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The examinations

Chapter-02-opening-image.jpg"How science works" and "Stretch and challenge"
One difference in all the new science specifications is that two issues must be addressed. "How science works", following on from GCSE, is now an integral part of all the sciences at AS and A level, and "Stretch and challenge", with the new A* grade, applies to all A-level subjects in the A2 year from September 2009.

The new aspects of "How science works" will be noticeable in two different areas: the treatment of data, and a broadening of the scope of responses to questions of a technological, social or ethical nature. The former is reflected in the major emphasis of the new specification – measurement – and is described below. The latter will only occur where it arises naturally in the physics.

"Stretch and challenge" will feature only in the A2 papers. You will notice that questions aimed at the higher grades will have larger allocations, worth perhaps four or five marks, allowing the students to make their own decisions about how to structure their answers rather than being led by the hand.

Points of similarity with the old Advancing Physics
The length and structure of the first AS module, G491, is identical to the first two sections of the old 2860, so should feel the same but with section C removed.

In the same way, the first A2 module, G494, will have the same feel as the old 2863, but there will be slightly fewer marks – having to work a bit harder for the marks reflects the new emphasis on "Stretch and challenge" in all A2-level assessments.

New aspects of Advancing Physics
The longer papers, G492 in AS and G495 in A2, make use of advance notice material.

At A2 level, the longer paper, G495, assesses "Field and particle pictures", while the advance notice is a shorter version of the one currently used in 2865. As at present, this advance notice section of the paper will address issues of synoptic assessment, including aspects of "How science works".

The longer AS paper, G492, is analogous to this A2 paper. The first two sections, identical in structure to G491, examine "Understanding processes". The third section, based on advance notice material, will assess the "Measurement" theme.

In the revised Advancing Physics, an aim of the AS course is to develop the students’ ability to do good experimental work, to make measurements and observations as well as they can, and to know how good they are.

This is reflected in the AS coursework, in which the practical task is to make a measurement as well as possible. This could be a refined version of something done earlier in the course – the Young modulus of a metal, or the use of a diffraction grating to obtain the wavelength of a spectral line – but students will need to identify sources of largest uncertainty and possible systematic error, and suggest ways to improve the measurement.


The coursework in each year is reduced from 15% of the A-level marks to 10%. Of that 10%, two-thirds (40 UMS marks) will be for the practical component, with the rest for the non-practical.

As with the examinations, it is worth noting what is unchanged: the non-practical "Physics in use" at AS level, which is now called the "Materials research and presentation" task, and the "Practical investigation" at A2 level – both of which many teachers wanted to be retained.

The "Quality of measurement" task at AS level has been outlined above, while the A2-level "Research briefing" is a modified and reduced version of the present "Research report".

The assessment of coursework will be based on the same 1–3–5 system with which schools are familiar, but the number of different areas that you will need to assess has been greatly reduced, from eight to four for the practical tasks, and from eight to two for the non-practical ones. It is hoped that this reduction will ease the assessment burden for teachers and so give simple and reliable assessment of coursework.


Unit Time UMS Mode Weight (%)
(min) AS A GCE
G491 Physics in action 60 90 written 30 15
G492 Understanding processes, and experimentation and data handling 105 150 written with advance notice component 50 25
G493 Physics in practice: quality of measurement physics in use 60 centre-based assessment 20 10


Unit Time UMS Mode Weight (%)
(min) AS A GCE
G494 Rise and fall of the clockwork universe 75 90 written 30 15
G495 Field and particle pictures, and advances in physics 120 150 written with advance notice component 50 25
G496 Researching physics: practical investigation research briefing 60 centre-based assessment 20 10