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GCE

Edexcel GCE in Physics


Guidance for the A2 practical assessment

February 2009
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Acknowledgements
This guide has been produced by Edexcel on the basis of consultation with teachers, examiners,
consultants and other interested parties. Edexcel would like to thank all those who contributed
their time and expertise to its development.

References to third-party material made in this specification are made in good faith. Edexcel
does not endorse, approve or accept responsibility for the content of materials, which may be
subject to change, or any opinions expressed therein. (Material may include textbooks, journals,
magazines and other publications and websites.)

Authorised by Roger Beard


Prepared by John Crew

All the material in this publication is copyright


© Edexcel Limited 2009
This document should be read in conjunction with the GCE
Physics specification — Issue 3 (publications code UA018902)
Contents

Introduction 1
How science works 1
General considerations 1

Preparing students for the practical assessment 3


Introduction 3
Safety 3
Planning: General 3
Planning: Identifying equipment 3
Planning: Identifying techniques to use 4
Implementation: Measurements 6
Accuracy and precision 6
Implementation: Recording results in tables 7
Analysing: Graphs 7
Analysing: Limitation of results 8
Evaluating 9

Advice for students 10


Plan 10
Implementation and measurements 11
Analysis 11
Conclusion 12

Uncertainties in measurements 13
What are uncertainties? Why are they important? 13
Calculating uncertainties 13
Calculating percentage uncertainties 14
Compounding errors 14
Using error bars to estimate experimental uncertainties 16
Carrying out the practical work 16
Providing guidance to students during the practical session 17
Carrying out the analysis 17
Returning work 18
Exemplar of assessed work: Interacting magnetic fields 19
Briefing 19
Exemplar for an able student using own plan for interacting magnetic
fields 20
A2 Marking grid for interacting magnetic fields — able student 24
Exemplar for a less able student using own plan for interacting
magnetic fields 27
A2 Marking grid for interacting magnetic fields — less able student 29
Examiner’s comments for interacting magnetic fields 32

Exemplar of assessed work: Guitar strings 33


Briefing 33
Exemplar for an able student using own plan for guitar strings 34
A2 Marking grid for guitar strings — able student 39
Exemplar for a less able student using own plan for guitar strings 42
A2 Marking grid for guitar strings — less able student 45
Examiner’s comments for guitar strings 47

Exemplar of assessed work: Linked oscillators 48


Briefing 48
Student exemplar using own plan 49
A2 Marking grid for linked oscillators 53
Examiner’s comments for linked oscillators 55

Exemplar of assessed work: Temperature control 56


Briefing 56
Student exemplar using own plan 57
A2 Marking grid for temperature control 60
Examiner’s comments for temperature control 63

Training Exercise: Safety in hospital 64


Introduction 64
Safety in hospital 64

Frequently asked questions 65


Questions relating to written work 65
Questions relating to the practical session 65
Questions relating to marking work 66
Other questions 67
Further advice 68
Plagiarism and collusion 68
Annotation of student work 69

Glossary 70
Appendix 1: Exemplar centre devised plans for candidates 71
Plan for experiment for interacting magnetic fields 71
Plan for experiment for guitar strings 72
Plan for experiment for linked oscillator 73
Plan for experiment for temperature control 74
Plan for experiment for safety in hospital 75

Appendix 2: Precision, accuracy and sensitivity 77


Introduction

All A2 students are required to carry out one piece of assessed practical work that is based on an
application of physics. This book provides guidance and examples for the practical work. It
includes a section that discusses how students should be prepared for this assessment, advice for
students and some notes on uncertainties that may be issued to students, and suggestions and
exemplars of practical assessments.

How science works


The practical assessment gives students the opportunity to address some of the ‘How science
works’ themes. These themes are about how scientists go about investigating the world about
us. It has nothing to do with content and is a development that builds on and extends the science
skills from Key Stages 3 and 4 through to AS. Students can use this opportunity to demonstrate:
• their knowledge and understanding to pose scientific questions, define scientific problems,
and to present scientific arguments and ideas
• their ability to use appropriate methodology to answer scientific questions and solve
scientific problems
• their ability to carry out experimental and investigative activities, including appropriate risk
assessment
• their ability to analyse and interpret data to provide evidence, recognising correlations and
casual relationships
• their ability to evaluate methodology, evidence and data
• their ability to communicate information and ideas in appropriate ways using appropriate
technology
• a consideration of ethical issues
• an appreciation of the ways in which society uses science to inform decision-making
• a consideration of applications and implications of science.

General considerations
It is important to ensure that all students have the opportunity to gain marks for all the
assessment criteria for Unit 6 when selecting the practical work.
It would be beneficial to the students to be given a practical on a topic within the A2 or AS
course but this is not a requirement of the assessment criteria (however it is expected that this
work will show progression from AS). The practical work can be completed at any time during
the A2 course but it would be more appropriate to administer the assessment near the end of the
course. The practical work should take no more than two hours to complete.
The practical work needs to involve the variation of two interdependent quantities that can be
measured. Students need to be able to produce a graph that will usually be a straight line and
derive the relationship between the two variables or derive a constant. For example this might
involve one variable plotted against the square root of the other. It is a development from AS
that students will often plot log graphs.

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Edexcel does not specify a list of equipment that should be made available to students and
therefore the practical assessment may be achieved by using basic laboratory apparatus; this
does not preclude students from using more complex equipment and centres are encouraged to
use equipment such as signal generators, oscilloscopes and data logging devices, where these
are available, to reflect the improving skills of the candidates.
The practical work has been designed to be flexible so that centres may use their existing
resources. If many students in large centres require the use of expensive equipment then
different groups of students may have to do the practical assessment at different times of the
year. If a staggered approach is taken then different groups of students should do different
experiments to avoid collaboration.

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Preparing students for the practical assessment

Introduction
The practical work will assess each student’s ability to:
• plan
• implement
• analyse and
• evaluate.
Centres should devise and implement a suitable programme of practical work throughout the A2
course to ensure that students acquire the skills and experience that will be needed for them to
succeed in each of these aspects of the practical assessment. The specification suggests
experiments that students could carry out to enable them to experience a wide range of practical
skills. The suggestions are not exhaustive and centres could use different experiments to those
suggested to reflect the equipment that they have available.
Students should be encouraged to calculate percentage uncertainties (discussed in another
section) whenever possible in experiments that they do throughout the course. They should be
given the opportunity to combine uncertainties and carry out more complex error analysis than
at AS.

Safety
Teachers should emphasise the importance of safety in all practical work throughout the course
as a matter of good practice.

Planning: General
The plan should include all aspects of the practical from selection of the apparatus through
methods employed to how the data will be used and it should include some indication of how
the aim, stated in the briefing, will be achieved. The intentions should be clear with few
grammatical or spelling errors and will benefit from subheadings that divide the text into clear
sections.

Planning: Identifying equipment


Students should be able to identify apparatus and materials that are needed to achieve a
particular aim. This includes the identification of the most appropriate measuring instruments
for a particular task. For example, if a student needs to measure the width and thickness of a rule
then they would be expected to select vernier callipers for the width and a micrometer for the
thickness (or a suitable digital device for both).

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Students should be aware of the precision of instruments, in general:
mm scale 0.50 mm
vernier 0.10 mm
micrometer 0.01 mm
If measuring a mass such as the mass of a coin students should identify an appropriate
instrument to use. Different digital top pan balances have different ranges and different
precisions. Students should select the most appropriate top pan balance to use.
Where appropriate, students should calculate/estimate the values of equipment needed, eg,
resistors and their power rating in electrical circuits or suggest a range of values, eg weights,
that will be needed for their experiment.

Planning: Identifying techniques to use


Students should develop their knowledge and understanding of a variety of techniques in order
to produce results which are as accurate and reliable as is reasonably possible. Experience
shows that students who do this are more likely to gain higher marks for the better results that
this achieves. The following list (which is by no means exhaustive) contains some common
techniques that should be experienced several times during normal practical work:
• zero error checks
• repeat measurements (at different places if appropriate)
• difference methods (eg for extension of a spring)
• eye level to avoid parallax error
• use of marker at centre of oscillations to aid timing
• use of set square for checking vertical or horizontal arrangements
• interpolation of analogue scales
• trigonometric methods for measuring angles.

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D

Technique for measuring the diameter of a cylinder that is several cm across

Tan θ = y/x
y θ
x

Using a trigonometric method for measuring angles

Pin

Cork

Using a marker at the centre of an oscillation to aid timing

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Implementation: Measurements
During the course, students should develop their skills for making valid, reliable measurements
using appropriate techniques. Students should provide written evidence when writing up their
assessed practical work to show the techniques that they have used to ensure that they get the
appropriate credit; it is recommended that students be encouraged to do this with the normal
practical work that they do throughout the course so that it becomes a habit.
Students should realise that a liquid must be stirred before using a thermometer to record its
temperature and this should be mentioned in the notes that the students produce.
Before taking measurements, students should check instruments for zero error and record that
this was done.
If measuring a fixed quantity, eg diameter of a rod, then students should take repeat
measurements in at least three different places at different orientations (recording all these
measurements to provide evidence they have done this).
Students should make and record sufficient relevant observations over a suitable range of values
with appropriate precision. What is a ‘sufficient’ number of observations cannot always be
defined - it depends on the nature and context of the experiment and is in itself a ‘skill’ which is
acquired through experience. For example, for a mass oscillating on a spring with a period of
about 1s it might be appropriate to time, say, 20 oscillations and then repeat this measurement.
However, with a heavily damped motion it might not be possible to count more than a few
oscillations, in which case it might be necessary to repeat 5 oscillations at least 4 times. Students
should be prepared to modify their planned procedures in response to their experimental
observations.
Students should realise that in some experiments (eg, plotting a cooling curve) it is not possible
to take extra measurements after obtaining a set of readings and therefore they should plan to
take as many readings as possible (eg by taking readings every 30 s rather than every minute). It
may actually be counter productive to take repeat readings in some cases, for example in an
electrical experiment a component may heat up and so a repeat set of readings would be
completely different from the first set of readings.
Where it is difficult to make a precise measurement, eg timing a ball rolling down a slope
(which is likely to be in the order of two seconds and subject to considerable subjective error)
then several readings should be taken and averaged.

Accuracy and precision


Students should be aware of the difference between the accuracy and precision of
measurements, for example although a stopwatch can read to high precision (0.01 s) timings
will be subject to error because of the reaction time in starting and stopping the stopwatch. This
will give rise to random errors, which can be reduced by taking several readings. When
measuring the resistance of a length of wire the contact resistance can lead to a systematic error.
Repeat readings might not do anything about this but plotting a graph of resistance against
length of wire should reveal a value of the contact resistance when length is zero.
Thermometers are notoriously inaccurate: although 0 – 100 ºC thermometers can be read (by
interpolation) to a precision of 0.5 ºC or better they are unlikely to be accurate (due to their
manufacture) to within 1 ºC, or even worse. This has more effect when measuring a temperature
difference (eg determining the rise in temperature when a beaker of water is heated) and so
students should still be trained to attempt readings to 0.5 ºC or better.

