The jump from GCSEs to AS Levels can be challenging for many students, and A Level Physics is no exception. In Y11, to some extent, you could get away with not having a deep understanding of the topics, but once you step into Y12 such superficial knowledge will not be good enough. You will also be faced with more calculations than GCSE science required of you. So what do you need to do to succeed? Here are a few ideas…
1) Don’t stop until you understand
Many students begin Y12 without fully appreciating the amount of work needed to succeed. Before and after every lesson you should read around the topic from textbooks and revision guides, and seek out revision videos to explain the trickier concepts. Still stuck? Ask your teacher or try one of the many internet forums (such as The Student Room or Yahoo Answers) or Twitter. Whatever you do, do not put your head in the sand and pretend the problem will go away. It won’t. You can almost guarantee that not understanding this thing will mean you won’t understand the next thing, and the thing after that (and the thing after that…).
2) “Don’t practice until you get it right…
…practice until you can’t get it wrong.” It’s not clear who first spoke these fine words of advice, but I found them on the excellent HegartyMaths.com. It’s just as true for physics as it is for maths. Pick a topic you’re stuck on and find as many questions as you can (from textbooks, revision guides and exam board websites). Start with the easier textbook-style questions, then build up your confidence until you can answer exam questions. But, don’t stop there! Find more exam questions and practice those until you can’t get them wrong. To some extent, it’s even worth repeating questions you’ve already answered until you understand exactly how and why to answer the question correctly.
3) It isn’t all about the maths
Yes, there is a lot of maths in physics (mostly selecting and rearranging equations), but it is not all maths. Do not neglect the vast numbers of marks available for definitions, descriptions and explanations. Many of these things you will need to learn by heart (such as the definition of electromotive force). Go through the specification for your exam board and highlight any ‘define’, ‘describe’ or ‘explain’ points. Then use textbooks, revision guides and exam mark schemes to create a definitive list of definitions, descriptions and explanations. Then learn them and keep learning them, which brings us on to point 4…
4) Don’t cram
As you may have guessed from the first three points, there is no shortcut to success. The A grades will only come via steady, sustained work through the year. At all costs, avoid getting yourself into a situation where last-minute cramming is required. Throughout the year make sure you revisit old topics so that they never drift out of your memory.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. I’d be keen to read comments from teachers and students about what they think could be added to this list. A Level Physics is one of the most rewarding and respected qualifications available and I strongly believe that success is within the reach of everyone who gets the pre-requisite GCSE grades.