Physics remains one of the more ‘difficult’ subject choices at A-level due to the nature of the subject. The number of students choosing to study A-Level Physics is continuing to decline. Whether this is because of the nature of the course, or because of its reliance on maths, remains unknown.
Physics is important in society and it plays a key role in many of our day-to-day processes. It has also helped us to develop theories about our universe, time, matter and even energy. If you choose to study A-Level Physics, it will also allow you to consider the impact of social, individual, cultural and ethical issues in physics, such as around the use of nuclear power.
A specific arrangement of units is required for certification, made up of three AS-Level units and three A2 level units. You will study six units and the assessment for A-Level Physics is by coursework and exams. There is also a significant amount of practical assessment in the exams.
Over the course, you will undergo at least 360 guided learning hours over a two-year period. These guided learning hours are levels set by the government on how much time the tutor at your sixth form or college has to be present to give guidance (such as lectures, tutorials etc.) towards your award.
AQA offer two AS-level Physics award, AS-Level Physics A and AS-Level Physics B.
- AQA AS-Level Physics A
Particles, Quantum Phenomena and Electricity will allow you gain awareness of development of new ideas in Physics as well as developing understanding of well-established topics such as electricity. The Mechanics, Materials and Waves unit will allow you to develop knowledge of both the principles and applications of these key topics. Investigative and Practical Skills in AS Physics unit allows you to demonstrate your knowledge practically.
- AQA AS-Level Physics B: Physics in Context
The first unit Harmony and Structure in the Universe focuses on communication and the nature of audio information. The second unit, Physics Keeps Us Going focuses on force, motion and energy changes. Investigative and Practical Skills in AS Physics unit allows you to demonstrate your knowledge practically.
- Edexcel AS-Level Physics
The Physics on the go unit will allow you to study mechanics and materials. You will also explore how key principles apply to common examples. The Physics at Work Unit will explore waves, electricity and the wave/particle nature of light. The Exploring Physics will either be an experiment devised from a physics-based visit or a case study.
- WJEC AS-Level Physics
Motion, Energy and Charge will allow you to develop core knowledge of mechanics and electrical circuits. The Waves and Particles Unit will allow you to study waves, quantum physics, photons and particles in detail. The Practical Physics unit will allow you to use your acquired knowledge in a controlled experiment.
- CCEA AS-Level Physics
The unit Forces, Energy and Electricity will allow you to develop skills around physical quantities, scalar and vectors. You will also explore Newtonian mechanics and electricity. The second unit, Waves, Photons and Medical Physics will introduce quantum theory, wave-particle duality and medical physics. The Practical Techniques unit will allow you to use your knowledge and acquire data analysis and evaluation techniques in the laboratory.
- OCR AS-Level Physics
The first unit, Mechanics explores motion, work and energy and forces in action. The second unit, Electrons, Waves and Photons includes waves, electric current, resistance, DC circuits and quantum physics. The Practical Skills in Physics 1 will give you the opportunity to put your knowledge of the first two AS units into practice.
- University of Cambridge International Examinations AS-Level Physics
The AS-Level includes general physics, Newtonian mechanics, matter, oscillations and waves, electricity and magnetism and modern physics. Assessment of these is by exams and a practical assessment.
The A2 Physics is the equivalent of the second year of study of A-Level Physics. This is not a separate award. The A2 Physics with the AS-Level Physics makes up the A-Level Physics. The A2-Level Physics will further develop your knowledge from AS-Level Physics.
- AQA A2 Physics A
The Fields and Further Mechanics unit will build on your knowledge from the first unit of your AS level. Nuclear Physics, Thermal Physics and an Optional Topic will explore the characteristics of the nucleus and how energy is obtained. Thermal properties of materials and the nature and properties of gases are also explored. You then have the opportunity to study astronomy and cosmology, medical physics, applied physics or turning points in physics. The Investigative and Practical Skills in A2 physics will allow you to carry out investigations and experiments to demonstrate your practical skills.
- AQA A2 Physics B: Physics in Context
Physics Inside and Out explores how physics sends probes and astronauts into space and key ideas such as orbital motion and free-fall. Energy Under the Microscope explores how macroscopic quantities such as pressure and temperature are explained by matter. Investigative and Practical Skills in A2 Physics will assess your A2 knowledge practically.
- Edexcel A2 Physics
Physics on the Move will allow you to develop further knowledge of mechanics, electric and magnetic fields and particle physics. The Physics from Creation to Collapse unit focuses on astrophysics, cosmology, oscillations, nuclear decay and thermal energy. The Experimental Physics will allow you to plan, carry out and analyse your own experiment.
- WJEC A2 Physics
The Oscillations & Fields unit will develop your knowledge around momentum, circular motion and oscillations, molecular kinetic theory, internal energy and force fields. Electromagnetism, Nuclei & Options will explore capacitance in circuits, nuclear physics and fields such as B-fields and electromagnetic induction. The final unit is Experimental Physics, which assesses your A-Level knowledge.
- OCR A2 Physics
The first unit, The Newtonian World explores Newton’s laws and momentum, thermal physics and circular motion and oscillation. The second unit will give you the opportunity to develop knowledge of nuclear physics, exponential decay, electric and magnetic fields, medical imaging and modelling the universe. The Practical Skills in Physics 2 Unit will assess your A2 and AS Physics knowledge.
- CCEA A2 Physics
Momentum, Thermal Physics, Circular Motion, Oscillations and Atomic and Nuclear Physics will build on your AS knowledge and you will also explore atomic and particle physics. The second unit, Fields and their Applications explores action-at-a-distance forces and how these apply to daily life. The Practical Techniques unit will build on your skills acquired in your AS Practical Techniques unit allowing you to develop your practical skills further.
- University of Cambridge International Examinations A2 Physics
This will further develop your knowledge of AS content of general physics, Newtonian mechanics, matter, oscillations and waves, electricity and magnetism and modern physics.
A-Level Physics Exam Board Information
- The specification for the WJEC AS and A-Level Physics is available here.
- The CCEA AS-Level and A-Level Physics specification is available on their website.
- The Edexcel AS and A-Level Physics specification is available from their website.
- The specification for the OCR AS and A-Level Physics is available here.
- University of Cambridge International Examinations A-Level Physics specification is available on their website.
Most people study A-Level Physics so that they can study Physics at University. A number of students will also wish to become Physics teachers and there are incentives available in this career path. A-Level Physics may be a requirement if you want to apply for Medicine, Veterinary Sciences, Radiography, Pharmacy or Physiotherapy. A-Level Physics may also be required for other health and medical professions, such as Nursing.
You may also find A-Level Physics helpful if you are wishing to study subjects such as Maths or Maths-based subjects, such as Computer Science or Engineering. Whatever your career choice, by studying A-Level Physics, you are able to demonstrate to both university admissions tutors and employers that you have excellent analytical and problem solving skills. You will also have developed strong IT and Maths skills.
Other Useful Information
- Edexcel past papers and exemplar materials are available on their website.
- Past papers are available on the CCEA website.
- OCR past papers and other resources are available on their website.
- University of Cambridge International Examinations A-Level Physics question papers are available here.
- The Antonine Education website has a variety of Physics resources.
- The Leonardo Project has a variety of interactive resources designed for the AQA awards.
- Other A-Level Physics resources are available from the MATTER project.