Leaving Cert physics and physics & chemistry

Students who get an A in this tough but fair physics paper will really deserve it, says teacher


Ed Sheeran, Tesla cars and GPS satellites featured in today’s higher level physics exam, a modern paper with applications to everyday life.

The singer’s photo made a guest appearance in a section of questions about musical instruments.

Sean Finn, physics convenor of the Irish Science Teachers’ Association, said the test was a good representation of the modern syllabus and broadly covered all major topics the students would have studied in 5th and 6th year.

“The exam required a deep understanding of physics concepts that were tested by applying them to everyday situations such as hurling, electric cars, musical instruments, x-rays, GPS satellites, skiing and the correction of eye defects.”

According to Pat Doyle, physics teacher at the Institute of Education, it was “a very fair, well balanced paper, with plenty of choice for students. Unlike previous years, there was nothing nasty or unexpected on the paper.”

That sentiment was echoed by students, according to Finn. “The first thing students said to me was they thought it was tough but fair…. A regurgitation of facts wouldn’t get you far here.”

He said the higher level exam required a deep understanding of the subject, which is ideal preparation for studying applied physics at third level.

The ordinary physics paper was “straightforward and appropriate to the standard”, said Finn. He welcomed the fact that the questions once again related to everyday situations, and included things like x-rays, electric kettles and roller-coasters.

Only 25 per cent, or 1,941, of the 7,749 students who took the physics exams today were female. Finn says he has noticed the gender balance in physics improving slightly in recent years. There were much smaller numbers for the combined physics and chemistry exams - a total of 582 students, with 225, or 29 per cent, of them female.

Finn says the physics and chemistry syllabus is “very old” compared to the modern physics syllabus.

“It hasn’t been updated in a number of years and is not taken in a lot of schools. It is not recognised for entry into third level dentistry and medicine,” he said, adding that students might take the subject because not all schools are able to offer physics and chemistry separately.


Calculate the energy from the Sun falling on a football pitch of dimensions 106m x 68m in 90 minutes. (Solar constant = 1.36 kW m-2)

(from Leaving Cert physics, higher level).