A Level Physics – A Tough Yet Fascinating Subject
Physics is defined as “the study of how things work. It can explain the mysteries of gravity, electricity, magnetism and nuclear power.” It is truly a fascinating subject – one that combines both the fields of Maths and Science to help us discover more about our physical world. It is no wonder that many students in Singapore have opted to take up Physics as part of their A Level subject combination. This article will give you an overview of the A Level Physics syllabus and top result-proven tips to score well, brought to you by our top A Level Physics tutors.
The jump from O Level to A Level Physics is a very intense one. As with Chemistry, the O Level Physics syllabus provides a good introduction and foundation to the subject, and A Level Physics is where the going gets tough. The topics and calculations are far more complex than the former, and students are finding concepts incredibly difficult to understand. It is not common that the sometimes seemingly impossible questions in their JC Physics papers leave students demoralised, resulting in them turning to private A Level Physics Tuition for assistance.
Why study Physics though? Despite its difficulty level, students choose to take up Physics because it is an intriguing subject that is intertwined with Mathematical elements. Hence, students who are strong in Maths tend to stir up an interest for this Science. As compared to Chemistry and Biology, less memorisation is required as well, but the subject tests you heavily on application skills and needs a lot more logical reasoning to score well. Studying Physics at the A Levels also opens up a wide variety of career choices to pursue – engineering, computer sciences, robotics, and even medicine. If you find yourself being passionate in Physics, you could possibly even aspire to become a scientist, physicist or astronaut, just like Sheldon and his friends from the Big Bang Theory! A Level Physics is a prerequisite to most of courses relating to the above (eg. courses at NTU or SUTD), so do take note of these prerequisites for your desired degree course before making your decision.
Tip 1: Understanding your Content Thoroughly
Students are able to take up A Level Physics at H1 or H2 (and H3) level, depending on their level of interests in Physics, as well as their current Physics and Maths calibre. H1 and H3 levels are the most basic and advanced levels respectively, with H3 being offered to H2 Physics students at the end of JC1 if they have done well. H1 and H2 Physics cover around the same level of depth in their concepts, but the H2 syllabus covers additional topics on top of those covered in H1 syllabus. H1 Physics also excludes the Practical portion of the examination, with only 2 theory papers for the students to take at the A Levels.
As observed, H1 Physics excludes certain topics (and even whole sections!) and thus, students who decide to take up Physics at H1 Level can spend more time refining their content. However, do not expect the questions to be any easier, as the difficulty level of questions remains the same across. Some JCs have also given a guideline on necessary prerequisites for each subject, so do take your O Level subjects (whether Pure / Combined sciences) as well as your final scores to realistically determine if you are up for the challenge of taking up H2 Physics in JC. CJC has recommended for students to have a “reasonably good knowledge and understanding of (O Level) Pure Physics” (noted that they stated Pure instead of Combined), as well as a “distinction in (O Level) Additional Mathematics” in order to take up H2 Physics comfortably. If you are a struggling O Level student, engage a Private Tutor from MindFlex to ensure that you have a good foundation in your O Level Physics and A Maths. JC Physics tutors have advised students to take these criteria seriously and use it to compare against your scores to form a good gauge on whether H2 Physics might be a good subject for you to consider or not. Of course, the study of H2 Physics also requires a level of interest and an inquisitive mind, so do be mindful of that too!
The first step to scoring well for your A Level Physics is getting grounded in your topics and concepts. Make sure that you pay attention during lectures and tutorials, and that you consistently do your assignments to ensure that you know your work well. Enrol into JC Physics tuition early – this would help you to clear up your doubts and misconceptions early, before the topics start to snowball. A Level Physics has been known to be extremely difficult, and students find it hard to understand concepts at all, let alone attempt to solve any practice questions successfully. Page 30-31 of the SEAB A Level Physics syllabus also lists out the Mathematical Requirements that you need to have mastered, in order to tackle A Level Physics questions. One can expect to see the integration of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, vectors, graphs in the A Level Physics questions. Engaging both A Level Maths and Physics tutors can not only help you to get a better grip of your concepts outside of school time, but also better help you to see the link between the 2 courses of study. Your personal Physics tutor will help to make sure that you are grasping your formulas and calculations correctly for quantitative parts of the subject, as well as get your theories and concepts right for the more qualitative segments.
