Exam Reaction 2011 - Leaving Certificate Physics

There seems to be a shift in focus within the State Examinations Commission on the assessment of leaving certificate science subjects and the change is welcome - but it might have been fair to warn us! Yesterday's physics paper  followed on from where biology left off and included a number of questions which required an awful lot more critical thinking and analysis than students may have been accustomed to in previous years. Not too many were complaining though as the overall consensus was that the higher level paper was another well conceived, challenging yet generally fair paper.

The paper covered almost every topic within the syllabus and again used a variety of practical everyday examples to assess the candidates' knowledge and understanding of the principles of physics. Section A, which contains four questions of which three must be attempted, assessed students' understanding of the mandatory practicals completed over the two years. These were relatively straightforward with experiments on conservation of momentum, Boyle's Law, measuring the wavelength of monochromatic light and the relationship between current and potential difference as electrical current flows through an electrolyte. Two of the four required graphs to be constructed.

In Section B there was a wide range of topics assessed. Question 5, the short questions were fair and should have provided enough choice for the candidates. Question 6 was more difficult than in previous years. Using a variety of everyday examples, including a rocking toy and merry-go-rounds, the candidates were asked questions relating to equilibrium, forces and centre of gravity. I believe it was a well constructed question but quite challenging none the less. Question 7 looked at heat and temperature with more everyday examples incorporated into the question. There was an excellent problem within Q7, asking candidates to calculate the heat capacity of a spoon placed in a hot drink. Question 8 assessed sound and included a question on the type of harmonics produced by a clarinet. Question 9 was focused on electricity and was on the easier side while question 10 gave students the choice of nuclear reactions (including a question which reference the Large hadron Collider) or the electric motor - both were fine. Question 11 followed its traditional structure and contained a passage to read followed by a series of questions. This year it looked at a comparison between CFL bulbs and traditional filament bulbs - another excellent example from everyday life. Finally question 12 -  which always gives students the option of two from four topics - contained straightforward questions on Hooke's Law, the refraction of light, heat conduction and the use of radioisotopes in the manufacture of newsprint paper. Overall, the exam would have been an enjoyable test for anyone with a passion for physics and, particularly, its application to everyday life. Let us know what you thought of the paper. Please leave a comment below.


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