A Level Physics

 

What is it about at sixth form level?

According to Rutherford, discoverer of the proton, physics is the only real science and the rest are just stamp- collecting. Whilst a good many would baulk at so blunt a statement, it is easy to understand his thinking. It is the physicist who examines reality at its most fundamental level and with the greatest breadth: from sub-atomic particles to the galaxies and ultimately the universe itself. In the 20th century, these two extremes have led to quantum physics and general relativity and today the search continues for a grand theory of everything to unite them in a single theoretical framework.

An A level in Physics will introduce you to key areas of the subject that reflect its depth and range. You will consider Newtonian classical mechanics and modern cosmological phenomena, such as star formation, Hubble’s law and the Big Bang theory. You will look at fields, waves and particles and the puzzling behaviour of the world of the very small. We also study some practical applications of physics, such as electric circuits and medical physics. Physics presents challenges to fascinate the inquiring mind and it is an extremely rewarding subject to study. You should be aware that it is a highly conceptual subject and not one to be taken lightly.

Lower sixth

In the first year, you will cover four modules. In Module 1 (Development of Practical Skills in Physics) you will learn how to plan and implement experiments and how to analyse and evaluate the results. Module 2 (Foundations of Physics) covers physical quantities and units, how to make measurements and analyse data and the nature of quantities. Module 3 (Forces and Motion) looks at motion, forces in action, work, energy and power, materials and Newton’s laws of motion and momentum. Finally, in Module 4 (Electrons, Waves and Photons), you will look at charge and current, energy, power and resistance, electrical circuits, waves and quantum physics.

Upper sixth

In the second year, you will study two more modules. Module 5 (Newtonian World and Astrophysics) covers thermal physics, circular motion, oscillations, gravitational fields and astrophysics. In Module 6 (Particles and Medical Physics), you will look at capacitors, electric fields, electromagnetism, medical imaging, and nuclear and particle physics.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

An A level in Physics is a prerequisite for studying the subject at university level and for studying related subjects such as Engineering. It also prepares you for broader natural science courses. However, A level Physics is often chosen by many students who go on to study seemingly unrelated degrees, such as Finance or Economics. By studying it, you will develop the ability to understand abstract models and use them to solve problems in real life, skills that are highly regarded by many kinds of employers. You will develop the practical skills necessary to carry out experiments and how to analyse and evaluate the results. You will become able to write clearly and precisely using appropriate technical vocabulary.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

You should have at least a B grade in both GCSE Physics and Mathematics. In addition to decent algebraic skills, you will also need good writing skills as you will have to explain and describe complex situations.

How is the course assessed?

AS level

Students studying for the AS will sit two papers on Modules 1-4 at the end of the first year. Paper 1 (Breadth in Physics) covers Modules 1-4 and has a multiple choice section, followed by structured questions, covering theory and practical skills. Paper 2 (Depth in Physics) covers Modules 1-4 too and has structured questions and extended response questions covering theory and practical skills. Both papers are worth 50% of the AS and last 1 hour 30 minutes each.

A level

Students studying for the A level will sit three papers on Modules 1-6 at the end of the second year. Paper 1 (Modelling Physics) covers Modules 1, 2, 3 and 5. Paper 2 (Exploring Physics) covers Modules 1, 2, 4 and 6. In both papers, at least 15% of the question paper assessment covers knowledge and understanding of practical skills. 40% of the question paper assessment covers mathematical skills. Paper 3 (Unified Physics) covers Modules 1-6 and contains short answer questions and extended response questions. Papers 1 and 2 are worth 37% of the A level and last 2 hours 15 minutes each. Paper 3 is worth 26% and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes. 

Practical assessments no longer contribute to the final grade at A Level. However, students must complete a minimum of 12 practical activities to demonstrate practical competence. Performance is reported separately to the A Level grade and will be marked as either pass or fail.

Reading

A Level Physics A for OCR Year 1
By G. Bone et al
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0198352174

A Level Physics A for OCR Year 2
By G. Bone et al
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0198357667

Six Easy Pieces
By R. Feynman
Published by Basic Books, ISBN 978-0465025275

The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About It
By S. Singh
Published by Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0007152520

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR-A H156, A level: OCR-A H556 (reformed)

 

Rob Stanley
Head of Department