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Students should recognise that even though an instrument is capable of high precision (eg
digital meter, electronic balance, digital stopwatch), its accuracy may well be in doubt
(particularly if the student hasn’t checked for any zero error) or there may be a further
uncertainty due to human error.

Implementation: Recording results in tables


Students should present work appropriately in written, graphical or other forms. In particular,
results should be tabulated with data columns headed by the corresponding units with the data
expressed to the appropriate precision, eg:

h1 / mm h2 /mm x/mm 20T / s 20T / s T ² / s²


327.5 321.0 6.5 19.52 19.64 0.96
327.5 314.5 13.0 27.64 27.50 1.90

All readings should be shown and recorded to the precision of the instrument. It is not essential
to record ‘intermediate’ calculations (of, for example, the mean value of 20T and T), but the
required quantity, T 2, should be expressed to a suitable number of significant figures. The
number of significant figures is deemed to represent the precision of the value, eg 0.96 s2
indicates a value of 0.96 + 0.005 s2. The correct heading for a column of figures that is the
logarithm of another column is, for example, log (x/mm).

Analysing: Graphs
Plotting graphs is an important part of practical work that students must be familiar with before
they make routine use of software. It is also going to be difficult to ensure that candidates use
any computers solely for graph plotting when doing assessed practical work. All assessed
graphs should therefore be plotted by hand and they should be drawn using a large scale, but
avoiding ‘awkward’ scales, particularly scales of three. A rule-of-thumb definition of ‘large’ is
that the points should occupy at least half the grid in both the x and y directions (or else the
scale could be doubled!); this may include the origin if appropriate. The axes should be labelled
with the quantity being plotted (or its symbol) and its units
(if applicable), eg T 2 / s 2, ln (V / cm 3) , l / D 2 / m-2. Points should be plotted with precision
(interpolating between grid lines) and denoted by a dot with a small circle round it or a small
cross. Error bars are not expected, although students could be made aware of them since they
can be useful in determining uncertainties. Students should be taught to draw the line of best fit,
whether it be a straight line or a smooth curve, preferably with a sharp pencil.
If a straight line graph is anticipated, it is appropriate initially to take six or more measurements
over as wide a range of values as possible. Having plotted the graph it might be necessary to
take extra measurements, perhaps in a region where there is some doubt as to the nature of the
line. This is particularly so in the case of a curve where more points are generally required,
especially in the region of a maximum or minimum. It is therefore a good idea to plot the graph
before dismantling the apparatus and considering how the graph compares with the theory and
prediction.

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X

X X

X X

(i) (ii)
Does graph (i) curve to the origin, or continue as a straight line and give an intercept? More
readings would be needed (if possible) to decide. In graph (ii) extra readings in the region of the
maximum would help to define its shape more precisely.
At A2 students are expected to relate linear graphs to y = mx + c and to understand that a
straight line graph must pass through the origin to confirm a directly proportional relationship.
They should, however, bear in mind that not all relationships in physics are linear! It is a
development from AS that A2 students are expected to be able to plot logarithmic graphs in
order to test for exponential relationships or power laws.
Students should be able to interpret information from a graph, allocating units where appropriate
to the gradient, intercept and area under the curve where these represent physical quantities.
When a gradient is being determined, whether from a straight line or by drawing a tangent at the
appropriate point on a curve, as large a triangle as possible should be used and its co-ordinates
should be recorded in the calculation of its value.
The student’s graph may not pass through the origin, from which they might infer that there
could be a systematic error, eg there may be an additional constant term in the expression that
they are using.

Analysing: Limitation of results


In analysing their observations, students should be aware of the limitations of their experimental
measurements. They should understand that certain types of measurement are more reliable than
others. For example, finding the period of a mass oscillating on a spring from 20 oscillations
(say 20 s) should be a reliable, reproducible measurement, whereas the time for a ball to roll
down a slope is likely to be fairly unreliable for a number of reasons: human error in measuring
a time of about 2 s, the ball may not roll in a straight line and the ball might skid. Simple
electrical measurements using digital meters should be reliable, whilst thermal experiments may
be less so due to thermal energy losses and inaccurate and insensitive thermometers.
They should understand how repeat measurements and graphical methods can reduce random
and systematic errors and how such techniques can invariably improve the reliability of their
data.
Students should be aware of the precision of instruments as discussed previously. They should
recognise that if a measurement is the result of the difference of two readings (eg the depression
of a cantilever as measured by a metre rule), it would be unreasonable to quote an uncertainty of
better than 1 mm (ie 0.5 mm for each reading).

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Evaluating
In drawing their conclusions, students should be aware that as well as possible instrument errors
(even with high precision devices such as digital meters and electronic balances), values stated
on components (eg masses, resistors and especially capacitors) are only ‘nominal’ values,
subject to manufacturers’ tolerances. For example, electrolytic capacitors may have a tolerance
of 10% or more.
They should also be aware of factors inherent within their apparatus or experimental
arrangements which limit the reliability of their measurements, eg friction, air resistance,
contact resistance, fluctuating power supplies and change of temperature during the experiment.
Students should assess the reliability of their data by considering the uncertainty of their
measurements. In general terms this should be taken to be half the range of their measurements
if several readings are taken or else the precision to which the instrument can be read if only a
single reading is taken. However, if human error is likely to exceed this (eg reaction time
starting and stopping a stopwatch) then this should be taken into consideration (eg although a
stopwatch can read to a precision of 0.01 s, a more realistic uncertainty when using it to time
oscillations might be 0.1 s to reflect reaction time). Uncertainties are usually of little value
unless expressed as a percentage, eg a 0.1 s uncertainty in timing 20 oscillations (say 20 s)
would give rise to a percentage uncertainty of only 0.5%, whereas a realistic uncertainly of 0.2 s
in timing a ball rolling down a slope (say 2 s) would result in a 10% uncertainty.
If the gradient of the graph is not to be used to calculate a further numerical value such as the
Young Modulus then the mark for compounding errors is not readily accessible. In this case
error bars can be drawn and best fit and worst fit lines can be drawn. These can then be used to
determine an uncertainty in the gradient. Thus if the power relationship between two variables
was sought the uncertainty in the numerical value could be derived from the difference between
these two gradients.
Conclusions, wherever possible, should be based on quantitative evidence. For example, in an
experiment to determine acceleration of free fall, the student might get a value for g of
10.4 ms-2. A valid conclusion would be that the experiment confirms the relationship within
experimental error because the value of g obtained is within about 4% of the accepted value and
the experimental uncertainty is 10% from just the timing. Comments such as ‘close to the right
value’ get no credit!
Finally, students need to apply their knowledge and understanding of physics, together with
common sense. For example if in an experiment to determine a value for the density of a golf
ball it was found it to be 140 kg m-3 they should stop and think ‘but doesn’t a golf ball sink in
water?’ A check of their calculations might enable them to discover, perhaps, that they had used
the diameter of the ball instead of its radius and hence found a volume that was eight times too
large (‘is the volume really 320 cm3?’). If a careful check does not reveal such an error, then a
suitable comment should be made to indicate that the student is somewhat surprised by the
result.

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Advice for students

Plan
List all the materials that you require for your experiment.
State how you will measure two different types of quantities using the most appropriate
instrument. For example, you could write:
• I will use a top pan balance to measure the mass.
• I will use a micrometer screw gauge to measure the diameter of the wire.
Explain why you have chosen two of the measuring instruments that you have listed. For
example, you could write:
• I will use vernier callipers to measure the internal diameter of the test tube as no other
instrument has this facility.
• I will use a multimeter to measure the resistance of the thermistor since it has a variety of
ranges so I will be able to select the one that gives me the best precision.
Describe at least two measuring techniques that you have used to make your measurements
reliable. For example, you could write:
• I will look horizontally across the wire with the metre rule behind in order to measure the
position of the node.
• I will remove the Bunsen to slow the rate of heating as I measure the temperature of the
thermistor. This will allow it to come to thermal equilibrium.
You need to identify other variables that could affect your results and state how these were
controlled to ensure that you carried out a fair test. For example, you could write:
• I increased the pressure of the gas slowly so that the temperature stayed the same.
If you will not be taking repeat readings you should explain why. For example, you could write:
• I will be recording the temperature of the liquid as it warms up the thermistor so it will not
be able to repeat my readings. I will check each reading carefully before replacing the
bunsen.
Identify any safety hazards in your experiment and any precautions you may take. For example,
you could write:
• I will use a stand to make sure the beaker of boiling water is kept securely on the tripod and
gauze.
Indicate how you intend to use the data that you collected. For example, in an experiment to
find out how the period, T, of a pendulum varies with its length, l, you could write:
I will plot the log of the time against the log of the length and find the gradient to give me the
value of n in the equation T = kln.
Include a diagram showing the arrangement of the apparatus that you will use. Mark important
distances on this diagram and, in particular, mark any distances that you will measure.

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The sources of uncertainty and error should be commented on. For example you could write:
• The uncertainty in my measurement of the period comes from the range of my repeated
readings. It is caused by my judgement of when the pendulum actually stops.
• The thermometer might introduce a systematic error since I am unable to check whether it
reads 00C in melting ice. I will get an indication when the water boils and I can see if it
reads 1000C even though the water is not pure.
Finally, remember that your plan should show logical thought by describing what you intend to
do in sequence. The plan should be written in the future tense but this is not essential.

Implementation and measurements


Record all your results in an appropriate table.
If you take the average of, say three readings, then you should ensure that you write down each
individual reading, not just the average value to show the examiner that you have taken an
appropriate number of measurements.
If you are plotting a graph then you should aim to take at least six readings and repeat these if
necessary. It is a good idea to draw a rough graph as you are taking the measurements so that
you can investigate anomalous readings or to take extra readings near any turning points in any
curves that you obtain.
Make sure that you take measurements over as wide a range as possible. For example, if you are
determining the distance between two nodes that are separated by a few centimetres then you
should not measure the distance between two nodes only. Instead, measure the distance
occupied by several nodes and then calculate the average distance between two of these nodes.
Think critically about your plan as you carry it out. Record any changes that you make to the
plan with a reason. Record any techniques that you use but might not have written in your plan.

