What is this subject about?

Physics helps us to understand nature from the smallest possible scale deep inside the atom to the largest conceivable distance stretching across the entire universe. You will discover how physicists use observations and measurements to devise theories and laws which are then refined through further testing. You will examine the application of Physics to the development of a wide range of technologies. 

What will I study in the first year?

The first year builds on topics already familiar to you. Electricity provides opportunities for practical work and the study of important technical applications. Mechanics and Materials develop your understanding of forces and energy and their effects on solids. The properties and applications of waves are examined. You will also venture into the more modern fields of Quantum Phenomena and particles, introducing you to the fundamental properties and nature of matter and radiation. Your investigative and practical skills will be developed through a variety of experimental activities.

What will I study in the second year?

The second year builds on the first year topics. Further work in Mechanics introduces circular and oscillatory motion. You will explore Gravitational, Electric and Magnetic fields and examine applications such as Capacitors. Nuclear Physics looks at the properties of unstable nuclei and how energy is obtained from the nucleus, while Thermal Physics investigates the thermal properties of materials, gases in particular. In addition there is an optional topic, in which you will study some of the applications of these fundamental principles. There is also further development of your investigative and practical skills.

How is the course assessed?

100% written examination consisting of three 2 hour papers completed at the end of the 2 years. They will contain multiple choice and extended written questions which will assess your understanding of the course content including knowledge of specific core practicals.

What skills will I need and develop in this course?

You will need to have developed a good range of mathematical skills at GCSE, particularly in algebra, geometry, trigonometry and graph work. You will extend these skills and also learn to reason clearly, communicate ideas, interpret data and solve problems. You will also advance your ability to interpret, explain and evaluate the results of experimental activities.


What can the course lead to in terms of higher education and future careers?

When combined with Mathematics, Physics A Level will enable you to progress to Higher Education and careers in fields such as Physics, Astrophysics, Medical Physics, Geophysics, Space Science, Telecommunications, Engineering and Computer Science. Materials Science and Chemical Engineering are options if you study Chemistry in addition to Physics and Mathematics. Many financial institutions actively seek Physics graduates.

Entry Requirements

What are the formal entry requirements for this course?

A Level Physics is a strongly theory based course that is assessed by exams and builds directly on GCSE work in Physics and Maths. You are most likely to succeed if you have an appropriate base of knowledge and a good track-record of success in exam based courses at GCSE overall.

In addition to the College’s general entry criteria, you will need to achieve a minimum of grade 6’s in GCSE Combined Science (or if you have taken triple science, 6 in GCSE Physics and similar in the other sciences) together with grade 6 in GCSE Maths. We would also expect you to have ideally averaged around at least grade 6 in your GCSEs overall. If you have not achieved at this level overall you will be much more likely to succeed (and indeed do well) on BTEC Extended Certificate or Diploma in Applied Science, or on BTEC Engineering rather than A Levels in the sciences. Merit on BTEC carries the same UCAS points as a C at A Level. Distinction carries the same UCAS points as an A.

Applied Science or Additional Applied Science or non-GCSE Science qualifications are not suitable as preparation for A Level study.

Extra Support

What extra support/enrichment activities are on offer?

All students are invited to attend a ‘Physics In Action’ day in London in the Autumn Term. We usually visit the National Physical Laboratory on its Open Day as well as the Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire. Small groups of students also attend occasional lectures at local universities. In the College’s Wider Skills Week at the end of the first year, we arrange a visit to the Physics Department of the University of Surrey. Extension activities include the opportunity to attend a Particle Physics Masterclass, support for Oxbridge applicants and occasional lunchtime sessions in College on advanced topics. Regular support clinics are provided for any students experiencing difficulties.

Subject combination advice

Subject combination advice:

Physics is a mathematical science and the standard expectation is that students taking A Level Physics will also take A Level Mathematics as well.

Are there alternative routes forward in Science?

To succeed with A Level Physics you need to be good at learning and remembering a large body of scientific theory and knowledge, and at applying it under exam conditions to solve problems you will not have seen before. This is why a minimum of grade 6’s in the relevant GCSEs and a similar track record of exam success in GCSEs overall are needed.

If your GCSE track record is not in line with this but you wish to take your involvement in science to a higher level with us, our BTEC National Extended Certificate and Diploma courses in Applied Science are the courses you should look at. These are assessed predominantly by coursework and you can check your thinking with your teachers as you go along.

The Extended Certificate is equivalent to one A Level and would give a sufficient base to enable progression to degrees in fields where science has a supporting role – fields such as Sports Science, Sports Therapy, Paramedics, Nursing, Radiography, and Equine Science – as well as to arange of scientifically orientated Foundation degrees. It is also an interesting course in its own right!

If you want to be able to go on to a wider range of more intensely scientific careers and degrees, you would need to take the Diploma course. This is equivalent to two A Levels and enables you to have a programme that is more devoted to science.

If your interest is focused on Engineering, you may also wish to look at BTEC Engineering courses, though we do not offer these here at Esher and at present we have no plans to do so.

There is more detailed information about BTEC Applied Science on its own subject information sheet.

Should I take Further Mathematics A Level with Physics and Mathematics?

To be able to study Physics, Engineering or Computer Studies at a highly selective university you will need to take Further Mathematics alongside Physics and Mathematics. Please talk with Mathematics department staff to check your suitability to study Further Mathematics.