This is particularly true in Physics where the use of mathematics increases. You will succeed if you are motivated to work consistently and give your studies the time and energy they require.
Essential: approximately £40 anticipated for new textbook and CDROM. All students will be expected to provide their own textbook and revision guide, stationery and calculators.
Optional: we organise visits to a number of venues, this year including Diamond Light near Oxford and CERN in Switzerland. Cost may range from £10 for a day trip to £300 for a CERN residential course.
If the costs of equipment, materials and trips may cause you financial hardship, you may wish to read through details of the financial support scheme on our website.