Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How hard is A level physics?

  1. Jan 30, 2012 #1
    Now you're all mostly physics heads on this forum, so it's important to consider than I understand about 1/75th of what is said on this forum.

    I love physics, I find it fascinating - but I went to this consultation meeting thing and I was basically told that unless I'm a maths freak I'll flop. I mean I'm good at maths, I get Bs but at the end of the year I should get an A - but I don't find it so easy. Physics I'm pretty much A grade at also, as far as i know. My knowledge of physics is mostly from school, youtube and books but I know a bit about quantum mechanics and the like, as well as the history of physics etc.

    Can anybody objectively tell me how hard A level physics is? considering that I have no intention of studying maths at A level... Cheers!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2012 #2
    If you want to study physical sciences (chemistry, physics) or engineering, studying mathematics and physics at A-Level is a prerequisite.

    Are you doing Physics at GCSE? I found it to be a significant gap up. I barely went to class in GCSE and managed to come out of it with an A. I did the same for A-Levels and got an E in my first trimester...

    It's only harder if you make it harder for yourself. If you're doing well in GCSE Math and Physics, it shouldn't be hard, so long as you pay attention in your classes. Actually, it depends on how you learn - what works for me could or could not work for you. I have trouble concentrating on "lectures", so I read up the material on my own, try working through exercises and when I get stuck, I ask a teacher for help clearing some concepts up.

    You should also pick an A-Level Physics text book and see for yourself. I don't think you'd need any more than GCSE Mathematics to understand it.
  4. Jan 31, 2012 #3
    If you are not planning to study a level math, then don't do a level physics. The AS year is basically M1 and a little M2 from maths a level, with a little of physics (physics that requires no maths that is). It's not a prerequisite for a chemistry degree, it is only a prerequisite for some engineering degrees (which all require maths anyway)... Also, a level physics has been extremely watered down so quite a few universities don't require it even onto their engineering degrees, as all the require is a level maths.

    To sum up:

    Only do it if you are going to do a level maths with it (imo)
    It is easy if you are good at maths, and the first year is harder than the second year (the first year is just maths).

    Only do it if you're planning on doing an engineering degree (though not for all universities), or physics itself. It would be useful in chemistry and neuroscience etc but it is not a prerequisite.

    Hope this helped.
  5. Jan 31, 2012 #4
    Oh ok cool :) I researched a bit about and found some specimen papers, and to be honest it doesn't look that difficult - a lot of the stuff like scalar quantities and vector quantities, as well as calculating kinetic energy/GPE etc. I already know, and just from looking I can see there are a lot of questions that are described simply in textbooks http://www.ocr.org.uk/download/assess_mat/ocr_7971_sam_gce_unit_g481.pdf [Broken]

    Ok, that was helpful too :) I know what you mean but really I don't know what I want to study in further education - If I even go. A physics degree is out of the question without maths right?

    Maybe if I try really hard at maths I can catch up, but i'm not someone who calculates things mathematically as such, if you know where i'm coming from - and so sometimes i don't get the premises of maths so easily, and it takes me a bit of time to remember the equations, formulae etc.

    I can always study physics for AS and then drop it if It's too difficult?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  6. Jan 31, 2012 #5
    Yes, you can study subjects at AS and then drop them if you don't like them or find them too difficult. It's interesting you bring that up because you should also consider what backup plan you will have. Usually, students do 4 AS-Levels in the first year, drop one and go on with three. Meaning that if you drop Maths and Physics, you're left with only two A-Levels! Figure out how to make that number become three...

    You will need A-Level Mathematics and A-Level Physics to do a Physics degree. On that note, university level mathematics is very different to A-Level Maths, which is essentially mindlessly calculating things. For what it's worth, it's more interesting than GCSE Maths. Try to start reading your textbook if you're already comfortable enough with GCSE Maths - you'll get a clearer idea of what's in store for you.

