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GCSE Physics Syllabus

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The GCSE physics syllabus consists of eight subject areas, spread out over two test papers:


  1. Energy
  2. Electricity
  3. Particle model of matter
  4. Atomic structure
  5. Forces
  6. Waves
  7. Magnetism and electromagnetism
  8. Space physics


In the first paper, you’ll be asked questions on subjects 1-4, i.e. energy; electricity; particle model of matter and atomic structure. The second paper covers subjects 4-8: forces; waves; magnetism and electromagnetism and space physics.


Before starting your exam preparation, we recommend that you familiarise yourself with the GCSE physics syllabus. In this article, we take a look at each of the subject areas in a little more detail.




GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Changes in energy stores
  • Energy and heating
  • Energy demands
  • Work, power and efficiency


Students must understand energy changes in a system, and the ways energy is stored before and after such changes. You should be able to calculate the amount of energy associated with a moving object, a stretched spring and an object raised above ground level.


Next, you should become familiar 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. Students must know the equation of power:


Power = Work / time


You should be able to give examples that illustrate the definition of power.


For energy demands and efficiency, students must understand that all humans transfer energy and be able to recall and apply relevant equations.




GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Electric circuits
  • Mains electricity
  • Static electricity

The GCSE physics syllabus states that for electric circuits, students should be able to draw and interpret circuit diagrams, including switch, lamp, fixed resistor and variable resistor.


For mains electricity, you should be able to explain that a live wire may be dangerous even when a switch in the mains circuit is open and also the dangers of providing any connection between the live wire and earth.


For static electricity, you should be able to:


  • Describe the production of static electricity, and sparking, by rubbing surfaces
  • Describe evidence that charged objects exert forces of attraction or repulsion on one another when not in contact
  • Explain how the transfer of electrons between objects can explain the phenomena of static electricity


Particle model of matter  


GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Density of materials
  • Particles in gases
  • Temperature changes and energy


The particle model of matter is widely used to predict the behaviour of solids, liquids and gases. For this subject, the GCSE physics syllabus states that students should be able to:


  • Recognise/draw simple diagrams to model the difference between solids, liquids and gases
  • Explain the differences in density between the different states of matter in terms of the arrangement of atoms or molecules
  • Describe how, when substances change state (melt, freeze, boil, evaporate, condense or sublimate), mass is conserved
  • Interpret heating and cooling graphs that include changes of state
  • Distinguish between specific heat capacity and specific latent heat
  • Explain how the motion of the molecules in a gas is related to both its temperature and its pressure
  • Explain qualitatively the relation between the temperature of a gas and its pressure at constant volume
  • Calculate the change in the pressure of a gas or the volume of a gas when either the pressure or volume is increased or decreased


Atomic structure 


GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Atoms, isotopes and ions
  • Models of the atom
  • Nuclear fission and fusion
  • Radioactive decay
  • Uses and dangers of radiation


For this topic, the GCSE physics syllabus states that students should be able to:


  • Understand the structure of isotopes and ions
  • Describe why the new evidence from the scattering experiment led to a
  • change in the atomic model
  • Describe the difference between the plum pudding model of the atom
  • and the nuclear model of the atom
  • Use the names and symbols of common nuclei and particles
  • Explain the concept of half-life and how it is related to the random nature of radioactive decay
  • Compare hazards associated with contamination and radiation
  • Draw/interpret diagrams representing nuclear fission and how a chain reaction may occur




GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Scalar and vector quantities
  • Contact and non-contact forces
  • Gravity
  • Forces and elasticity
  • Moments, levers and gears
  • Pressure in fluids
  • Describing motion
  • Forces, acceleration and Newton’s Laws
  • Momentum


The laws of gravity, elasticity, level and gears, describing motion and the pressure in fluids are all topics covered in the GCSE physics syllabus under ‘Forces’. According to the syllabus specification, you must be able to:


