"Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology and the fundamental equations of physics." -Stephen Hawking

In the United Kingdom, secondary school students have a wide variety of GCSE subjects to choose from such as Architecture, Business, Biology, Engineering, English Literature, History, Maths, Religious Studies and Physics.

The GCSE qualification is taken by 15 and 16-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to mark their graduation from Key Stage 4, which is the last stage of mandatory schooling demanded by the national curriculum. All students are required to take the study subjects that have been selected by the national curriculum.

Moreover, they may also carefully choose certain GCSE subjects that will train and help them attain the necessary qualifications required for their higher education studies at a university or college. 

If pupils in secondary school have decided to study the GCSE scientific disciplines such as Biology, Chemistry, Combined Science or Physics it will prepare them for a career in the sciences as a doctor, scientist, nutritionist or Chemistry and Physics teacher. 

Superprof will now examine all of the eight topics included in the GCSE Physics Syllabus from the AQA exam board to provide potential students with insight on this scientific discipline.


In this first topic of Energy, students start off learning about changes in energy stores and further explanation about the seven main stores of energy such as magnetic, kinetic, chemical, internal or thermal, electrostatic, elastic potential and gravitational potential.

Energy can be transferred in one of the four possible energy transfers:

  • Mechanical work,
  • Electrical work,
  • Heating,
  • Radiation.

When a force causes a body to move, work is being done. After energy has been transferred from one source to another, the work has been completed and it can be measured in joules (J). It can be described in a very simple way: energy transferred = work done.

Pupils next become familiarized with the concept of power: the rate at which energy is transferred. The more powerful a device is, the more energy it will transfer per second. The equation of power is taught and is quite simple:

power = \frac{work~done}{time}

Efficiency is defined by how good a device is at transferring energy input to useful energy output. Devices such as refrigerators, televisions and washing machines are designed to be as efficient as possible in order to not waste energy. Equations are instructed to teach students about energy efficiency.

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Energy Demands

All humans transfer and use energy. There are sources of non-renewable and renewable energy to meet our needs. Homes, private and public companies, industries and transport systems all use energy on a daily basis.

Students learn more about the most commonly used energy resources such as fossil fuels, wind power, nuclear fuel, hydroelectricity and geothermal and their effect on the planet. 


connecting power
The different parts of a plug all work together safely to connect appliances and devices to mains electricity. (Source: pixabay)

The second topic of the GCSE Physics Syllabus from the AQA exam board analyzes electric circuits, mains electricity and static electricity.

There are various symbols that are used to identify the different components in an electric circuit. Some of the most commonly observed are:

  • Switch,
  • Lamp,
  • Fixed Resistor,
  • Variable Resistor,
  • Thermistor,
  • Semiconductor diode.

Students learn that there are two types of electric current: direct and alternating. The ideas of potential difference such as the fact that it is the measure of how much energy is transferred between two points on a circuit. There is a simple formula that can be used to calculate the potential difference:

potential~difference = \frac{energy}{charge}

(Image is courtesy of bbc.com/bitesize/guides)

Mains Electricity

In the United Kingdom, the mains electricity supply is generated at a frequency of 50 Hertz and is sent to houses at 230 volts (V). As we all know, appliances and devices are connected to the mains electricity supply using a plug. Here are the parts of a plug:

  • Outer insulation: wires are wrapped with plastic to avoid any issues,
  • Cable grip: wires are held tightly into place,
  • Live wire: a copper wire that is coated with brown plastic,
  • Fuse: made of glass or ceramic and contains a thin wire that melts if the current overheats. A very essential part of the plug,
  • Neutral wire: a copper wire covered with blue plastic that connects the cable in the wall,
  • Earth wire: a copper wire that is coated in plastic.

Static Electricity

The motion of charged particles, that can be experienced by rubbing two things together, causes electrical effects like small sparks or shocks.

The laws of friction can also be observed by students in this section of the electricity topic. For example, friction is caused when insulating materials are rubbed against each other.

Particle Model of Matter

Matter is made up of small particles called atoms and it is measured by determining its density. All matter has particles, therefore, density is used to describe how closely the particles are packed together in a solid, liquid or gas.

For examples, the particles in a solid state are packed together tightly, the particles in liquids have more space to move around and in gases, they are spread out and move around randomly. 

The density of matter can be calculated using a simple equation such as the following:

density = \frac{mass}{volume}

If the volume of an object is unknown and it is an irregular shape, students learn more about the uses of a displacement can.

Temperature Changes

Changes to the state of a gas, liquid or solid can be done when the internal temperature becomes different. Adding or removing energy from a material can cause its state to change.

Students learn about how internal energy is the measurement of all energy of the entire amount of particles in an object or substance and that temperature is the calculation of the average speed of the particles. 

Particles in Gases

Gases are proven to take up more space than solids and liquids and since movements are very fast and random there are many collisions in gas particles.

Students learn more about the equations that are necessary to calculate gas pressure and volume among other things; your physics and maths tutor can explain them all to you.

Atomic Structure

ions, isotopes and atoms
Protons and neutrons are the heaviest particles in an atom. (Source: pixabay)

Atoms are extremely small in size and an atom has a nucleus containing protons and neutrons with smaller electrons that circle around the nucleus.

Protons and neutrons are known for being the heaviest particles in an atom and the total number of them in an element is known as the mass number. 

Students also learn more about isotopes and ions. Isotopes are forms of an element that have the same number of protons but a different amount of neutrons. Ions are little particles that are the result of a loss or gain of electrons after a collision. They can either be positively or negatively charged.