    I have also never seen an engineering degree, except perhaps Software Engineering, which has *only* A-Level Mathematics as a prerequisite. Usually - I dare not say always - both Physics and Mathematics are required subjects. Some even ask for Further Maths. Or say it could be useful...
  7. Jan 31, 2012 #6
    You could do that yes, but then you'd end up with a bad grade that you'd have to show on your UCAS form.

    What are you planning to study at university? What a levels are you planning to take?

    My brother got a B in GCSE mathematics, he went on to study A level mathematics and AS further mathematics (he couldnt do it in his first year as he only got a B in gcse) and ended up with A*AAa (Maths Biology Chemistry Further maths). Hes now studying at a great university and guess what, hes studying mathematics ;). GCSE maths is so dull and routine that I wouldn't judge your mathematical ability on your GCSE grade. The only reason he got a B is because he didn't try though, and he actually done some work at a level and came out with those grades.

    If you are considering taking physics a level then just take maths a level also, i have a friend taking physics a level without maths and she is getting Es and Ds in her mocks (and she got 7A* at her GCSE), while another friend is getting As and Bs in AS physics who also takes maths, however he probably does work harder than her (he got an A in maths and physics GCSE).

    Even if you take a level maths you can get away with getting an A grade just by simply studying it for an hour each day, it's really not that difficult.

    PS my brother is the exception rather than the rule, get an A* in GCSE maths.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Jan 31, 2012 #7

    Yes I agree that physics is useful, but some universities don't require it as the hardest stuff in a level physics is in the mechanics modules in mathematics.
  9. Feb 1, 2012 #8
    True, but I could always drop As Physics OR maths, or one of my other two options. I think after this set of exams are over i might get some papers, learn a bit of theory and see how I do, then decide whether or not it would be beneficial for me to take the exams.

    Does that make sense?
  10. Feb 2, 2012 #9
    That is for Chemical Engineering and if one is to read more closely, one would find that Maths and Chemistry are only *two* of the 3-4 A-Levels they require. Usually, one needs Maths, Chemistry and any one/two of Further Maths, Physics or Biology. For other engineering disciplines at Imperial (say, Mechanical), Mathematics *and* Physics are pre-requisites. For EEE, the pre-requisites are these two and a third subject, which can be Further Maths, Electronics, Biology and a few others, which they have listed on their website.

    So far, you have not been able to show me a single university which fits the "all they require for engineering is A-Level Maths" criteria. You only came up with universities requiring Maths *and* another science/electronics, which is definitely not the same as "just A-Level Maths". Maybe that was not your intention but you had me believe that I could get into any given engineering program with say, A-Level Maths, Japanese and Business!

    Indeed, the (calc-based - it is, for CIE at least) mechanics component in A-Level Maths is "harder" than the algebra-based physics one encounters throughout the whole of the A-Level Physics course.

    Yes. You, and in fact, most people should give it a go. Everyone (well, most of the students in a class of 40) in my GCSE class mindlessly took up Maths, Physics and Chemistry to A-Level. The results were a bit of a mixed bag, with most students studying them because they weren't so sure what else to do and that set of A-Levels opens up a few opportunities (medicine, engineering, sciences and every other degree which has no specific requirements!), another fraction not liking at least one of their subjects AT ALL and another fraction loving. The latter two were the minorities and the majority consisted of people who didn't know what to do. I didn't formally gather data and this is only anecdotal.

    If you find studying on your own hard, see if you can study with another motivated student or maybe even form a study group. Don't sell yourself short. Give it your best shot and if things don't work out, you can always change subjects. Maybe you can end up not liking physics but loving maths. On another forum, I frequent, a person got on offer from Cambridge for Mathematics with A-Level Maths, Further Maths and German. No physics. My point is, if you end up not liking physics or biology, you can always change to something else. Doing A-Level maths actually makes you quite flexible.

    A number of people also do A-Level Physics without A-Level Maths and they do just fine. I've seen medicine applicants who do the three sciences for A-Level.
  11. Feb 2, 2012 #10
    I was not trying to say you can get in on mathematics alone, I was saying that physics is not needed for all engineering programs, nor further maths.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook