A-Level Physics Revision And Exam Tips

Preparing for A-Level Physics exams can be stressful at times, but it does not have to be. With effective preparation, you will be able to achieve the highest grades. Oxford DPhil student Isabel de Berrie shares her insights with us.

Last Updated: 25th March 2022

Author: Isabel de Berrie

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Preparing for an A-Level Physics exam does not have to be a stressful and challenging time. With the right preparation, you will achieve the highest grades. 

In the latest of our series of A-Level revision and exams tips articles, Oxford DPhil student Isabel de Berrie gives us her advice on how to effectively prepare for an A-Level Physics exam. 

Check out our ones on Maths, Chemistry and Biology by following the links above. 

Memorise Your A-Level Physics Formulae

This will give you confidence, and over the course of your Physics career, not to mention in the exam, you’ll really save a lot of time flicking back and forth to look at the formulae.

For the formulae that is given to you, you’ll still have that security there if you need it. It can be a valuable exercise to take a large sheet of paper and try to write down as much as possible of the key information that you will have to know by heart.

Once you have this, you can refer back to it at different stages of your revision to see how much of it you know.

When you’ve tried to memorise something, try doing some practice questions using that information immediately afterwards. This will help you put it into practice and consolidate it in your memory.

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Embrace Physics Practicals

Hopefully, you will have used practicals during the previous few years as an opportunity to build understanding. If you missed one or don’t remember it, though, all is not lost – there are an increasing number of demonstration videos available online which can help you get to grips with this.

There are also some projects which lend themselves to home experimentation – for example, setting up simple electronic circuits is something you can do safely and with minimal cost. For all the practicals you’ve done, prepare to give step-by-step instructions so that somebody who was not present would know how to carry them out.

The qualification also aims to train you in an understanding of scientific methods. Therefore, it’s helpful to be able to justify the experimental methods you are using and explain not only how you would conduct an experiment but also why.

Likewise, you should be able to justify your choices in analysing your experimental data, such as how you will deal with outliers.

Get Comfortable With Maths

You’ll be doing plenty of calculations and will also draw on your skills in algebra. The positive news is that any practise you do here will make you more fluent in other situations involving maths.

While not many people do so, it’s also possible that you are one of the few people to take Physics without taking Maths. If so, it’s essential to spend some extra time familiarising yourself with all the maths you’ll need to make sure this isn’t a weakness.

You’ll want to practise using the same calculator you use in the exam to know your way around all its functions.

Get Your Units Straight

There are an increasing number of letters that will appear in your formulae.

Mistakes with units can also cost you in the exam, so get into the habit of checking whether any conversions are needed and ensuring that you have answered with the units that the question requires.

Looking up the history of the physicists who gave their names to these units can be an engaging way to get the names and abbreviations to stick in your mind.

Practice for specific physics questions

Your Physics assessment is likely to include a combination of multiple-choice, long answers and short answers. When it comes to exam strategy, showing your working will be helpful. But this isn’t just for the exam – practice as you will perform, so show your work clearly in all your practice papers and questions.

You’ll thank yourself later when it becomes second nature.

When using practice papers, try to figure out what details you need to look out for, as the examiners may use particular strategies to catch you out.

For longer answers, look online for some past mark schemes, as they will likely give a guide as to particular phrases or terms you might need to use to gain marks.

If you run out of practice questions, there’s no harm in retrying a paper to try and get 100%, and you can also attempt some questions from another exam board, as there can be quite a lot of overlap when it comes to core Physics topics.

Know Your Physics Specification

The specification is your best friend when it comes to checking where you are at with your revision. It can often be worthwhile to print out a copy and tick off concepts and tasks once you’re confident. (The specification might also contain some optional topics you aren’t covering).

The specification will also help you break down a topic into sections, making it seem less daunting and helping you to pace yourself in your revision.

For example, you can break down Waves into Progressive and Stationary Waves, Longitudinal and Transverse Waves, Superposition and Stationary Waves, Refraction, Difference and Interference, Diffraction. (This is based on the AQA syllabus; use your specification as a guide).

Suppose you’re doing a qualification with a synoptic module (a module where you can be asked to make use of knowledge from all previous modules). In that case, it’s especially important to have even coverage of all topics, including earlier topics that may be less fresh in your memory.

Since this assessment aims to demonstrate that you can use more than one area in the same question, it’s helpful to draw a mind map that can show the connections between the different areas of your syllabus.

When attempting a practice question, you can start by listing the topic areas that the question involves.

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If you’re struggling to start on your revision or are worried about your progress, this handbook is for you! Within this free guide, you will learn about how to effectively prepare for your exams and how you can improve your score with simple techniques. Fill out the form below to have your handbook sent directly to you!

Acing You A Levels Handbook Cover and Pages

Team Up With A Friend

If you need to explain a process, such as energy transfer, try explaining it to a friend and have them explain something to you. This can help make sure you’ve included plenty of relevant information, and it can also help to identify weak points in your knowledge.

You can also keep yourselves accountable by setting a topics study schedule together – you can revise the topics individually and then come together to discuss them.

Use Diagrams and Visuals

Presenting information in different formats can help you remember it, and drawing things can also be a helpful way to process. If you have a strong visual memory, this can be particularly effective.

This can be useful for topics such as electronics, particle physics, and electromagnetism.

Summarising information (such as the properties of particles) in a table can also be helpful. Because these ways of displaying information are relatively compact, they can also be handy for pinning up in a place where you’ll see them often – on the fridge door, beside your bed, or by the bathroom mirror.

Regular exposure will help them become familiar and help you get in some extra revision at times you are not specifically sitting down to study.

Keep Nurturing Your Curiosity

Physics is a complicated subject with lots to remember and understand, and sometimes you might feel as though it has become a little bit of a slog.

As you sweat over the numerous details of particles, remember the reasons that Physics is one of the most inspiring subjects you can study.

Whether watching a documentary about outer space or looking up how a piece of machinery works, don’t be afraid to take a little time out to investigate something that reignites your enthusiasm.

What I Wish I'd Done Differently

Identify your weak areas early on and give them some special attention. For me, this was Electronics, and I should probably have spent a little bit more time on that compared with other modules.

If you’re particularly struggling with something, consider whether you have the opportunity to ask someone for help – your teacher, a friend who is good at that topic, an older sibling, or a tutor.

Concluding thoughts

A-Level Physics is a challenging but rewarding qualification, so if you are reading this, congratulate yourself for putting in the effort. Rest assured that time spent wisely on revision will help reduce exam stress, ensure you feel prepared, and give you confidence in your understanding of Physics. 

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