Leaving Cert physics: Searching questions but plenty of choice

Students face ‘real world’ questions on cooler boxes, radios and mobile phones

The Leaving Cert physics exams provided students with plenty of choice to make up for sections of the curriculum they may have missed due to school closures. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

The Leaving Cert physics exams provided students with plenty of choice to make up for sections of the curriculum they may have missed due to school closures. Photograph Nick Bradshaw


The Leaving Cert physics exams provided students with plenty of choice to make up for sections of the curriculum they may have missed due to school closures, according to teachers.

Pat Doyle, physics teacher at Dublin’s Institute of Education, said the higher level paper was “very thorough but fair”.

“Rather than combining topics within questions, the vast majority of questions were based on just one topic from the syllabus. This was very fair given the fact that some students may not have completed the entire course,” he said.

“The questions were searching and students would need to have known their course material very well. Changes made to the exam this year meant that students had plenty of choice.”

He said it was very nice to see a number of questions that linked physics to the real world.

“Question 9 for example was about the physics of a cooler box, question 14 referenced the use of a ball lens in photography and part B of question 13 referenced the start of the information age, radios and mobile phones,” Mr Doyle said.

John Conneely, physics teacher and ASTI subject representative, said his students at St Flannan’s College in Ennis, Co Clare, were happy with the level of choice provided.

Section A

In section A, as a result of changes this year, students only had to answer two out of five questions. Normally, they answer three out of four.

Mr Conneely said the questions - which focused on mechanics, light, sound, electricity and heat - were “very much in line with expectations and gave the students a nice positive start”.

Mr Doyle also said there was “ fabulous choice” in the section and repetition from past papers meant that hard working students would have been rewarded.

Studyclix.ie expert and physics teacher Margaret Kenny agreed that students would have been put at ease by seeing these questions in the order expected.

“Every one of the section A questions required a graph and diagram which would have benefited students who have analysed their experiments thoroughly,” she said.

Ms Kenny said that having the parts of the various questions numbered clearly lowered the likelihood of them leaving out part of a question, while the choice to lower the amount of text on this year’s paper gave students ample time to review the questions.

“Today’s paper was very strong on analysing the basics. Early reports I am hearing from my students was that they found it fair and straightforward with some twists,” she said.

Section B

In section B, students had to answer four out of nine questions here. Normally they answer five from eight.

“Again, there was excellent choice in this section,” Mr Doyle said.

“Question seven, the mechanics question, was quite challenging, and students who do applied maths would have had a definite advantage. There was enough choice however for other students to look elsewhere within this section for a question that suited them.

“Question 11 was nice and referred to the history of nuclear physics and the development of nuclear weapons.”

Mr Conneely said there were some challenging topics in section B such as electromagnetic induction, Doppler effect and simple harmonic motion which were equally balanced by popular topics such as light, heat and electricity.

In question seven, he said the term “angular displacement” may have presented some problems for students.

He said students would have been happy with the question on particle physics - question 13 - which began with a passage from physicist Neill de Grasse Tyson setting out the size of the universe at at the beginning of time .

Question eight - which began with a passage on clouds and the silver lining that can sometimes be observed due to diffraction of light - was “very fair and challenging for those seeking higher grades”.

Question 14 would have been very popular with students especially parts c and d on the photoelectric effect and light.

“Although they required higher order thinking, these questions were very manageable,” Mr Conneely said.

“I would expect students to have found the section B questions quite balanced in terms of challenging material and key concepts.

“The questions were very much in line with the present clear and concise Leaving Certificate syllabus . The “heat pump” question allowed students the opportunity to show how the concept of latent heat can be employed in an everyday technological and societal context.”

Ordinary level

This year on Section A, students had to answer two questions from five instead of three questions from four.

Mr Conneely siad questions on gravity, Boyle’s law , light, heat and electricity were straightforward getting the students off to a good start.

“Question four to measure the specific latent heat of vaporisation of water was nicely structured to allow students to attempt a question at this level that they often find challenging,” he said.

In Section B students are usually required to answer five questions from eight. This year students answer four questions from nine.

“Students may have found question nine on resistivity to calculate the cross section area of a wire and the current flowing through the ammeter difficult but given that students had a choice many may have avoided this question,”Mr Conneely said.

“Overall there was a good selection of well balanced questions on this ordinary level paper.”

Ms Kenny, who teaches at Jesus and Mary Secondary School in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, said some of the questions were longer and more specific than in previous year’s papers at ordinary level.

“Unlike in higher level, it was great to see some female physicists mentioned such as Marie Curie and Lisa Meitner,” she said.

“There were detailed experiment calculations needed in all bar one question that might have taken ordinary level students a lot of time.”

Try this at home:
- Leaving Cert physics (higher level)

Ice is used as a coolant due to the high specific heat capacities of ice and water and the high specific latent heat of fusion of ice. It is the principal coolant used in ice packs for insulated picnic boxes.

(i) What is meant by specific heat capacity?
(ii) Why does the high specific latent heat of fusion of ice make it a good coolant?
(iii) Suggest two reasons why the walls of a picnic box are made from hollow plastic rather than solid plastic.