Analysis
When you draw your graph, you should use more than half the graph paper in both the x and y
directions. The graph need not necessarily include the origin; this depends on the measurements
that you are carrying out.
Use a sensible scale; for example avoid the use of a scale that goes up in steps of three as this
will make it difficult for you to process any readings that you take from your graph.
Make sure that you label each axis with the quantity being plotted (or its symbol) and its units if
it has any, eg log (T/s).
Plot points accurately, using either a dot surrounded by a small circle or a small cross.
Make a brief comment on the trend shown by your graph, eg as temperature increases,
resistance increases linearly. Remember that a straight line graph must pass through the origin
to confirm a directly proportional relationship.
If you need to obtain the gradient of your graph you should draw as large a triangle as possible
on your graph paper to show how you worked out a value for the gradient. If the gradient is to
be used to calculate a value for a physical quantity then you must read the units carefully from
the axes.

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You will need to discuss the sources of error and calculate the uncertainties that these contribute
to the result(s) of your experiment. At A2 you will need to compound your errors to estimate
their combined effect on the final result. You might use error bars on your graph to do this.
You should comment on the precision of your measurements and how these contributed to the
precision of your result. It might be that some of your readings were more precise than others in
which case the least precise determines the result. The likely accuracy of your result might be
commented on by reference to the uncertainties or by numerical comparison with the accepted
value of a quantity such as the acceleration due to gravity.
Suggest at least one realistic non-trivial modification that you could make to reduce the errors
in your experiment or to improve your experiment. Trivial suggestions such as if I had more
time I would have taken more readings will not score this mark. Vague suggestions such as I
would use a digital meter are only of use if they go on to describe how they improve the
experiment. Considering the precision of your readings is an appropriate way to do that.
Similarly you might consider using a more sensitive device. Certainly the accuracy of your
result merits comment.
You should suggest further work that will develop the investigation that this work started, often
it will involve changing different variables with the same apparatus. You should explain how
this work will add to your understanding of the investigation and what you might expect to find.

Conclusion
It is important to make a clear concise statement of your final conclusion. Make sure it is easy to
find the conclusion in your report. For example, draw a box round it, give it a prominent
heading, or underline it in a bright colour.
The conclusion should relate your results to the original aim of the experiment and should
include your final numerical result with its uncertainty. For example you could write:
From my measurements I found a value of 6.2 +/- 0.5 x 10-34 J s for the Planck constant.
or
The results from these experiments indicate that there is a power-law relationship between wave
speed v and tension T: v = kTa where a = 0.48+/- 0.03. Theoretical analysis suggests that a = 0.5
(ie v = k√T), which is consistent with the data.
Briefly mention any physics principles that you use in your calculations and/or conclusion. This
might involve algebraic manipulation of equations or a discussion of the phenomenon you have
been investigating. For example why the wire was resonating at all in an experiment to measure
resonant lengths.

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Uncertainties in measurements

What are uncertainties? Why are they important?


When you repeat a measurement you often get different results. There is an uncertainty in the
measurement that you have taken. It is important to be able to determine the uncertainty in
measurements so that their effect can be taken into consideration when drawing conclusions
about experimental results.

Calculating uncertainties
Example: A student measures the diameter of a metal canister using a ruler graduated in mm
and records three results:

66 mm, 65 mm and 61 mm.

The average diameter is (66 + 65 + 61) / 3 = 64 mm.

The uncertainty in the diameter is the difference between the average reading and the biggest or
smallest value obtained, whichever is the greater. In this case, the measurement of 61 mm is
further from the average value than 66 mm, so the uncertainty in the measurement is:
64 – 61 = 3 mm.

Therefore the diameter of the metal canister is 64 +- 3 mm.

Even in situations where the same reading is obtained each time there is still an uncertainty in
the measurement because the instrument used to take the measurement has its own limitations.
If the three readings obtained above were all 64 mm then the value of the diameter being
measured is somewhere between the range of values 63.5 mm and 64.5 mm.

In this case, the uncertainty in the diameter is +-0.5 mm.

Therefore the diameter of the metal canister is 64.0 +- 0.5 mm.

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Calculating percentage uncertainties
The percentage uncertainty in a measurement can be calculated using:

Uncertainty of measurement x 100%


Measurement taken

The percentage uncertainty in the measurement of the diameter of the metal canister is:

Uncertainty of measurement x 100% = 0.5 x 100% = 1 %


Measurement taken 64

The radius of the canister = diameter/2 = 32 mm.

The percentage uncertainty for the radius of the canister is the same as its diameter ie 1%.

Compounding errors
Calculations often use more than one measurement. Each measurement will have its own
uncertainty, so it is necessary to combine the uncertainties for each measurement together to
calculate the overall uncertainty in the result of the calculation.

The total percentage uncertainty is calculated by adding together the percentage uncertainties
for each measurement if (1) all the measured quantities are independent of one another AND
(2) they are multiplied together.

Example 1: Calculating the percentage uncertainty for the area of a square tile.
A student using a rule to measure the two adjacent sides of a square tile obtains the following
results:
Length of one side = 84 +- 0.5mm
Length of second side = 84 +- 0.5mm
Show that the percentage uncertainty in the length of each side of this square tile is about 1%.
Calculate the area of the square.
(The above two calculations are left as an exercise for the student.)
[Area of square A = 84 x 84 = 7100 mm]
The percentage uncertainty in the area of the square tile is calculated by adding together the
percentage uncertainties for its two sides.

14 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
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Percentage uncertainty in the area of the square tile is:

ΔA/A = 1% + 1% = 2%

Example 2: A metallurgist is determining the purity of an alloy that is in the shape of a cube by
measuring the density of the material. The following readings are taken:
Length of each side of the cube l = 24.0 +- 0.5mm
Mass of cube m = 48.230+- 0.005g
Calculate (i) the density of the material (ii) the percentage uncertainty in the density of the
material.
Solution 2:
(i) Density of alloy = mass/volume = 48.230 x 10 -3 kg/ (24.0 x 10-3)3 = 3500 kg m-3.
(ii) Percentage uncertainty in the length of each side of the cube

Δl/l = 0.5 x 100% = 2 %


24

Percentage uncertainty in mass of cube

Δm/m = 0.005 x 100% = 0.1 %


48.2

Therefore total percentage uncertainty = 2% + 2% + 2% +0.1% = 6.1%


We normally ignore decimal places in calculating uncertainties so the percentage uncertainty in
the density of the material is 6%.

Example 3: Calculating the percentage uncertainty for the cross sectional area of a canister.
If the student determines that the radius of the metal canister is 36 mm with an uncertainty of
1% then the cross sectional area A of the canister is:

A=πr2

A = π (36) 2

A = 4.1 x 103 mm2.

Notice that the result has been expressed using scientific notation so that we can write down just
two significant figures. The calculator answer (4071.5...) gives the impression of far greater
precision that is justified when the radius is only known to the nearest mm.

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The cross sectional area was calculated by squaring the radius (ie multiplying the radius by the
radius). Since two quantities have been multiplied together, the percentage uncertainty in the
value of the cross sectional area is found by adding the percentage uncertainty of the radius to
the percentage uncertainty of the radius:

Percentage uncertainty in cross sectional area

ΔA/A = 1% + 1%
= 2%

Using error bars to estimate experimental uncertainties


The equation v = kTa relates the speed of a wave, v in a string to its tension, T. In an experiment
to verify this relationship, a graph of ln (v/ms-1) against ln (T/N) is plotted and the gradient of
the straight line is the constant a. To determine the uncertainty in constant a, the uncertainties in
v and T can be compounded by considering the difference between the best fit and worst fit lines
that can be plotted through the data using error bars.
To produce error bars in ln(T/N) you need the uncertainty in T. You then calculate the logarithm
of your data point with the uncertainty applied and draw the error bar to this value. Suppose you
measure T as T = 3.4N +/- 0.2N. Then the length of the error bar is [ln(3.6N)-ln(3.2N)]. This
need only be calculated for one data point and the same size error bar used for each value of T.
The uncertainty in ln (v/ms-1) can be calculated in the same way and error bars drawn in that
direction to give, in effect, an error box around each plot. The best fit line is the line that passes
closest to all the plots. The worst fit line just passes through all the error boxes.
It is not intended that this should be a particularly lengthy procedure but it is one way of finding
an estimate of the uncertainty in an experiment.

Carrying out the practical work


Students must carry out the practical work individually under supervised conditions.
It is advisable to have spare parts available, particularly for vulnerable components.
It should be possible for students to set up their equipment and record all necessary
measurements in one normal practical session. If it is not possible to complete the practical in
one session then the teacher may decide to use the following session to complete the practical.
The unmarked plan should be returned to students at the beginning of the lesson. Teachers may
give students a copy of the assessment criteria (marking grids) from the specification and
briefing documents at the start of the session; students must not bring their own copies of any
documents to the session to prevent them from accessing annotated versions that they may
produce. Teachers may provide students with any formula that are needed during the session
without penalty.

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Teachers should remind students of health and safety issues before they begin the practical work
and advise students to have, for example, electrical circuits checked before the power is
switched on. Relevant warnings should be given, eg warning students that a component may get
very hot during the course of the experiment.
Students must work individually.
Teachers must collect in all the work that the student has produced at the end of the lesson.

Providing guidance to students during the practical


session
The specification states that ‘Teachers may provide guidance to students without penalty.
Guidance is feedback that a teacher might reasonably be expected to give to a student who asks
questions about the work that they are carrying out. In effect, the teacher is being used as a
resource.’ For example, the student may ask the teacher to check whether apparatus has been set
up correctly if the apparatus does not appear to be working correctly. For example, a student
carrying out an experiment using an electrical circuit might sensibly ask the teacher whether the
circuit is correct before switching on the power supply. The teacher should check the circuit and
tell the student if it is incorrect. The error still needs to be identified and corrected by the student
and this advice would carry no penalty. If however after several attempts the teacher feels the
error needs to be explained and corrected then this should be noted clearly on the Candidate
Record Sheet.
The specification continues: ‘Students may require assistance whereby the teacher needs to tell
the student what they have to do. Assistance in this respect carries a penalty. The teacher should
record details of any assistance provided on the Candidate Record Sheet.’ It may be necessary to
tell a student how to connect up a circuit so that they can carry out the experiment and record
some measurements. In this situation, students will be penalised. If the teacher has to explain
how to use an instrument, eg micrometer, then the help given should be recorded and the student
should lose the mark for P6: States how to measure a second quantity using the most
appropriate instrument. However, if the student provides a satisfactory reason for the choice of
this measuring instrument they will not lose the mark for P7: Explains the choice of the second
measuring instrument with reference to the scale of the instrument as appropriate and/or the
number of measurements to be taken.