Tip 2: Practise and Learn How to Apply Concepts well
JC Physics tutors will next advise that you familiarise yourself well with the A Level Physics examination format. Below are the formats of both H1/H2 Physics; do take note where applicable.
There are 3 Assessment Objectives (AO) in the A Level Physics examination, 2 of which are applicable to both H1/H2 syllabi. They are namely:
1. Knowledge with Understanding
2. Handling, Applying and Evaluating Information
3. Experimental Skills and Investigations (only applicable to H2 Physics, Practical component)
Once you have gotten your concepts seated well on solid grounds, AO1 has been fulfilled. Next, you would need to learn how to hone your application and evaluation skills in order to be able to answer examination questions correctly. This is where the help of a private JC Physics tutor will come in greatly. After reaching the stage of memorising their formulas well, students are often stuck here as they are not able to identify what formulas and concepts to use. They get completely lost just by looking at the question, and have no idea where or how to start. This can be very frustrating and this proves that understanding your concepts well is hardly enough. Your tutor will be able to help you highlight vital information which will direct you on your first step of the solution, and in turn be able to apply the right theories and formulas correctly. With more practice, students will be able to identify these “clues” more easily by themselves. Your tutor will be able to guide you through the working steps and calculations, as well as the necessary key words required in your answers for the qualitative questions. As this is not a language paper, JC Physics tutors often remind their students to use short sentences to answer concisely and straight to the point.
A list of limited data and formulae will be given in the exam, but do try to know these at the back of your head so that you can focus on the questions at hand. Familiarise yourself with the kind of questions that will make use of each formula, and your tutor can further teach you on how to manipulate these formulas to suit the questions’ requirements. Some questions may also provide a lot of necessary information to distract and confuse you in picking out the right data. With enough practice through JC Physics tuition, you will be able to pick out the correct and numbers that are relevant to the correct solution. Also ensure that you convert and apply the correct base / SI units consistently throughout each question to avoid these unnecessary careless mistakes!
Like Maths, Physics requires a lot of calculation usage, so it is very important that you clock in as much hours of practice as possible. Approach your personal JC Physics tutor to request for topical practices to ensure that you have a good grasp of each one. After that, you can move on to attempting past year papers from other JCs as well as the Ten Year Series to get yourself prepared for the actual A Level examination. All these materials can be provided by your tutor from his/her bank of resources. It is also important that you practise your Physics questions under the pressure of time – you will eventually pick up on the speed of question analysis, then punching your calculator and solving those Physics exam questions.
Tip 3. JC Physics – A Practical Subject
The essence of the field of Physics is that it is grounded on practical applications and experiments. As such, Paper 4 (the combination of the previously known “SPA exam” and Paper 2’s Planning Question) has been included as a practical component in the A Level examination for H2 Physics candidates. The objective of this practical component is to hone students’ investigative and experimental skills and to supplement their theory knowledge. Being able to bring these concepts into real-life experiments would also showcase that you know your work well!
Paper 4 typically covers topics such as Electricity, Heat and Mechanics in the tested experiments, so do familiarise yourself with the common Physics lab apparatus relevant to each topic! Common experiments involve timing the momentum of pendulums, recording temperature changes and measuring electrical charges. The first primary skills that students will be tested on is their ability to set up the apparatus safely to make their observations. Do not be nervous while handling the equipment, showcase confidence as you record your observations, take measurements, and collect the data accurately. While recording your data neatly in a table, also ensure you use the correct units to an appropriate accuracy (number of Decimal Places or Significant Figures). Do consult your personal JC Physics tutor on how to determine this.
