Vary where you study and see how much more you learn

It goes without saying that you need a distraction free environment to study physics on your own. Sometimes at your desk at home is not the best place. Here a few alternative suggestions.

1. Your local library. These somewhat neglected places are perfect for quiet study. The atmosphere is really conducive for work.
2. Stay after school and use your own schools library. What’s the rush to go home!
3. Sit in a coffee shop and work. As long as you buy stuff these places are perfect. This is quite normal in Singapore!
4. Use a train journey. This may be not that practical but I as a teacher find a half hour journey into London perfect for marking a set of work.
5. A park bench. Finding an open space such as a park or tow path is perfect for some gentle reading. Most people read novels but take your physics textbook instead. Leave your phone behind and you will be amazed at how much you learn.

If you have any other suggestions then please let me know by commenting.

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Buy yourself some decent A level Physics text books

You are literally spoilt for choice when it comes to A level Physics resources.

In my opinion you should not fall into the following traps.

1. Use a revision guide as your main textbook. I see this all the time. I won’t say it but in one word the education system has been taken over with ‘see pee gee’. In many cases this type of book is too simple for you to read around the subject. I doubt these books will allow you access to the higher grades. They may however delude you into thinking in this way.
2. Be limited by examination board course specific textbooks. E.g ‘exclusively endorsed AQA Physics’. These books although good focus too much on what you just need to know. What’s wrong with that then? Nothing really but to get really good grades you need to read more generally. You are studying physics not examination board physics. You need to approach the topics from different angles using different textbooks.

My advice would be to visit a large book store. Foyles in London is great or any large Waterstones will do. Go to the school science section and find the A level Physics books. Spend time flicking through the general textbooks. These will vary greatly from thick with no pictures to thick with a few pictures. If you can afford it buy three of them all a bit different. These books will be invaluable for your study.

Things to look for in an A Level Physics Textbook

In my opinion these things make for a good A level Physics textbook.

1. Only one author – sometimes they are written by a couple or more which could signify an old textbook with a few add ons to make it modern and fit into 2014 specifications.
2. Plenty of questions. A level Maths has the advantage of having text books with loads of questions in them. In Physics we are not as fortunate. You need to find a text book with a goodly amount of questions in them.
3. Answers given but not just numerical answers. Text books have the habit of giving answers with no workings out. The very thing we criticise students for. Unfortunately these answers in the back of books are sometimes wrong destroying the confidence of some students.
4. Plenty of description and clearly labelled diagrams. If you are to truly understand physics you need it explained to you clearly. A few chatty sentences won’t do much for your understanding.
5. This is perhaps not too essential and maybe just a thing of mine. In suggests practically the book should give the correct values to use. For instance a circuit diagram showing a resistor and capacitor is not much use unless it states for example you need a 100 Ohm capacitor.

I’m sure there are more than this. Please comment with what you like to see in a textbook.

Highlighted examiners report overview for OCR Physics A January 2013

You can learn a lot from Examiners reports.

Most Centres have once again made excellent use of past papers, marking schemes and previous examiners’ reports. The quality of analytical work at both AS and A2 levels showed marginal improvement.

Rearranging of equations continues to be an obstacle for some AS candidates. The recall of definitions continues to be a problem for a significant number of candidates across the ability spectrum. There was not much improvement in the quality of written answers. A significant number of candidates showed a poor comprehension of technical terms. As mentioned in previous reports, candidates must closely examine questions before answering. Using bullet points should also help candidates focus on sequencing ideas in a logical manner.

Centres are reminded that copies of the Data, Formulae and Relationships Booklets are despatched to Centres with the general stationery prior to the examination series.

Examination Officers should ensure that copies of this booklet are available for candidates in the examination. All examination scripts are scanned electronically before being marked by examiners. Most candidates wrote their answers within the scanned zones for each question.

As always, experienced teams of Examiners provided accurate and efficient marking of the four theory papers.

Some great online Physics resources

These resources are not necessarily are a mixed bag. Students, parents and teachers will benefit from these. Just spend a little time having a look at each of them.

Phet Simulations – these are amazing simulations for many of the physics experiments you do in class.

Tap Physics – lots of lessons for teachers, lots of questions for A levels students.

School Physics – lots of guides, questions for KS3, KS4 and A level.

Practical Physics – methods for every physics experiment going – lots of information here for all.

TED talks – just search for Physics and you will find some amazing talks.

STEM – you will find so many resources here. all old sources have been archived for you pleasure. All old Nuffield physics courses have been scanned for instance.

I have deliberately avoided the general revision sites that pop up in google when you search for ‘revise physics’

If you know of  a website that will benefit others then please add it in the comment section.

The Truth about A level Physics

This post is for anyone that has just decided to study physics at A level. Can I at this stage say well done. It’s a fantastic A level and will look really good if in two years you get a good grade in the subject. It is worth reading the points below before you start. These are based on fifteen years of teaching A level Physics to a whole mixture of classes of differing ability.

Here we go!

1. Physics is a tough A level and a rigorous approach is needed.
2. You need to be truly interested and passionate about the subject to excel and get a great grade at the end of two years of study.
3. Don’t use a revision guide such as CGP as your main text book. In my opinion you need to buy three good quality thick textbooks to allow you to read around the subject. Take a trip to a huge book store and spend time feeling them, reading them and flicking through them before you buy. Unfortunately I see students being over reliant on revision guides which quite simply do not go deep enough.
4. You need to be mathematical able. You don’t actually need to take a level maths to study physics but experience would tell me that students who do generally do better. If you don’t choose maths as one of your a levels then you will have to just work a bit harder.
5. Physics A level will open doors for you and is highly regarded by top universities and employers.
6. Physics is really interesting but you will hit dry topics that involve learning quite a lot of description. Medical imaging for instance is one such example.
7. Practical work in physics tends to be over more quickly than in the other sciences. You will rarely get a physics experiment to last all lesson. Sometimes practical work isn’t too convincing. Often a decent teacher demonstration is better.
8. You will not get well taught all the time. Teaching is hard and generally teachers won’t be able to do an excellent lesson every time you see them.
9. You have to be prepared to put the work in to get the results. Lessons can only give you a flavour of the subject. The rest is down to you!
10. You will find the first month or so hard going. Work hard and if you have a test then try to get as much information before hand as you can.

Please add to the list by commenting.

Controversial new grading system proposal

I’ll keep this short

1. The mark you get is the raw score I.e 45/60.
2. You will be given the exact percentage you achieved.
3. The percentage grade boundaries never change year in year.
4. Next to the grade you get in brackets the percentage of extra time you had in that examination.
5. You are given a sequence of plusses or a minuses to indicate how close you were to the next boundary up or the next boundary down.

E.g

Physics GCSE

45/80 56% D grade (25%) +

This way there is no quibbles. There is lots of information. It may hurt but I think we need to be honest.

I realise this would never happen by the way.