Carrying out the analysis


The analysis may be carried out in a separate lesson under supervision.
At the beginning of the lesson, teachers should return the work that students produced for the
experiment. Teachers may also give students a copy of the assessment criteria, briefing
documents and formula that may be needed.
Working individually under supervised conditions, students should analyse their results and
write up their conclusions. Teachers must not assist students with the analysis or presentation of
their results, or provide any hints about possible conclusions.
At the end of the session the teacher should collect in all the documents that students have in
their possession.

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Returning work
Teachers must not return work to students to improve. However, students may do more than
practical assessment and some training exercises are highly recommended. Their best piece of
work should be submitted to Edexcel for assessment purposes.

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Exemplar of assessed work: Interacting magnetic
fields

Briefing
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical tool that uses a magnetic field and the natural
resonance of nuclei in the body to obtain images of human tissues. The patient is placed in a
constant magnetic field and radiofrequency radiation is then applied to the system which causes
certain nuclei within the patient to resonate.
This can be modelled by using a small bar magnet as the nucleus and freely suspending it in an
external magnetic field. At first it lines up with the external field as a compass needle does.
When the magnet is rotated about its centre and released it experiences equal and opposite
forces at each end that rotate it back into line. The strength of these forces depends on the
strength of the external magnetic field. When released the magnet then oscillates about the
centre with a resonant frequency that depends on the strength of the magnetic field.
You can produce a magnetic field by passing electric current through a flat coil. This can be
made from a length of wire wrapped around a 250 ml beaker to form a flat coil with 10 turns
and held together with sticky tape. Your teacher will give you such an arrangement.
Make sure there is no current flowing in the flat coil and suspend the magnet so that it is at the
centre of the flat coil. Rotate the magnet about its centre and release it and you will observe
oscillations with a definite period T. This period T is affected by the strength of the total
external field in which it is placed ie the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field and the strength
of the magnetic field in the coil depends on the current I flowing in it.
Plan an experiment to determine how the period T varies with current I in the coil. It is
suggested that they are related by

1/T2 = k I

where k is a constant. You should plan to find out how well your data follows the suggestion.

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Exemplar for an able student using own plan for
interacting magnetic fields

X
Apparatus

Coil of wire – as advised by teacher


Small bar magnet
Thread n N
Stopclock A
Ammeter s
Power supply unit and leads
Retort stands

Method

1 Make the coil and hold it with a retort stand. Attach the power supply unit and ammeter
using crocodile clips. Use thread to suspend the magnet in the centre of the coil. See
diagram. I will rotate the coil so that it lies East – West, this means the magnet will line up
with the Earth’s field.
2 Place a marker at the equilibrium position and rotate the magnet about 200 and release it.
Use the stopclock to time 10 oscillations to reduce the uncertainty in T. Record the time in
the table below; take repeat readings and find an average.
3 Turn on the power supply unit and adjust the current to read 0.5 A on the ammeter.
4 Rotate the magnet about 200 and release it. Time 10 oscillations and record the current and
time in a table like this.

I/A 10 T / s 10 T / s 10 T / s Mean T /s 1/ (T2) / s-2


0

5 Increase the current in steps of 0.5 A and repeat 4 for each current.
6 Plot a graph of 1/ T2 against I. The plots should be on a straight line and the intercept should
be very small.

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Carrying out

I let the magnet swing freely so that it pointed North and South, I then placed the coil around it
using a second retort stand. I used wooden retort stands so that there was no influence on the
magnets swinging.
When I turned the current on I made sure the magnet did not turn round, I was then sure the coil
field reinforced the Earth’s field.
I recorded the following readings

I/A 10 T / s 10 T / s 10 T / s Mean T /s 1/ (T2) / s-2


0 12.32 12.22 12.28 1.23 0.661
0.5 9.68 9.68 9.72 0.969 1.065
1.0 8.28 8.32 8.22 0.827 1.462
1.5 7.38 7.37 7.34 0.737 1.841
2.0 6.72 6.75 6.72 0.673 2.208
2.5 6.18 6.24 6.32 0.625 2.56
3.0 5.82 5.78 5.82 0.581 2.962
3.5 5.46 5.50 5.46 0.547 3.342
4.0 5.22 5.15 5.22 0.520 3.698
4.5 4.96 4.97 4.91 0.495 4.081
5.0 4.72 4.75 4.78 0.475 4.432

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Analysis

I plotted a graph of 1/T2 against I as shown.


The current readings are to a precision of 0.01 A and the timings all agree very well suggesting
the uncertainty in I is a maximum of 2% - 0.01 in 0.5. Uncertainty in T – taking the 4.5 A
readings – 0.03/4.95 so 0.6% ( using half the range). So the uncertainty in 1/T2 is 1.2%. These
will be too small to plot as error bars on the graph.

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Gradient (4.45 – 0.70) / 5.00 = 3.75/5.00 = 0.75
So the value for k is 0.75 A-1 s-2 with an uncertainty of about 3%.
The plots all lie very close to the Best Fit Line suggesting that this value for k is reliable and
that the measurements are accurate. It certainly supports strongly the equation describing the
motion especially since the uncertainty in the readings is so small. When the coil current
increases there is a stronger field and this will have a greater force on the poles of the oscillating
magnet. There is a greater restoring force on the rotating magnet and so the period of oscillation
is smaller.
The actual value for k depends on the shape of the coil and the number of turns, amongst other
things. This could be developed by using coils of different shapes and radii. The field could also
be varied by moving the magnet out along the axis of the coil.

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A2 Marking grid for interacting magnetic fields — able
student

A: Planning

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


P1 Identifies the most appropriate apparatus 1 List shown, assume that the
required for the practical in advance. power supply is variable
and so a series adjustable
resistor is not necessary.
P2 Provides clear details of apparatus 0 Does not specify, eg, likely
required including approximate ammeter range or typical
dimensions and/or component values power supply value.
(for example, dimensions of items such
as card or string, value of resistor).
P3 Draws an appropriately labelled diagram 1
of the apparatus to be used.
P4 States how to measure one quantity using 1 Ammeter is appropriate
the most appropriate instrument.
P5 Explains the choice of the measuring 0 With no reason
instrument with reference to the scale of the
instrument as appropriate and/or the number
of measurements to be taken.
P6 States how to measure a second quantity 1 Stopclock is fine
using the most appropriate instrument.
P7 Explains the choice of the second 0 Precision not mentioned
measuring instrument with reference to
the scale of the instrument as
appropriate and/or the number of
measurements to be taken.
P8 Demonstrates knowledge of correct 1 Describes use of fiducial
measuring techniques. mark.
P9 Identifies and states how to control all 1 Takes account of the effect
other relevant quantities to make it a fair of Earth’s magnetic field
test. and orientation of coil
P10 Comments on whether repeat readings 1 Plans to take repeats
are appropriate for this experiment.
P11 Comments on all relevant safety aspects 0 None mentioned
of the experiment.
P12 Discusses how the data collected will be 1 Mentions how variables will
used. be used to plot graph.
P13 Identifies the main sources of 1 Explains use of repeats to
uncertainty and/or systematic error. reduce uncertainty
P14 Plan contains few grammatical or 1
spelling errors.

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Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes
P15 Plan is structured using appropriate 1 Structured plan
subheadings.
P16 Plan is clear on first reading. 1 Logical progression through
method
Mark for this section. 12/16

B: Implementation and measurements

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


M1 Records all measurements with 1 All readings to 0.01 s
appropriate precision, using a table although final column is
where appropriate optimistic
M2 Readings show appreciation of 1 Repeats taken, with small
uncertainty variation, for mean
M3 Uses correct units throughout 1 Units good
M4 Refers to initial plan while working and 1 Coil orientation described
modifies if appropriate
M5 Obtains an appropriate number of 1 Plenty of readings, almost
measurements too many, students need to
be careful that they don’t
run out of time
M6 Obtains measurements over an 1 Good range of current
appropriate range although differences in 10T
are quite small at the end
Maximum marks for this section 6/6

C: Analysis

Ref Criterion Mark


A1 Produces a graph with appropriate axes 1
(including units)
A2 Produces a graph using appropriate 1 Plots fill page and are
scales spread widely
A3 Plots points accurately 1 Six plots checked

A4 Draws line of best fit (either a straight 1 Easily drawn


line or a smooth curve)
A5 Derives relation between two variables 1 k determined
or determines constant

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Ref Criterion Mark
A6 Processes and displays data 1 Inverse square used
appropriately to obtain a straight line
where possible, for example, using a
log/log graph
A7 Determines gradient using large triangle 1 Triangle stretches across
page

A8 Uses gradient with correct units 1 Unusual units

A9 Uses appropriate number of significant 0 Mostly fine not so for 1/T2


figures throughout
A10 Uses relevant physics principles 1 Motion discussed
correctly

A11 Uses the terms precision and either 1 Precision and accuracy
accuracy or sensitivity appropriately mentioned

A12 Discusses more than one source of error 0 Mentions wooden retort
qualitatively stands without saying why,
might have discussed the
position of the magnet.
A13 Calculates errors quantitatively 1 Considers uncertainty in
readings and combines these
to get an uncertainty for k.
A14 Compounds errors correctly 1 Doubles the uncertainty in T
for 1/T2

A15 Discusses realistic modifications to 0 Nothing suggested


reduce error/improve experiment

A16 States a valid conclusion clearly 1 Conclusion valid and…

A17 Discusses final conclusion in relation to 1 ..related to value for k


original aim of experiment

A18 Suggests relevant further work 1 Develops variables

Maximum marks for this section 15/18

Total marks for this unit 33/40

26 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
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Exemplar for a less able student using own plan for
interacting magnetic fields
I will wrap the wire around the beaker and make a flat coil of wire. Which I will connect to the
labpack and ammeter to read the current in the wire. The labpack is safe for me to use in the lab.
I will tie the magnet with thread to the top part of the coil so that it hangs in the middle. I will
then twist the magnet and time 10 swings and record them in a table.
I will turn on the labpack and measure the current. I will twist the magnet again and record 10
swings each time.
I will plot a graph of T against I and see if it is a straight line.
Coil of wire
Small bar magnet
Stopclock
Ammeter
PSU and leads

I/A 10 T / s 10 T / s Mean T /s
0 12.32 12.22 1.23
1.0 8.28 8.32 0.830
2.0 6.72 6.75 0.673
3.0 5.82 5.78 0.580
4.0 5.22 5.15 0.519
5.0 4.72 4.75 0.474

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Analysis

The readings for time are pretty close to each other so I think these are accurate. The ammeter
was accurate. I plotted the graph as shown.
The plots all lie on a nice smooth curve which suggests that the theory is correct and that the
readings are accurate and with a small uncertainty. The graph shows that as the current increases
the period gets less.
It was quite difficult to ensure the magnet was in the centre of the coil and this might have
affected the readings. To improve the experiment I would take more readings and change the
way I hung the magnet.