  • Recall typical values of speed for a person walking, running and cycling as well as the typical values of speed for different types of transportation systems
  • Make measurements of distance and time and then calculate speeds of objects
  • Calculate average speed for non-uniform motion
  • Explain the vector–scalar distinction as it applies to displacement, distance, velocity and speed
  • Draw distance–time graphs from measurements
  • Apply Newton’s three laws, with examples where appropriate
  • Estimate stopping distances and reaction times
  • Explain the dangers caused by large decelerations
  • Describe and explain examples of momentum in an event, such as a collision




GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Properties of waves
  • Transverse and longitudinal waves
  • Reflection and refraction
  • Sound and ultrasound (Higher Tier only)
  • Lenses
  • Black body radiation


According to the GCSE physics syllabus on the subject of ‘Waves’, students should be able to:


  • Describe the difference between longitudinal and transverse waves
  • Describe evidence that, for both ripples on the water surface and sound waves in air, it is the wave and not the water or air itself that travels
  • Describe wave motion
  • Show how changes in velocity, frequency and wavelength are interrelated
  • Construct ray diagrams to illustrate the reflection of a wave at a surface
  • Describe the effects of reflection, transmission and absorption of waves at material interfaces
  • Give examples that illustrate the transfer of energy by electromagnetic waves
  • Construct ray diagrams to illustrate the refraction of a wave
  • Use information, or draw/ interpret diagrams to show how radiation affects the temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere


Magnetism and electromagnetism


GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • Electromagnetic induction
  • Electromagnets
  • Magnetic fields
  • Transformers


For this topic, the GCSE physics syllabus states that students should be able to:


  • Describe the attraction and repulsion between unlike and like poles for permanent magnets and explain the difference between permanent and induced magnets
  • Describe how to plot the magnetic field pattern of a magnet using a compass
  • Draw the magnetic field pattern of a bar magnet showing how strength and direction change from one point to another
  • Explain how the behaviour of a magnetic compass is related to evidence that the core of the Earth must be magnetic
  • Describe how the magnetic effect of a current can be demonstrated
  • Explain how the effect of an alternating current in one coil in inducing a current in another is used in transformers


Space Physics 


GCSE physics syllabus topics included are:


  • The expanding universe
  • The life cycle of a star
  • The Solar System


Those studying this topic are expected to learn about the important elements in our Solar System, such as the Sun, the planets, the moons, the dwarf planets, asteroids and comets. The GCSE physics syllabus states that you should be able to:


  • Describe the life cycle of a star
  • Describe the similarities and distinctions between the planets, their moons, and artificial satellites
  • How scientists are able to use observations to arrive at theories such as the Big Bang theory


At Exam Papers Plus, we publish GCSE physics practice tests that cover all eight topics in the syllabus. Our packs also provide sample questions for each of the four question types in the exam.


As you continue to use practice tests throughout your studying, you’ll start to see your scores improve, which can help boost your confidence. As such, they’re a great way for charting your progress in the lead up to the exam.


When we created our GCSE packs, we thoroughly analysed examiners’ reports from previous years to ensure that we covered all the essential elements of the physics exam. Our physics packs also include some of the most challenging questions that you’re likely to come up against in the exam, so you’ll be prepared for every eventuality.


When taken under timed conditions, our packs can help you get used to answering questions quickly and under pressure, thus improving your time management skills.


All of our GCSE packs are written and developed by former GCSE physics examiners and markers. They focus on the key skills that you’ll need to do well in higher tier GCSE exams.


We’d highly recommend the following resources to help with your GCSE physics revision:



GCSE Physics: Key Skills



All of our packs are available immediately after download.



Related posts:

How to Pass GCSE Physics

GCSE Physics Test Format

How to Study for GCSE Physics

GCSE Physics Revision

GCSE Physics Topics: What You Need to Know for the Exam

GCSE Physics Help: Preparing for the Exam

How to Revise and Practice for GCSE Physics

GCSE Physics Energy Questions and Answers

GCSE Physics: Key Skills Pack – Providing Essential Exam Practice and Preparation

GCSE Physics: Working Scientifically

GCSE Physics: Understanding Exam Command Words

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