Next, you will need to be able to present your data by plotting a graph. State your axes clearly, and also take tips from your tutor on what scale to work with to best plot your data points. Following this, students need to be able to draw the best-fit-line that corresponds with their data points, and calculate the gradient of this hand-drawn line. Students tend to have trouble with this step, as they often get nervous in determining the best-fit-line. A slight change in angle can change their gradient drastically, and in turn affect their calculations (Logarithms is often used) and end results. Again, consult your personal JC Physics tutors to gain practise and confidence on this step. Lastly, students will need to give an evaluation of any limitations to the method that they have used, and point out any possibilities for inaccuracies in their calculations. Suggest other methods to improve your experiment. The above is a typical Practical experimental question, and with much familiarisation and practice, this segment can be easily aced.
The next portion of Paper 4 that students fear is the assessment of Planning. The Planning Question, similar to the one in the A Level Chemistry paper, tests on students’ ability to design a logical and relevant experiment relating to the question given. Do make sure that you have the following elements in your experiment design in order to do well:
– Independent & Dependent variables
– Constant variable
– Draw the experiment setup and include clear labels of apparatus used
– Procedure and clear steps (eg. How data is measured and processed, etc.)
– Safety considerations and precautions
– Improvements to the experiment to improve clarity and feasibility
Once you have committed this framework to memory, you have already won half the battle of the Planning Question. Students often find this section challenging because they do not know how to approach the question in the first place nor how to design an experiment to solve the question’s requirements. With guidance and practice using the help of your personal JC Physics tutor, you will be able to ace this section in no time! All these Practical skills provide direct practice for physics-related careers which uses a lot of experimental work and data processing. This component will help to train your accuracy and precision in your work to minimise uncertainty as much as possible, as well as build up your estimation skills. Ultimately, students need to know their theoretical concepts first before being able to carry out these experimental applications, so do get your groundwork done first!
Tip 4: Make Personal Notes and Mind Maps to Help with Memorisation
A big tip that A Level Physics tutors often give is to get students to do up their own notes and mind maps to aid memorisation. At A Levels, juggling the content of 3H2+1H2 (or even 4H2) subjects is no easy feat. Students must find and adopt strategies that best fit their learning styles to help them memorise content most efficiently. Mind maps help students to organise their thought processes and information better, and thus aid with memory. Copy down all definitions and key formulas from each topic into a book, these are the basics that students cannot afford to waste marks on! By forming a good summary of each topic, students will be able to segment what is important, and thus able to get started on memorising early.
Tip 5: Seek Help ASAP from a Private JC Physics Tutor
Still finding difficulty in understanding your concepts well? JC Physics tutors are also able to help by sourcing some good videos and visualising software to help you picture them better. These work especially well with chapters with “invisible elements” like Forces, Waves, and Quantum Physics. Get a firm grip of your foundational knowledge ASAP, so that time with your tutor can be better spent on getting the hang of more advanced application questions.
Not quite getting some of the methods and steps that your Physics teacher used in school? Your private Physics tutor will be able to unpack those questions and show you that some questions are solvable via different methods which result in the same answer. Physics tuition is extremely beneficial as your tutor will be able to help you realise which methods work better for you, and which ones best suit your understanding.
The amount of practice needed to strengthen your understanding in Physics is detrimental, so do not hesitate to approach your tutor for the necessary materials. Your personal JC Physics tutor will be able to give you customised resources and question worksheets according to your weaknesses and to work them out together with you at a comfortable pace. He/she will also be able to help you recognise some hidden patterns and similarities across typical examination questions to get you familiarised with them. The personal and targeted attention provided by your tutor will ensure that your weak topics will be levelled with the rest of the others in no time!
Physics is a unique subject that requires high-level conceptional and critical thinking on problem solving. It is a captivating subject that forces us to think beyond what we can see, with the use of mathematical models. It is important to do well at the A Levels if one aspires to get into certain Science/Maths-related courses, so the biggest piece of advice would be to start early! Like Mathematics, there is no shortcut or easy way out, so there is no time to lose – engage a private A Level Physics tutor if you find yourself struggling. Contact us at MindFlex today to get connected with Singapore’s Best Physics Tutors, and we look forward to helping you achieve that A that you well deserve!
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