28 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
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A2 Marking grid for interacting magnetic fields —
less able student

A: Planning

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


P1 Identifies the most appropriate apparatus 1 List shown, assume that the
required for the practical in advance power supply unit is variable
and so a series adjustable
resistor is not necessary,
ignore missing apparatus that
is standard and not specific to
this practical.
P2 Provides clear details of apparatus 0 Does not specify ammeter
required including approximate range or stopclock precision
dimensions and/or component values (for
example, dimensions of items such as
card or string, value of resistor)
P3 Draws an appropriately labelled diagram 0 No diagram
of the apparatus to be used
P4 States how to measure one quantity using 1 Ammeter is appropriate
the most appropriate instrument

P5 Explains the choice of the measuring 0 With no reason


instrument with reference to the scale of
the instrument as appropriate and/or the
number of measurements to be taken
P6 States how to measure a second quantity 1 Stopclock is fine
using the most appropriate instrument
P7 Explains the choice of the second 0 No details of stopclock
measuring instrument with reference to
the scale of the instrument as appropriate
and/or the number of measurements to be
taken
P8 Demonstrates knowledge of correct 0 No mention of fiducial mark
measuring techniques or size of swing
P9 Identifies and states how to control all 0 No mention of the effect of
other relevant quantities to make it a fair Earth’s magnetic field and
test orientation of coil
P10 Comments on whether repeat readings are 1 Plans to take repeats
appropriate for this experiment

P11 Comments on all relevant safety aspects 1 Shows awareness of labpack


of the experiment as a potential hazard

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Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes
P12 Discusses how the data collected will be 0 Table produced with columns
used but no awareness of need to
process data and so
inappropriate graph planned
P13 Identifies the main sources of uncertainty 0 Nothing mentioned
and/or systematic error

P14 Plan contains few grammatical or spelling 1


errors

P15 Plan is structured using appropriate 0 Any structure is not clear or


subheadings helpful

P16 Plan is clear on first reading 0 Plan shows path through


practical but ignores too
much detail to be clear

Mark for this section 6/16

B: Implementation and measurements

Ref Criterion Mark


M1 Records all measurements with 1 Ammeter readings to 0.1 A in
appropriate precision, using a table where the table. To match the time
appropriate measurement it would be
appropriate to have three
significant figures if they
were available. Since
candidate does not specify
give benefit of the doubt.
M2 Readings show appreciation of 0 No mention of uncertainty,
uncertainty possible confusion with
accuracy.
M3 Uses correct units throughout 1 Units ok

M4 Refers to initial plan while working and 0 No mention of plan


modifies if appropriate
M5 Obtains an appropriate number of 1 Readings are sound in
measurements number (just)….
M6 Obtains measurements over an 1 …and in range
appropriate range

Maximum marks for this section 4/6

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C: Analysis

Ref Criterion Mark


A1 Produces a graph with appropriate axes 1 Graph displays data
(including units) adequately and has units
A2 Produces a graph using appropriate scales 1 Scales allow data to cover
half the page – just

A3 Plots points accurately 1 Six plots checked

A4 Draws line of best fit (either a straight line 1 Smooth curve drawn although
or a smooth curve) line is thick
A5 Derives relation between two variables or 0 Misses this aspect of the
determines constant experiment
A6 Processes and displays data appropriately 0
to obtain a straight line where possible,
for example, using a log/log graph

A7 Determines gradient using large triangle 0 Cannot draw gradient

A8 Uses gradient with correct units 0

A9 Uses appropriate number of significant 1 SF ok


figures throughout
A10 Uses relevant physics principles correctly 0 No Physics mentioned
A11 Uses the terms precision and either 0 Accuracy often used – not
accuracy or sensitivity appropriately always correctly – but no
mention of precision
A12 Discusses more than one source of error 0 No mention of errors
qualitatively

A13 Calculates errors quantitatively 0

A14 Compounds errors correctly 0

A15 Discusses realistic modifications to 0 More readings by itself does


reduce error/improve experiment not merit the mark. Reference
is made to magnet position
but without any physics of the
reason for the change.

A16 States a valid conclusion clearly 1 Clear conclusion…

A17 Discusses final conclusion in relation to 0 ..but not based on proper


original aim of experiment analysis
A18 Suggests relevant further work 0 Nothing suggested

Maximum marks for this section 6/18

Total marks for this unit 16/40

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Examiner’s comments for interacting magnetic fields
Help from the teacher is perfectly permissible where this concerns the setting up of complicated
apparatus that is unfamiliar to the candidate. In this case the teacher may provide help on the
manufacture of the coil and the way it is supported. However, the teacher should not help the
candidate to use the apparatus. In this case the teacher should tell candidates about the effect of
the Earth’s magnetic field and how the plane of the coil should be oriented. The briefing should
not tell the candidate about other apparatus as this will preclude the award of P4, States how to
measure one quantity using the most appropriate instrument.
Time is one of the resources the candidate should control and so the number of readings taken
should be considered carefully; teachers should not allow candidates an open ended time scale.
The final part of the briefing is open ended allowing the candidate freedom to test the data as
they see fit. From the assessment criteria they will be able to decide how to do that appropriately
and score marks but it is unlikely that the candidate will be able to compound errors. However,
error bars could be drawn on the graph to show the uncertainty in the gradient.

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Exemplar of assessed work: Guitar strings

Briefing
When designing a guitar it is important that the structure is strong enough to hold the strings
tight without collapsing. To do this you must find out how much tension is required in a string
to make it resonate with a particular frequency at the length it will be on the guitar.
We can model this by using a metal wire as the string and placing it in a magnetic field. It is
made to vibrate by passing an alternating electric current though it, it then vibrates at the
frequency of the ac. In our model we shall use mains electricity from a lab power supply unit
(psu) so the frequency will be fixed at 50 Hz – it is possible to vary this if you have access to a
signal generator. You should stretch the wire horizontally over two supports and by hanging
masses on the wire you can vary the tension T.
By varying the tension the speed c of the waves on the string varies

c = (T/μ)1/2
where μ is a constant.
Since c = f x λ variations in T cause the wavelength λ to change. The first resonance (when there
is one antinode) occurs when l = λ/2 where l is the length between supports when there is one
antinode.
Plan an experiment to find how the first resonant length l varies with T. You should use 0.27
mm diameter (32 swg) constantan wire to give a wavelength of about a metre when you hang
100 g on the end.

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Exemplar for an able student using own plan for guitar
strings

Apparatus

Bench mounted pulley


Bridge support for the wire
2 blocks of soft wood
G clamp
1.5 m length of 0.27 mm diameter (32 swg) constantan wire
Low voltage ac psu
2 magnadur magnets and yoke – to produce magnetic field
Slotted masses and hanger- 100 g to 500 g in 50 g increments
Metre rule
Crocodile clips and connecting leads

Method

Safety - The low voltage supply will give no safety problems since it is too low to give a shock.
The hanging masses need to be secure on the wire but should not present a hazard. Use of a wire
under tension requires me to use safety goggles.
I will use a metre rule to measure the resonant length as it is large but under a metre.
I will connect up the apparatus as shown below and put the yoke with the magnets near the
middle for best effect. I will make sure the magnets have opposite poles facing.

wire l G 2 wood blocks


bridge magnets on yoke
clip clip
X X
bench

G-clamp
m
power supply unit

I will start with 100 g on the end of the wire and connect up the electric circuit so that current
flows safely through the wire, the frequency cannot change since it is the mains. I turn on the
current and move the bridge back and forwards to find the position of maximum vibration. I will
check for this by placing my eye alongside the wire and looking horizontally.
When the vibrations are biggest I will measure the distance between nodes using the metre rule.
I will then remove the bridge and repeat my reading. I will increase the mass hanging on the
wire and take repeated readings and record my results in the table.

34 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Mass/g l1/cm l2/cm l3/cm Mean l/cm
100
150
200
250
300
etc

Analysis

From the briefing sheet c2 = f2 x λ2 = T/μ


At the first resonance position λ = 2l
So f2 x 4 l2 = T/μ so l2 = T/ 4 μ f2 cf y = m x + c
2
I will plot a graph of l against T which should give a straight line through the origin with a
gradient of 1/(4 μ f2). From this I will be able to read off the tension for the length of my guitar.

Carrying out

I found a piece of dark card behind the wire helped me to see the vibrations. I looked vertically
down on to the ruler when measuring the length to avoid parallax. I did not go over 500 g
because the length was over a metre and difficult to measure with a metre rule – I had enough
readings for my graph anyway.

Mass/g l1/cm l2/cm l3/cm Mean l/cm


100 43.0 43.9 43.9 43.6
150 54.2 53.5 54.0 53.9
200 61.7 61.3 62.7 61.9
250 68.4 68.9 69.1 68.8
300 75.9 75.7 75.4 75.7
350 82.0 81.2 81.3 81.5
400 88.0 87.4 88.3 87.9
450 92.0 92.8 93.4 92.7
500 97.6 97.2 98.3 97.7

I decided that I would plot the length in centimetres squared against the mass in grammes, since
I was not concerned about the value of the gradient. Since the tension is just mass x g, the line
on the graph should still be straight.

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 35
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
I drew up the following table

m/g l2/cm2
100 0.191
150 0.291
200 0.383
250 0.473
300 0.573
350 0.664
400 0.773
450 0.859
500 0.955

36 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
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Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 37
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
The gradient is 0.955 / 500 = 1.91 x 10-3 cm2 g-1
As the current alternates it produces an alternating force since the current is flowing through a
magnetic field. The alternating force is perpendicular to both field and current and so is up and
down. When the frequency of this force matches that of the natural frequency of the wire a large
oscillation is observed. By changing the tension the natural frequency changes and this needs
the length to change for resonance. We have found that as the tension increases so does the
length squared in proportion because the wavelength changes.
There is a large uncertainty in the length since it is possible to get the wire to resonate over quite
a range of distances. It is also difficult to measure the length once resonance is determined since
the rule is not along the wire. The uncertainty in l is at least 1 cm so the uncertainty in l will be
2% and in l2 will be 4%. The uncertainty in the mass is about 2% my teacher says.
To improve my experiment I would reduce the interval in the mass readings so that the graph
had more points. To develop the experiment I could use a signal generator to vary the frequency
and find how the resonant length varies with frequency or keep the length fixed and vary the
tension and frequency. This would tell me more about the way the guitar works.

