How different is a physics degree from A level?

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Are you a student thinking about doing a physics degree? If you are, you should learn the facts before making this decision. After all, deciding what degree to take isn’t something that should be taken lightly. So, how different is physics A level from a physics degree?

The teaching

One of the obvious differences between physics A level and degree level is the way that the subject is taught. This can similarly be said for other subjects too. At A level, you will usually have one or two college physics teachers guiding you through your exam board’s specification. They will teach this content through multiple lessons a week, often setting homework and sometimes extra revision sessions. The lessons will work you towards passing your end of year A level exams. However, there will be a practical focus too, in which many exam boards assess students on lab-based coursework.

In contrast, you can expect things to be different at degree level. Things will be much more independent, so don’t expect to be ‘spoon-fed’ information as you might’ve been at A level. You will go to lectures to make your own notes on the physics content, as well as weekly workshops. Lecturers usually don’t provide many revision resources – especially compared to college teachers. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re efficient and organisational with your physics degree exams.

The approach

Degree level physics is more complicated than A level physics. You can expect your working out to go on for several pages rather than just a few lines. At university, you will be given the required information and will be expected to work out problems from this. Furthermore, physics at university is said to be a lot more abstract than at A level.  For example, you might be used to drawing up diagrams at A level. Many degree level students say that you can expect to forget about imagining and visualising concepts, particularly with quantum mechanics.

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Modules

In your A level physics revision, you might spend a lot of time on one topic, analysing it in lots of detail. However, when you go to university, you can expect to spend less time on these topics. Some modules are even covered in a week or 2. It’s obvious from this that the content at university, whilst more complex, is also vaster than at A level. You won’t have time in lectures to cover everything in huge amounts of detail. This means that you need to work hard with revision to make sure you understand the content.

There are a few differences in the way that students have to approach A level and degree level physics. With different teaching styles and ways that students receive information, you have to adjust accordingly to adapt to the exams. Both A level and degree level involve lots of maths and application, and both are heavily respected for their difficulty. Hard work is needed for both, albeit in slightly different ways.

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