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Physics

Practical
Handbook

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Skills and apparatus used during A-Level Physics


During your A-level physics course your will develop skills and use a range of
equipment. You must become proficient with these during practical work and will
have to develop a theoretical understanding of them for the exams.
Skill and or equipment
used
a

Description
use appropriate analogue apparatus to record a range
of measurements (to include length/distance,
temperature, pressure, force, angles, volume) and to
interpolate between scale markings

use appropriate digital instruments, including


electrical multimeters, to obtain a range of
measurements (to include time, current, voltage,
resistance, mass)

use methods to increase accuracy of measurements,


such as timing over multiple oscillations, or use of
fiduciary marker, set square or plumb line

use stopwatch or light gates for timing

use calipers and micrometers for small distances,


using digital or vernier scales

correctly construct circuits from circuit diagrams


using DC power supplies, cells, and a range of circuit
components, including those where polarity is
important

design, construct and check circuits using DC power


supplies, cells, and a range of circuit components

use signal generator and oscilloscope, including


volts/division and time-base

generate and measure waves, using microphone and


loudspeaker, or ripple tank, or vibration transducer, or
microwave/radio wave source

use laser or light source to investigate characteristics


of light, including interference and diffraction

use ICT such as computer modelling, or data logger


with a variety of sensors to collect data, or use of
software to process data

use ionising radiation, including detectors

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Compulsory practicals
To develop your knowledge and implementation of the skills and equipment
during the course you will have to complete 12 compulsory practicals and a range
of other non-compulsory ones over the two year course. 6 of these practicals
will be in year 12 and the other 6 in year 13.
AS compulsory practical theme
1

Investigation into the variation of


the frequency of stationary waves
on a string with length, tension and
mass per unit length of the string

Apparatus and skills used


a, b, c, i

2 Investigation of interference
effects to include the Youngs
slit experiment and interference
by a diffraction grating

a, j

3 Determination of g by a free-fall

a, c, d, k

method
4 Determination of the Young modulus

a, c, e

by a simple method
5 Determination of resistivity of a
wire using a micrometer, ammeter
and voltmeter

a, b, e, f

6 Investigation of the emf and


internal resistance of electric cells
and batteries by measuring the
variation of the terminal pd of the
cell with current in it

b, f, g

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A2 compulsory practical theme

Apparatus and skills used

7 Investigation into simple harmonic


motion using a mass-spring
system and a simple pendulum

a, b, c, h, i

8 Investigation of Boyles (constant

temperature) law and Charless


(constant pressure) law for a gas
9 Investigation of the charge and
discharge of capacitors. Analysis
techniques should include log-linear
plotting leading to a determination
of the time constant RC

b, f, g, h, k

10 Investigate how the force on a wire


varies with flux density, current and
length of wire using a top pan balance

a, b, f

11 Investigate, using a search coil and


oscilloscope, the effect on
magnetic flux linkage of varying
the angle between a search coil
and magnetic field direction

a, b, f, h

12 Investigation of the inverse-square

a, b, k, l

law for gamma radiation

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Assessment of Practicals
During Practical work you will often be assessed on five Common Practical
Assessment Criteria (CPAC). These five areas will require you develop these
core skills over the A-level course and will put you in good stead for degree
courses in Biology. To pass the course you will have to have reached a
satisfactory level in each of these five competencies.
A summary of each CPAC is presented below.