38 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
A2 Marking grid for guitar strings — able student

A: Planning

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


P1 Identifies the most appropriate apparatus 1 List shown
required for the practical in advance
P2 Provides clear details of apparatus 1 Although the safe value for
required including approximate the voltage or current is not
dimensions and/or component values (for specified the range of masses
example, dimensions of items such as and length of wire is.
card or string, value of resistor)
P3 Draws an appropriately labelled diagram 1
of the apparatus to be used
P4 States how to measure one quantity using 1 Metre rule is appropriate
the most appropriate instrument
P5 Explains the choice of the measuring 1 With reason
instrument with reference to the scale of
the instrument as appropriate and/or the
number of measurements to be taken
P6 States how to measure a second quantity 0 Does not mention second
using the most appropriate instrument measurement
P7 Explains the choice of the second 0 Might have checked
measuring instrument with reference to calibration of masses or
the scale of the instrument as appropriate measured the frequency of the
and/or the number of measurements to be mains using an oscilloscope
taken
P8 Demonstrates knowledge of correct 1 Eye level and card
measuring techniques background
P9 Identifies and states how to control all 1 Mentions frequency is mains
other relevant quantities to make it a fair
test
P10 Comments on whether repeat readings are 1
appropriate for this experiment
P11 Comments on all relevant safety aspects 0 Shows awareness of safety
of the experiment aspects but fails to recognise
need for ammeter to monitor
current at safe levels
P12 Discusses how the data collected will be 1 Plans to plot l2 against T
used
P13 Identifies the main sources of uncertainty 0 Although they plan to repeat
and/or systematic error they do not mention the large
uncertainty in establishing the
resonant length

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 39
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes
P14 Plan contains few grammatical or spelling 1
errors
P15 Plan is structured using appropriate 1
subheadings
P16 Plan is clear on first reading
1

Mark for this section 12/16

B: Implementation and measurements

Ref Criterion Mark


M1 Records all measurements with 1 Precision ok
appropriate precision, using a table where
appropriate
M2 Readings show appreciation of 1 Repeats show variation
uncertainty
M3 Uses correct units throughout
1 Units ok

M4 Refers to initial plan while working and 1 Changes plan in limiting


modifies if appropriate mass to 500 g to keep length
under 1 m
M5 Obtains an appropriate number of 1 Almost too many
measurements
M6 Obtains measurements over an 1 Good range with reason
appropriate range

Maximum marks for this section 6/6

C: Analysis

Ref Criterion Mark


A1 Produces a graph with appropriate axes 1 Axes fine
(including units)
A2 Produces a graph using appropriate scales 1 Scales have sensible numbers
and plots fill half the page in
both directions
A3 Plots points accurately 0 250 g plot is wrong

A4 Draws line of best fit (either a straight line 1


or a smooth curve)

40 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Ref Criterion Mark
A5 Derives relation between two variables or 1 Derives equation
determines constant
A6 Processes and displays data appropriately 1 Plots graph of length squared
to obtain a straight line where possible,
for example, using a log/log graph
A7 Determines gradient using large triangle 1 Whole page
A8 Uses gradient with correct units 1
A9 Uses appropriate number of significant 1 3 SF ok throughout
figures throughout
A10 Uses relevant physics principles correctly 1 Uses wave equation and
explains phenomenon later
A11 Uses the terms precision and either 0 Doesn’t mention precision at
accuracy or sensitivity appropriately all
A12 Discusses more than one source of error 1 Considers percentage
qualitatively uncertainty in both variables
A13 Calculates errors quantitatively 1 In l squared

A14 Compounds errors correctly 0 Doesn’t compound errors

A15 Discusses realistic modifications to 0 More readings on graph is


reduce error/improve experiment unlikely to help the
conclusion
A16 States a valid conclusion clearly 1 Conclusion stated ‘as the
tension increases so does the
length squared in proportion
because the wavelength
changes’
A17 Discusses final conclusion in relation to 0 States proportionality but
original aim of experiment does not relate findings back
to the aim of the experiment –
the tension in the guitar
string.
A18 Suggests relevant further work 1 Discusses detail of the
experiment.

Maximum marks for this section 13/18

Total marks for this unit 31/40

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 41
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Exemplar for a less able student using own plan for
guitar strings

Apparatus

Bench mounted pulley


Bridge support for the wire
2 blocks of soft wood
G clamp
32 swg constantan wire
Low voltage psu
2 magnets and holder
Metre rule

Method

I will connect up the apparatus as shown in the diagram and make sure that everything is safe. I
will hang 100 g on the end and I will connect up the power supply.
When everything is ready I will turn on the psu and move the bridge support until I can see
resonance. I will look carefully to see when the wire is vibrating at its maximum and then
measure the length of the wire.
I will increase the mass hanging on the end and repeat my readings in the table.

Mass/g l1/cm l2/cm Mean l/cm


100
200
300
400
500

Analysis

From the briefing sheet c2 = f2 x λ2 = T/μ


At the first resonance position λ = 2l
So f2 x 4 l2 = T/μ so l2 = T/ 4 μ f2

l2 is proportional to T and I will plot a graph of l2 against T.

42 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Carrying out

I carried out the experiment as I said, it was difficult to find the resonance position. I got the
following readings

Mass/g l1/cm l2/cm Mean l/cm l2


100 43.3 43.9 43.6 1901
200 61.7 61.3 61.5 3782
300 75.9 75.7 75.8 5746
400 88.0 87.4 87.7 7691
500 97.6 97.2 97.4 9487

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 43
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
I plotted the graph and the gradient was 9.55/500 = .0191. The straight line shows that there is
a strong correlation between l2 and mass and that as the mass is increased the resonant length
gets longer.
The plots are all close to the line of best fit which means the experiment was a success.

44 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
A2 Marking grid for guitar strings — less able student

A: Planning

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


P1 Identifies the most appropriate apparatus 1 List shown is adequate
required for the practical in advance
P2 Provides clear details of apparatus 0 Wire length not specified
required including approximate
dimensions and/or component values (for
example, dimensions of items such as
card or string, value of resistor)
P3 Draws an appropriately labelled diagram 0 No diagram
of the apparatus to be used
P4 States how to measure one quantity using 1 Metre rule is appropriate…
the most appropriate instrument
P5 Explains the choice of the measuring 0 … but not explained
instrument with reference to the scale of
the instrument as appropriate and/or the
number of measurements to be taken
P6 States how to measure a second quantity 0 Does not mention second
using the most appropriate instrument measurement
P7 Explains the choice of the second 0 Might have checked
measuring instrument with reference to calibration of masses or
the scale of the instrument as appropriate measured the frequency of the
and/or the number of measurements to be mains using an oscilloscope
taken
P8 Demonstrates knowledge of correct 1 ‘Looking carefully’ is not
measuring techniques enough, the actual method
must be specified
P9 Identifies and states how to control all 0 Doesn’t realise that frequency
other relevant quantities to make it a fair might be a variable
test
P10 Comments on whether repeat readings are 1 Text is unclear about what
appropriate for this experiment will be repeated but table is
clear
P11 Comments on all relevant safety aspects 0 Very vague about safety –
of the experiment specific precautions are
needed.
P12 Discusses how the data collected will be 1 Correct graph plotted
used
P13 Identifies the main sources of uncertainty 0 Although they plan to repeat
and/or systematic error they do not mention the large
uncertainty in establishing the
resonant length

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 45
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes
P14 Plan contains few grammatical or spelling 1
errors
P15 Plan is structured using appropriate 1
subheadings
P16 Plan is clear on first reading 1
Mark for this section 8/16

B: Implementation and measurements

Ref Criterion Mark


M1 Records all measurements with 1 Table with units and precision
appropriate precision, using a table where appropriate
appropriate
M2 Readings show appreciation of 0 Only one repeat is not really
uncertainty enough in this experiment
M3 Uses correct units throughout 0 The units in the last column
have been omitted
M4 Refers to initial plan while working and 0 Mentions plan but with no
modifies if appropriate detail
M5 Obtains an appropriate number of 0 Five readings is just not the
measurements minimum number for a graph
– a minimum of six readings
is expected
M6 Obtains measurements over an 1 Range is appropriate but
appropriate range without justification.
Maximum marks for this section 2/6

C: Analysis

Ref Criterion Mark


A1 Produces a graph with appropriate axes 0 No unit and power of ten for
(including units) l2 confused
A2 Produces a graph using appropriate scales 1 Scales ok – plots over half of
page in both directions and
sensible numbers
A3 Plots points accurately 1 Plots checked
A4 Draws line of best fit (either a straight line 1 Line of best fit is good
or a smooth curve)
A5 Derives relation between two variables or 0 Analysis shows relationship
determines constant derived in terms of T but
plots m without showing link

46 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Ref Criterion Mark
A6 Processes and displays data appropriately 1 Plots l Squared vs T for
to obtain a straight line where possible, straight line
for example, using a log/log graph
A7 Determines gradient using large triangle 1 Triangle crosses page
A8 Uses gradient with correct units 0 No units for gradient
A9 Uses appropriate number of significant figures 0 Four significant figures are too
throughout many for l2
A10 Uses relevant physics principles correctly 1 Manipulation of equation in
planning section
A11 Uses the terms precision and either accuracy 0 No mention of either term
or sensitivity appropriately
A12 Discusses more than one source of error 0 …or errors
qualitatively
A13 Calculates errors quantitatively 0
A14 Compounds errors correctly 0
A15 Discusses realistic modifications to reduce 0
error/improve experiment
A16 States a valid conclusion clearly 0 Simple conclusion based on
graph but type of correlation not
described ie proportionality
should be mentioned
A17 Discusses final conclusion in relation to 0 Needs to develop simple
original aim of experiment conclusion and relate T with m
A18 Suggests relevant further work 0 Nothing mentioned

Maximum marks for this section 6/18

Total marks for this unit 16/40

Examiner’s comments for guitar strings


On some occasions it is possible to award a mark for something a candidate has done but not
said explicitly. Here repeats were not stated as planned but since they are seen in the table in the
plan P10 Comments on whether repeat readings are appropriate for this experiment can be
awarded. Similarly A10 Uses relevant physics principles correctly can be awarded because the
candidate has successfully manipulated the equations from the briefing sheet.
The candidate will not be able to score A14 Compounds errors correctly with the briefing in its
present form. If the briefing had asked candidates to find the density of the wire, requiring
candidates to come up with a value whose uncertainty could be investigated, then the candidate
has a chance. Briefings must be carefully drawn up to allow candidates to access all the marking
points.