An essential section of the atomic structure topic has to do with radioactive decay which is when nuclei have an incorrect number of neutrons and can quickly fall apart. The fundamental knowledge of different types of nuclear radiation such as alpha, beta and gamma is acquired by students.

Uses and Dangers of Radiation

Radiation can be used for the good and can be classified into two separate categories: irradiation and contamination. 

Irradiation can be used in the sterilization of fruit to preserve it when sold in supermarkets and can be used in medical treatments. It is important to note that neither of these procedures is radioactive.

Contamination radiation is used to find leaks in underground plumbing and in x-rays and medical image processing.

Students learn more about background radiation and the effects it has on the human body. 

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The topic of forces in the GCSE Physics Syllabus is a very important and busy one. Students acquire essential knowledge about the most basic concepts such as gravity, contact and non-contact forces, elasticity and pressure in fluids just to name a few.

First and foremost, pupils study the two types of physical quantities that are measured by scientists: scalar and vector.

Arguably the most entertaining section of this topic has got to be gravity. The equation for gravitational field strength is assimilated and practised using examples. 

A thorough understanding of the use of moments, levers and gears is taught and better understood along with describing motion through velocity and acceleration.

Newton's Three Laws of motion are learnt in the last section of the topic along with terminal velocity and the completion of two required practicals.


Waves are one of the many ways energy can be transferred between different stores. They have different parts and can be described using the following terms:

  • Rest position,
  • Displacement,
  • Peak,
  • Trough,
  • Amplitude,
  • Wavelength,
  • Time period,
  • Frequency.

Wave periods and speeds are understood by applying valuable equations.

There are two basic types of waves: transverse and longitudinal. Examples of longitudinal waves include sound, ultrasound and seismic-P waves. Some cases of transverse waves include the ripples on the surface of the water, vibrations from a guitar string and electromagnetic waves from a microwave.

Students also learn more about reflection and refraction. For example, reflection waves of sound causes echoes and reflection ways of light can be observed in specular and diffuse reflection. Refraction is the change in direction of a wave at the boundary between two clear materials.

Sound waves are longitudinal waves and can travel through solids, liquids and gases. Ultrasound waves have a very high frequency that the human ear cannot hear and are used for breaking kidney stones, cleaning jewellery and create images that the naked eye cannot see directly.

Lenses have a wide variety of uses and can be divided into two categories: convex and concave.

Magnification, absorption and transmission of light can all be observed in different kinds of lenses depending on their purpose.

Black bodies or objects are perfect absorbers and emitters of radiation. Further instruction of this subject is learnt in the waves topic of the GCSE Physics Syllabus.

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Magnetism and Electromagnetism

induced and permanent magnets
Permanent magnets always have a magnetic field that cannot be turned off. (Source: pixabay)

Magnetism can be contributed to the magnetic fields that surround magnets. There are two different poles on a magnet: the north pole and the south pole.

The magnetic field is always stronger near the poles. It is important to note that similar poles repel each other and unlike poles attract each other.

There are two types of magnets: permanent and induced. Permanent magnets produce their own magnetic field and cannot be turned off whereas induced magnets only become magnets when they are introduced into a magnetic field.

A magnetic field cannot be seen by the naked eye but can be detected by using a simple tool such as a compass.

The basics of electromagnets, the motor effect and Fleming's left-hand rule are all learnt in further detail by students of the GCSE Physics Syllabus.

The current of induced potential and the direction of the movement along with a basic understanding of an AC Generator, DC Generator and transformers are further examined in this section of magnetism and electromagnetism.

Space Physics

The topic of space physics in the GCSE Physics Syllabus is of particular interest for those who love astronomy.

Pupils who are studying this topic learn more about the important elements in our solar system such as the Sun, the planets, the moons, the dwarf planets, asteroids and comets. 

Information about how gravity is an important force that maintains the stable orbit of planets around a star, moons or artificial satellites is studied by pupils. The orbital speed of a planet changes depending on its distance from the Sun.

Life Cycle of a Star

A life cycle of a star purely depends on its size. All stars begin life in the exact same way: a cloud of dust and gas, also known as a nebula, becomes a protostar which goes on to become a main sequence star. A star is considered a main sequence star for the majority of its lifespan and the Sun is expected to remain as a main sequence star for billions and billions of years.

A diagram of stars is shown to studied by pupils to show that stars that are the same size as the Sun take the left path on the diagram and those that are larger in size than the Sun take the right path of the diagram.

Different types of stars include protostar, main sequence star, red giant star, white dwarf, supernova and the neutron star or black hole. 

The Expanding Universe

For years theories about the beginning and the development of the universe have been analyzed by scientists.

To prove these theories scientists have used the electromagnetic spectrum and studied the dark lines on the spectrum to observe light from distant galaxies. This is known as red-shift and goes to show that the Universe is constantly expanding.

The popular Big Bang theory has supporting evidence from the Cosmic Microwave Radiation Background (CMRB) and is further studied by students.

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Sample Exam Questions

Preparing for a test while having previous knowledge of what questions to expect on the examination builds confidence and increases results. Here are some of the type of questions asked on the GCSE Physics Syllabus assessments:

  • Multiple choice questions,
  • One and two mark questions,
  • Three and four mark questions,
  • Maths questions,
  • Practical questions,
  • Six mark questions,
  • Equations.

The GCSE Physics Syllabus is extremely well designed to provide students with all the basic concepts of physics in a logical manner. Whether you are a scientific brain or just want to learn more, this GCSE subject is a great choice for anyone!

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