Physics

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Lectures

Both people who haven’t taken a physics A-level and people who prepared for physics olympiads take Physics IA so there is a huge variation in how people find this course. The first lecture series starts slow, and subsequent series become harder (and for most people, more interesting). If you feel the course is not advanced enough, you can ask your supervisor for additional problems or look online for more difficult questions. By the end of the year, most people find the course challenging. Even though the material starts slow, learning the method of solving physics questions can be hard, so if you’re struggling try practising the easiest questions a lot to get the hang of it.

The lecture series titles are listed below:

Michaelmas:
  • Dynamics
  • Oscillating Systems
Lent:
  • Waves and Quantum Waves
  • Rotational Mechanics and Special Relativity
Easter:
  • Gravitational and Electromagnetic Fields
Special relativity seems to be a topic which people either understand quickly or struggle with for some time, possibly because it requires a change of mindset. If you are in the latter group, persevere, go through the examples in the notes again by yourself thinking over the steps very carefully. You could also search for some general public targeted material online to get a better intuition and feel for the subject.

Because of the broadness of the target audience, many people find IA physics uninteresting. If you were thinking of studying physics before, don’t let it put you off completely – things are very different in subsequent years.

Supervisions

A set of questions is provided by the lecturer, separate from the lecture notes. Each week you’ll probably be set 6-8 questions which your supervisor should mark. Supervisions consist of going through the questions and corrections.

Practicals

The practicals focus strongly on experimental design, error analysis and writing lab reports. You will need to be disciplined at writing up your results concisely with all relevant details. Some of the experiments are quite time-pressured so keep an eye on the clock. The lab staff are there to help you, and it can make a big difference if you ask them when you’re stuck or just uncertain (don’t be shy, even if they’re chatting in the corner you can go over to them). The marking seems to be very subjective, but each mark is worth only a tiny percentage of your overall grade so don’t spend ages trying to get full marks. A good mark is typically around 16-18/20 although this depends on who marks your write up. A lot of people find the practicals boring, and they really improve in later years of physics – it’s sometimes nice to ask the staff more general questions about the experiment to learn something interesting and motivate you to do it.

Revision

Past papers should be your main method of revision. It’s usually advisable to start with papers from many years ago and keep the recent ones for just before the exam. Numerical answers are provided for older papers, and the commentaries are useful to review afterwards. You no longer have a choice to pick which questions you prefer. You may find it helps to read over your lecture notes on some topics and make a note of formulae that you may need to memorise. You can also try to answer the examples in the lecture notes yourself for more practice.

Exams

Manage your time efficiently in the exam by using the number of marks as a guide to how long part of a question should take you. Start with questions you are more comfortable with to pick up as many marks as you can early on. Sometimes parts of a question can be skipped without sacrificing the rest of the question if you get stuck, so always write as much as you know.

Useful resources

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