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 47
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Exemplar of assessed work: Linked oscillators

Briefing
In ski resorts the chair lifts often have notices telling skiers not to swing the chairs as this is
dangerous. This is because when one chair swings it passes its energy on to the next chair and
soon one of the chairs might be swinging enough to collide with a support. The reason the
energy passes from one chair to the next is because they have the same resonant frequency.
How much energy passes from one chair to the next depends on how well they are joined
together, or coupled.
We can model this behaviour by using two simple pendulums to represent two oscillating ski
chairs and coupling them with a rubber band. The pendulums are made by hanging a small mass
by a piece of string from a horizontal bar, such as metre rule. The rubber band is then placed
around both strings – the initial distance between the strings should be about 1.5 times the
unstretched length of the band, so that the pendulums are pulled together when at rest. When
one pendulum is set in motion its energy is passed to the other and then back in a cyclic manner
and each pendulum is seen to stop briefly. The period of the cycle is the time between one
pendulum stopping and the next time the same pendulum stops. This model will be better if the
pendulums have the same resonant frequency.
The strength of the coupling depends on the vertical distance x from the metre rule to the rubber
band and this affects the periodic time T of the cycle according to the formula.

T = k xn
where k and n are constants

Plan an experiment to investigate how T varies with x and determine a value for n.

48 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Student exemplar using own plan

Apparatus

2 Retort stands, bosses and clamps


2 Metre rules
2 x 100 g masses
Thread and scissors
Pin in cork
Stopclock – reading to 0.01 s
Elastic band about 8 cm in length, unstretched

Method

1.5l

1 Support a metre rule using the retort stands. Check that it is horizontal by measuring the
distance above the bench at each end. Ensure that this arrangement is unlikely to topple – a
heavy weight can be placed on the base of the stand if necessary to keep it safe.
2 Tie one of the masses on to the metre rule so that it is about 80 cm below the rule. Measure
the time for 20 complete oscillations and calculate the period.
3 Measure the length, l, of the unstretched elastic band.
4 Tie the other mass on to the rule so that it is 1.5 x l away from the first. Adjust the length so
that the period is the same as that measured in 2.
5 Set the band around both pendulums so that it is horizontal– as shown in the diagram – use
the second metre rule to check this. Set the distance x to 2 cm.
6 Place the pin underneath one of the pendulums to act as a fiducial mark.
7 Hold one pendulum stationary and set the other in motion, then release the first. When the
pendulum stops over the fiducial mark start the stopclock. When this same pendulum next
stops over the mark, stop the clock. Record the time T in the table below. Repeat this for a
mean value of T.
8 Vary x in 5 cm steps up to 57 cm and repeat 7 for each value.
9 Plot a graph of ln T against ln x. The readings should be on a straight line and the gradient
will be equal to n.

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 49
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Carrying out

I set up the horizontal metre rule. The rubber band had an unstretched length of 9 cm.
I tied one of the 100 g masses on to the rule so that it was about 80 cm long.
I measured 10 swings and got 10T/s = 17.91 , 18.02. I tied the other pendulum loosely and
secured it with sticky tape so that I could easily change the length. I recorded 10T/s = 17.93,
18.01.
These give means of 1.796 s and 1.797 s so they are identical to within 0.1%.

x / cm T/s T/s T/s Mean T / s ln(T / s) ln(x / cm)


10 89.2 88.0 88.6 4.484 2.303
20 37.7 38.0 37.9 3.635 2.996
30 22.8 22.3 22.6 3.118 3.401
40 13.3 13.6 13.5 2.603 3.689
50 10.5 10.5 10.5 2.351 3.912

I recorded the data shown. I tried 5 cm but it took too long and over 50 cm the oscillations were
too quick. The readings were very close so I took only one repeat. I recorded x to the nearest cm
since it was impossible to measure any more precisely due to the thickness of the band itself.
The uncertainty in the timings is small - < 1% - it was difficult to tell exactly when the
oscillation stopped so this is quite surprising.

50 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
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Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 51
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Analysis

The graph is a little disappointing in that the points are quite widely spread around the Best Fit
Line. The timings were close together but the plots off the line suggests that there was
something else going on.
Gradient (2.21 - 4.69) / (4.00 – 2.20) = -2.48/1.80 = -1.38
So n = -1.38
The value of n is negative which suggests that as the band is moved down it is nearer the
swinging masses it has more effect on coupling them so that the periodic time reduces.
Although there is a clear trend on the graph I do not think my value for n is reliable but it is
certainly negative. I should have taken a second repeat reading and taken more values as the
graph is rather sparse and this contributes to the unreliability of any value for n.
To improve I would like to try different amounts of stretch to the band as the tightness might
have an effect.

52 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
A2 Marking grid for linked oscillators

A: Planning

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


P1 Identifies the most appropriate apparatus 1 List of main items shown,
required for the practical in advance although some items
mentioned in the text, eg
weights to be placed on the
base of the clamp stands, are
not included
P2 Provides clear details of apparatus 1 Includes length of band and
required including approximate size of masses
dimensions and/or component values (for
example, dimensions of items such as
card or string, value of resistor)
P3 Draws an appropriately labelled diagram 1 Diagram shows key distances
of the apparatus to be used
P4 States how to measure one quantity using 1 Metre rule is appropriate
the most appropriate instrument
P5 Explains the choice of the measuring 1 mentions thickness of band
instrument with reference to the scale of later.
the instrument as appropriate and/or the
number of measurements to be taken
P6 States how to measure a second quantity 1 Stopclock is fine
using the most appropriate instrument
P7 Explains the choice of the second 1 Precision of clock detailed
measuring instrument with reference to
the scale of the instrument as appropriate
and/or the number of measurements to be
taken
P8 Demonstrates knowledge of correct 1 Describes use of fiducial
measuring techniques mark.
P9 Identifies and states how to control all 1 Ensures the period of each
other relevant quantities to make it a fair pendulum is the same for
test both
P10 Comments on whether repeat readings are 1 Plans to take repeats
appropriate for this experiment
P11 Comments on all relevant safety aspects 1 Discusses how to keep
of the experiment apparatus from toppling
P12 Discusses how the data collected will be 1 Plans to plot ln T vs ln x
used
P13 Identifies the main sources of uncertainty 1 Appreciates need for special
and/or systematic error measures to ensure band
horizontal

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 53
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes
P14 Plan contains few grammatical or spelling 1
errors
P15 Plan is structured using appropriate 1 Structured plan
subheadings
P16 Plan is clear on first reading 1 Logical progression through
method
Mark for this section 16/16

B: Implementation and measurements

Ref Criterion Mark


M1 Records all measurements with 1 Mentions precision of
appropriate precision, using a table where length x
appropriate
M2 Readings show appreciation of 1 Uncertainties discussed
uncertainty
M3 Uses correct units throughout 1 Units good, including the
logarithm
M4 Refers to initial plan while working and 1 Plan modified with reasons
modifies if appropriate
M5 Obtains an appropriate number of 0 Only 5 readings so too few
measurements readings for a convincing
graph, especially given the
space between the first two
M6 Obtains measurements over an 1 Good range
appropriate range
Maximum marks for this section 5/6

C: Analysis

Ref Criterion Mark


A1 Produces a graph with appropriate axes 1 Axes fine
(including units)
A2 Produces a graph using appropriate scales 1 Scales good, plots fill the
paper and scales are sensible
A3 Plots points accurately 1 Plots accurate
A4 Draws line of best fit (either a straight line 1 Best fit line a good choice
or a smooth curve)
A5 Derives relation between two variables or 1 Finds value for n
determines constant
A6 Processes and displays data appropriately 1 Straight line produced using
to obtain a straight line where possible, log version of equation
for example, using a log/log graph

54 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Ref Criterion Mark
A7 Determines gradient using large triangle 1 Best fit line fills page
A8 Uses gradient with correct units 1 No units for gradient of log
graph
A9 Uses appropriate number of significant 1 SF are just ok as fourth SF is
figures throughout only just usable on the graph
A10 Uses relevant physics principles correctly 1 Discusses significance of
negative value for n
A11 Uses the terms precision and either 0 Precision of x discussed in
accuracy or sensitivity appropriately terms of the thickness of the
band but neither accuracy nor
sensitivity mentioned
A12 Discusses more than one source of error 1 See above and difficulty in
qualitatively determining stopping point
A13 Calculates errors quantitatively 1 Uncertainty in times
calculated
A14 Compounds errors correctly 0 Could have drawn error bars
A15 Discusses realistic modifications to 1 Just about achieves this mark
reduce error/improve experiment since extra readings have a
reason
A16 States a valid conclusion clearly 1 Conclusion clear
A17 Discusses final conclusion in relation to 1 Conclusion expressed in
original aim of experiment terms of the value for n
A18 Suggests relevant further work 1 Tightness of band
Maximum marks for this section 16/18

Total marks for this unit 37/40

Examiner’s comments for linked oscillators


For P9 Identifies and states how to control all other relevant quantities to make it a fair test the
candidate might have mentioned keeping the mass the same but this does not affect the period
and so keeping T constant is more important – there is a very strong hint in the briefing.
M4 Refers to initial plan while working and modifies if appropriate is justified by the mention
of the difficulties in timing if the length x gets too large or too small.
This is another briefing that makes it difficult for the candidate to be awarded A14 Compounds
errors correctly. Error bars should be drawn and the worst fit line drawn for obtaining a
percentage uncertainty in the value for n.

Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment 55
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Exemplar of assessed work: Temperature control

Briefing
The electrical pump that pushes the hot water through the boiler and the pipes is the heart of a
house’s central heating system. The pump needs to be switched on when the house is cool and
off again when it is warm. To do this designers need to find a means of producing an electrical
signal that varies with temperature and can be adjusted externally. The device they use is called
a thermostat.

Thermistors can be used to produce a voltage that varies with temperature and when set up as
one leg of a potential divider the voltage V in the middle varies as the resistance of the
thermistor varies. This might be used in a thermostat to control the pump in a domestic central
heating system. E is the supply voltage, which is fixed, and V is the output voltage that varies
with temperature and it is V that is used to control the pump. In order to set up a thermostat it is
important for the designer to know how a thermistor behaves as the temperature varies.

The resistance of a thermistor is given by

R = R0 exp –bT

where T is the temperature in Kelvin and b and R0 are constants.


Plan an experiment to show that the resistance of a thermistor behaves as shown above in the
temperature range 273 – 373 K and find a value for b.

56 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
– Issue 1 – February 2009 © Edexcel Limited 2009
Student exemplar using own plan

Apparatus

Thermistor
Ohmmeter
Beaker
Thermometer
Ice
Beaker

Method

I will use an ohmmeter to measure the resistance of the thermistor and connect them using
leads. I will put the thermistor in a beaker with some ice and measure the resistance. I will then
heat the beaker to melt the ice and as the water warms up I will record temperature and
resistance in the table below. I will make sure my eye is level with the thermometer to make the
reading as accurate as possible and I will be careful when the beaker gets hot.
I will plot a graph of resistance against temperature. I will do this because the independent
variable should go on the x-axis.

