How hard is it to get a 9 in GCSE Physics?
Physics is quite often considered the most daunting Science for GCSE pupils, since concepts are challenging and there is a high mathematical element. But do not be perturbed! We will look closely at what is required to get top grades below, and hopefully shed some light on any concerns. On average, AQA award grade 9 to candidates scoring 70% and Edexcel to those achieving 75%. These grade boundaries vary annually.
Roughly 12-17% of pupils are awarded a 9 in GCSE Physics each year, according to Ofqual. This percentage seems to be increasing each year, although results awarded during COVID may have skewed this data.
Where can I find GCSE Physics past papers?
With a quick Google search, you can access a multitude of past papers. To save you the time, websites such as Save My Exams and Revision Science have a great collection. The exam board websites also have copies of the papers and mark schemes, alongside examiners reports which detail the most common mistakes made in each paper. Always head to your teachers too for any supply of past papers they have. It is worth noting that the most recent papers are inaccessible to pupils, as most teachers use these as mock exams.
If you find you have exhausted all these options and still want more papers, fear not. Papers from other exam boards can be very useful practice. Just be mindful of what content is specific to each exam board. To check whether the content is relevant for you, look at the exam board specifications (links listed below for the common specifications). Most of the first part of the specification can be ignored, so skip straight to the subject content section.
Don’t just stick to past papers though! Topic specific revision is just as important.
What are the best ways to revise for GCSE Physics?
Now this is where opinions will be divided. In short, it’s very subjective, and things that work for some pupils will not work for others. Here are some tips and techniques to try out:
Make sure you have some great notes on the topics, but don’t just stick to this. Often pupils forget to actually learn the content from their beautifully written and colour coordinated notes. But how do I learn the information I hear you ask? Flashcards, re-writing information until your hands fall off, and whiteboards can come in handy. Use pre-made flashcards to maximise learning efficiency – these can be found on websites such as Quizlet and Physics and Maths Tutor. Get your friends to test you on the content too. Often, equations can be used as definitions so these are extra important to learn!
Videos can be great for some animated explanations on concepts. A personal favourite is the CrashCourse channel on YouTube, hosted by Hank Green (John Green’s brother; the guy who wrote the fault in our starts). Hank’s videos are brimming with poor jokes, animations, and analogies to help explain troublesome content, and there are videos on every subject. BBC Bitesize is always an excellent resource too, with exam board specific content.
Stick to the exam board specification like your life depends on it. Here you will find a list of everything you need to know, laid out before your very eyes. Learn these definitions where possible, as they will be the ones given in the mark schemes. I learnt this like it was a script during my GCSEs, and had a friend hit me with a pillow if I forgot something. While I don’t condone the violence, the specification proved incredibly useful.
Practice does, unfortunately, make perfect. If you use the mark schemes to mark your own work, you will familiarise yourself with the formatting of the answers and begin to think like an examiner. Keep practicing past paper questions, online quizzes, and flashcards.
How to plan revision for GCSE Physics
A tale as old as time: don’t leave revision till the last moment. Granted, short term memory is excellent for cramming in some last-minute definitions or equations, but you’d have to be short of a Sheldon-eqsue genius to be able to understand and learn the entire syllabus in the weeks running up to your exam. Be strategic; work smarter not harder. A little bit of revision every week can make a huge amount of difference.
A great way to start this intimidating challenge of revising the entire subject, is, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, to use the specification as a checklist. Traffic light the list, highlighting topics you are fully confident with in green, those that could use a recap in orange, and those that you dread and do not understand one bit in red. When it comes to tackling the topics, start with these red ones. It’s so much easier to start with the green topics that you understand, and every so often these are great confidence boosters. However, starting with these means the more challenging topics are left behind and forgotten about. If you tackle these red topics head on, then they're out of the way and revision becomes much less anxiety fuelled.
It is also important to make sure that you don’t set yourself too ambitious a target each week. Constantly missing your targets can be hugely demoralising. Be ambitious, but also be realistic. If something is taking longer than you think it should, that’s totally fine! Reach out to others around you, including friends and teachers, to help explain these challenging topics.
Key findings from past examiners reports for GCSE Physics
1. Maths skills
The calculation questions contain many areas for mishaps. Examiners have commented on candidates lack of, or incorrect use of the required units. Frequently units are not converted into the correct unit required to use a particular equation. Take note of this, and make sure to convert the units before substituting any values into equations. On that note, make sure you learn the equations correctly too. Rearranging equations incorrectly is a common pitfall, with students frequently using the wrong equations too. Formula triangles can be super useful when it comes to rearranging! Showing clear calculations will also help in two ways; firstly, you will be able to check your answers so much easier and track any mistakes, and secondly examiners will be able to award method marks more easily.
2. Read the question!
Another tale as old as time. Often, pupils will only answer half of the question and miss out on the other 50% of the potential marks. Pay close attention to command words too – there is a huge difference between describing something vs explaining it. When explaining, you want to list the reasons why. When describing, you want to say what is happening, so that a toddler in another room could draw an accurate picture of the circuit or recreate the graph you’re describing. Be specific with these descriptions; don’t just say something increases or that there is a positive correlation – say by how much it has increased and give some data points.
3. Accuracy vs precision
These words can cause a lot of confusion, so being familiar with the definitions is key to answering these questions well.
Accuracy refers to how close your measurements are tot the true measurement.
Precision refers to the spread of your findings; how close are they to one another. This has no connection to the true value – data can be close together with a small range and therefore be precise but could be 10m away from the true value and therefore inaccurate.
A few other useful definitions for you:
Resolution is the ability to distinguish values – a measuring cylinder with a higher resolution means it can distinguish between smaller values.
Reliability refers to how consistent your experiment is – can the data be reproduced under the same conditions?
Validity refers to the accuracy of this measure; are you measuring what you’re supposed to measure?
Understanding these words will help when trying to improve experiments and reduce random error.
4. Topics to brush up on
Frequently misunderstood topics include understanding the difference between fission and fusion, lenses, space physics, magnetism and electromagnetism. Often within these topics there is not enough technical accuracy. Pupils show a general understanding but lack the nuanced details in their answers. This is where learning specific definitions and being as familiar as possible with the specification can really pay off. For example, when talking about pressure increasing or decreasing, stating that there are more or less collisions is insufficient – you must define the frequency of collisions.
5. Required practicals
In the syllabus you will find a list of the practicals that you may have completed over the course. These are referred to as ‘required practicals’. Be familiar with these! Often the experiment questions are the dreaded ones, but they will be based on the techniques used and applied in the experiments that you have already done. Subsequent questions looking at improving the experiments will also be made a lot easier if you have revised these practicals in enough depth.
6. Graphs and diagrams
Examiners frequently mention that diagrams and graphs should be drawn with a ruler. This is such an easy way to increase your marks, so remember that ruler! Read graphs accurately and pay attention to the scale.
Most of these are also applicable to the other sciences, so feel free to incorporate these tips into other aspects of your revision. In general, don’t panic. Easier said than done, I know. Use the number of marks for each question as a guide to the amount of detail required, and put an answer down for each question, even if you’re unsure whether it’s correct or not. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!
And finally, one more time for the people at the back, the specification is your best friend!
GCSE Physics Tuition
With tutors based in London and available online to families around the world, Keystone is one of the UK’s leading private tutoring organisations. Find out more about our GCSE Physics Tutors and IGCSE Physics Tutors.