CPA

Title

Description

C
1

Follows written

Can read and follow a method sheet.

procedures
Applies investigative

Can follow the method and carry out the

approaches and

practical methodically.

methods when using


instruments and
3

equipment
Safety

Makes and records


observations

Research,
references and
reports

Can identify possible risks and hazards


Carry out the practical work safely.
You must:
Record data during and
observations/data/ during practical work
Data must be accurate.
Range/sufficient data/repeats.
Significant figures.
Units on headings.
Draw table before practical starts.
Decide when using equipment what scale to
use.
Decide whether or not to conduct a
preliminary experiment.
Section A processing data
Plotted graphs
Carried calculations (where applicable)
Carry out research into other
methods/data/scientific sources
Cites information demonstrating that
research has taken place.
Section B Referencing

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Reference sources researched (see how to


in the reference section)

How to write up experiments in your lab notebook


Writing up a lab notebook is critical. It provides you with a resource for revision
and allows external examiners to see what practical work you have carried out
and how it has been assessed. If you are considering doing a science-based
course at university it will provide you with experience on how to keep your lab
notes.
The format for how to present your work is written below, not all experiment
will require the same format; always consult your practical instructions before
writing up. The generalised format and how to write up each section is
presented below, please follow this guide carefully every time you write up a
practical.
The lab book is not a neat document, but should be working record of your
investigations you are carrying out. Simple notes and cut and pasted methods
are actually to be encouraged, this demonstrates you working.

The Format
Title and date
Write clearly the title of the investigation and the date you completed the
practical.
Objectives
Outline the main aims of the experiment, in other words describe what you aim
to discover from the experiment. You may include a hypothesis that you are
testing if this is applicable.

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Procedures
This section is very important and would inform anyone how to carry out the
experiment how you did to test its reproducibility. The method should be
composed of several parts

Equipment list
Diagrams of equipment used
Method: Step by step guide
Measurements to be made (including correct units)
Control variables
Justification of equipment/technique: I am using a high resolution
balance as the mass change is very small would be a justification, not all

equipment needs to have a justification.


Safety information (e.g. risk assessment)

Tip: never use the word amount, be precise. Use terms such as volume, mass,
concentration.
Summary of results
This section is where you describe your results. Basically you are putting the
numbers into words. What are the pattern(s) or trends in the data? Remember
this section is descriptive and requires no scientific explanation. In this section
you should include data tables (which should be drawn before starting the
practical) and graphs where applicable.
Discussion
This section is where you explain your findings. You will need to apply your own
scientific knowledge and independent research to explain the patterns you
observed. Also you may wish to include any limitations or sources of error you
encountered within the method. Remember to reference external sources of
information within the body of the text.
Results
Record all results into a suitable table, while carrying out the experiment. Do
not forget your table needs the correct headings and units. Never put units in
the main body of the table.

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Calculations
Clearly show all workings out and annotate to show your thinking.
Graphs
Conclusions
Record what you have found out including final values for your experiment

References
Give any external sources used in you planning and your conclusion. Give the
source followed by the date you assessed it.

Presenting references within the text


Papers or books
The authors name and year published need to be presented e.g.
(Drake and Muller-Dombois, 1997)
If two or more authors have written the reference then et al. is used after the
first surname e.g.
(Raich et al. 1997)
Website
A shortened web address is ok e.g.
Original:
http://oregonstate.edu/dept/biochem/hhmi/hhmiclasses/biochem/lectnoteskga
/2kjan14lecturenotes.html
In text (oregonstate.edu)

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Presenting references in the reference section/bibliography


Papers
References should include the following:

Authors surnames and initials


Year published
Title of paper
Title of journal (italics)
Issue number of journal (in bold)
Page numbers of paper

All of this information is usually presented on the paper or website the paper
was obtained from.
Example:
Drake D.R. and Muller-Dombois D.R. (1993). Population development of rain
forest trees on a chronosequence of Hawaiian lava flows. Ecology, 74, 1012-1019.
Book-based references should include:

Authors surname and initials


Year published
Title of book (italics)
Publisher and location
Pages where reference comes from

Example:
Eckenwelder J.E. (2009). Conifers of the world: the complete reference.
Portland USA, Timber Press.
Website based references should include:
Full web address and date accessed
Example:
http://oregonstate.edu/dept/biochem/hhmi/hhmiclasses/biochem/lectnoteskga
/2kjan14lecturenotes.html date assessed 5/9/15

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