Leaving Cert physics: Students tripped up by light question not feeling fantastic

Wide-ranging exam is well-received by teachers and students

Two questions on light in the physics exam caused surprise among some students. Photo: iStock

Two questions on light in the physics exam caused surprise among some students. Photo: iStock


Teachers have highlighted the importance of students covering the entire physics course during their revision following a paper described as very fair but with a few surprises.

The appearance of two questions on light surprised some students and posed problems for anyone who left the topic out of their revision.

Ben Healy, a physics teacher in St Michael’s College in Dublin and a member of the Institute of Physics, said the paper covered all the key parts of the syllabus.

“Question six may cause some students problems as it dealt with vectors and angular velocity, which some students find tricky,” he said.

“Question ten was a full question on particle physics or applied electricity, and this was very interesting because in the last two years it has been half a question; the return to the previous format would have been welcomed by students.”

Mr Healy said a question on the Irish Low Frequency Array (I-Lofar), part of a €150m network of radio telescope stations spread across seven European countries and which detects radio waves, was particularly topical.

“The research will be able to study the sun, exoplanets, planets around other stars with strong magnetic fields like Earth, black holes and emerging galaxies, and will also be used to monitor solar flares and early light from the universe,” he said.

Pat Doyle, a physics teacher at the Institute of Education, said a hard-working student would be nicely rewarded by this paper.

“Generally the sections on section A were fair and nice, although there was a slight surprise as there were two questions on light.

“This hasn’t happened before and it would have been problematic for students who had left the topic out of their revision, although both questions on the topic were nice.

“There was also a little surprise in section B as very little material on current electricity occurred.”

The ordinary level paper was very fair, said Mr Healy. “Students with a good knowledge of all the key concepts in physics would have done very well. The experimental section was very straightforward, and question 11 on the physics of surfing was interesting,” he said.

Mr Doyle said that the absence of a question on nuclear physics was strange but that it should not have been a problem for students.

Around 5,647 boys and 2,142 girls sat the physics paper this year, with just 636 sitting the ordinary level paper.

Try this at home: Leaving Cert physics, higher level

- Explain the terms nuclear fission and specific heat capacity.

- Water can act as both a moderator and a coolant in a nuclear fission reactor. What effect does a moderator have on the rate of fission? How does a moderator have this effect?

- In a nuclear reactor core, 5000 kg of water is heated so that its temperature increases by 70 K and it is converted into steam. Calculate the energy absorbed by the water.