Carrying out

I took readings as said above. I stirred the water and made sure I didn’t touch the hot beaker. I
got these readings.

Temperature / 0C Resistance / kΩ
21 5.92
22 5.53
34 3.29
44 2.19
55 1.48
61.5 1.089
76 0.698
86 0.556
96 0.428
100 0.308

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58 Tutor support materials – Edexcel GCE in Physics – Guidance for the A2 practical assessment
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Analysis
I found that the resistance dropped a lot at first and continued dropping as the temperature rose
but less and less. As you can see on the graph and this is what the equation on the briefing sheet
says should happen.
I think my readings are accurate because they all fit on a curved line. The thermometer was
accurate because it measured boiling water as 100 0C and it was precise to better than 1 0C. I
made sure that the thermometer was close to the thermistor when I took a reading.
To improve what I did I would heat it slowly to make sure it was all at the same temperature and
I would use a computer to take my readings.

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A2 Marking grid for temperature control

A: Planning

Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes


P1 Identifies the most appropriate apparatus 1 List shown,
required for the practical in advance
P2 Provides clear details of apparatus required 0 No indication of size of
including approximate dimensions and/or beaker and no mention of
component values (for example, dimensions heating apparatus.
of items such as card or string, value of
resistor)
P3 Draws an appropriately labelled diagram of 0 No diagram
the apparatus to be used
P4 States how to measure one quantity using 1 Thermometer is appropriate
the most appropriate instrument
P5 Explains the choice of the measuring 0 No explanation of choice and
instrument with reference to the scale of the doesn’t mention range
instrument as appropriate and/or the number
of measurements to be taken
P6 States how to measure a second quantity 1 Ohmmeter is fine
using the most appropriate instrument
P7 Explains the choice of the second measuring 0 The scale would probably
instrument with reference to the scale of the need to be determined by a
instrument as appropriate and/or the number trial before starting. Student
of measurements to be taken should comment on the need
to check that the scale
covered at least the initial
value and that this value
would be close to the
maximum.
P8 Demonstrates knowledge of correct 1 Appreciates need to avoid
measuring techniques parallax on thermometer and
ensures that thermometer is
close to thermistor.
P9 Identifies and states how to control all other 0 No reference to need for
relevant quantities to make it a fair test gentle heating or temperature
equilibrium when taking
reading
P10 Comments on whether repeat readings are 0 No such comment, in fact this
appropriate for this experiment experiment can be repeated
but only with the same actual
readings with great difficulty.
Student should have
explained why repeat
readings were not planned.

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Ref Criterion Mark Marking notes
P11 Comments on all relevant safety aspects of 0 A beaker containing two
the experiment items in hot water on a tripod
requires more detailed
consideration of safety than is
given here. If an electrical
heater was used then this will
get hot in operation and
should have been commented
on
P12 Discusses how the data collected will be 1 Plans to plot R vs T which is
used not the best idea but is
awarded mark here for
making a plausible
suggestion, will lose marks
later for this choice, eg
student will not be able to
determine a value for b
P13 Identifies the main sources of uncertainty 0 No mention of uncertainty or
and/or systematic error error
P14 Plan contains few grammatical or spelling 1 The little that is written has
errors few errors
P15 Plan is structured using appropriate 0 No real structure to plan, just
subheadings a list of activities
P16 Plan is clear on first reading 1 These activities are clear

Mark for this section 7/16

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B: Implementation and measurements

Ref Criterion Mark


M1 Records all measurements with appropriate 1 One reading shown to 0.5 0C
precision, using a table where appropriate and resistance shown to
precision of meter – assumed
range changed at 60 0C
M2 Readings show appreciation of uncertainty 0 Resistance readings might
well drift but nothing
mentioned and no repeats
possible. Temperature not
mentioned either
M3 Uses correct units throughout 1 Units ok
M4 Refers to initial plan while working and 0 Mentions stirring but without
modifies if appropriate reason and does not state that
the liquid should be stirred
just before taking a reading.
Time lag for heat to penetrate
case and safety aspects would
merit the mark
M5 Obtains an appropriate number of 1 Plenty of readings…..
measurements
M6 Obtains measurements over an appropriate 1 ….over a good range
range
Maximum marks for this section 4/6

C: Analysis

Ref Criterion Mark


A1 Produces a graph with appropriate axes 0 No units on the axes
(including units)
A2 Produces a graph using appropriate scales 1 Although the proportions are
odd the graph displays the
data in a way that can be read
A3 Plots points accurately 1 Six plots checked
A4 Draws line of best fit (either a straight line 0 No line drawn
or a smooth curve)
A5 Derives relation between two variables or 0 No relationship suggested
determines constant
A6 Processes and displays data appropriately to 0 Data not processed
obtain a straight line where possible, for
example, using a log/log graph
A7 Determines gradient using large triangle 0 No straight line and so no
gradient ……
A8 Uses gradient with correct units 0 …..and no units

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Ref Criterion Mark
A9 Uses appropriate number of significant 1 SF mostly fine but three
figures throughout decimal places are not usable
on this graph scale.
A10 Uses relevant physics principles correctly 0 Not much Physics in the
analysis
A11 Uses the terms precision and either accuracy 1 Precision and accuracy of the
or sensitivity appropriately thermometer discussed
A12 Discusses more than one source of error 0 Thermometer close to
qualitatively thermistor and water is stirred
but without explaining why
this is done.
A13 Calculates errors quantitatively 0 No error analysis is really
possible here
A14 Compounds errors correctly 0
A15 Discusses realistic modifications to reduce 1 Improves his experiment by
error/improve experiment suggesting heating slowly.
Ignore computer reference as
it is not suggested why this
will help.
A16 States a valid conclusion clearly 1 Interprets graph correctly…
A17 Discusses final conclusion in relation to 0 …but fails to say why this is
original aim of experiment what the equation suggests.
Doesn’t find a value for b.
A18 Suggests relevant further work 0 Nothing suggested
Maximum marks for this section 6/18

Total marks for this unit 17/40

Examiner’s comments for temperature control


It is difficult for the students to access some of the marks here, although if the teacher suggested
a value for b in the briefing this would enable the student to find a percentage difference to use
in commenting on accuracy. Any student might still score heavily if they appreciate the need for
data processing in drawing valid conclusions.
When referring to a multimeter the terms scale and range become indistinguishable. In this case
the candidate cannot be expected to guess the resistance of a device they have not seen before –
thermistors at room temperature can range from a few Ohms to a few kilohms. So they will need
to investigate the appropriate range (or scale) before starting. This activity will be awarded P7.
M4 Refers to initial plan while working and modifies if appropriate. Very often candidates will
modify their plan without recording the fact. When the plan is as thin as this one then it is quite
likely that the candidate will do some good physics that is unrewarded by being unrecorded.
Candidates must be in the habit of writing down their thoughts.

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Training Exercise: Safety in hospital

Introduction
It is likely that students will need to develop their planning skills. To develop planning skills
beyond AS some training exercises are a good idea. This exemplar is based on an experiment
that is probably best done as a teacher demonstration in which case students do the Planning and
Analysis sections and the teacher does the implementation and measurements.
This is also a good exercise to emphasise the Health and Safety aspects of planning and the part
played by Risk Assessment. Teachers can of course use any exercise for training and different
ones can focus on different aspects of the Unit 6 assessment.

Safety in hospital
Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) is a nuclear medicine procedure in
which a gamma camera rotates around the patient and takes pictures from many angles, which a
computer then uses to form a tomographic (cross-sectional) image. Gamma rays have many
other uses in archaeology and industry but the ability of gamma rays to affect individual cells
makes them a serious hazard to those who use them regularly. In order to keep the users safe it
is important that they should receive as little radiation as possible. The best way of doing this is
to place a screen between the source and the user that absorbs as much of the radiation as
The screen can take the form of protective clothing or a physical wall and these will have a lead
lining, since lead is very good at absorbing radiation because it is a dense material. It is
important to know how much radiation is absorbed by how much lead. The key factor is the
thickness of the lead between source and detector.
You are to plan an experiment to determine the thickness of lead that reduces the count rate to
half its initial value.
When a detector is placed in front of a source the count rate, C, will decrease when a thickness,
x, of lead is placed between them according to the equation

C = C0 exp-αx

Where α is a constant and C0 is the count rate when there is no lead between source and
detector.
You should plan to measure how the count rate varies with the thickness of the lead to
determine a value for α.
Using your value for a find the thickness of lead that reduces the count rate to half its initial
value, this is called the half thickness.
Your laboratory report should include a description of the steps you took to make your
experiment as safe as possible.

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Frequently asked questions

Questions relating to written work


Can students submit draft work for checking?
No. The assessment has been designed to enable students to show that they have appropriate
skills, knowledge and understanding for this level of study. If, for example, a student does not
use the appropriate number of significant figures and this is pointed out to them, then the
assessment will not be a realistic measurement of the student’s own knowledge. Consequently,
students must not submit draft work for checking.

Should students show all their workings?


Yes. If students enter numbers into a calculator and write down a result without showing their
calculations then if the result is wrong it will not be possible to allow for the accidental pressing
of the wrong button(s) on their calculator. For this reason, it is recommended that students show
their workings in full.

Should the plan be written in the future tense?


Yes, but a student should not be penalised for using a different tense.

Do error bars have to be used on graphs?


Use of error bars could be encouraged where the variables plotted are simple since they can give
an estimate of the uncertainty in a result. However, their use is not specifically required by the
assessment criteria and therefore students will not be penalised if they are not used.

Questions relating to the practical session


Can apparatus be set up for students?
No. Teachers will need to sign a form to verify that students have been able to handle equipment
themselves. Consequently apparatus cannot be set up for students. However, teachers may
check that the apparatus has been set up correctly before students use the equipment to take
measurements. This will give teachers the opportunity to check, for example, that electrical
circuits have been wired up correctly and to warn students of any health and safety risks, for
example components that may become hot. If a student experiences difficulties with this aspect
of the work then it should be noted on the Candidate Record Sheet.
Can students use a physics simulator?
No. Teachers will need to sign a form to verify that students have been able to handle equipment
themselves. If students use a software package to simulate an experiment, then they will not
handle any laboratory equipment. Consequently the teacher will not be able to verify that
students have been able to handle equipment and therefore the student will not pass the
assessment for unit 6.

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Can students have more time than is available in one lesson to complete the practical
work?
Yes but in general this should not be necessary. Edexcel does not prescribe the amount of time
that the practical work should take. It should be possible for the practical aspect of the unit 6
assignment to be completed within one lesson; however, teachers may allow students to
complete the practical in the following session.

Can work be done in pairs?


No, all aspects of the work that is produced for the practical assessment must be done
individually.

Can I give the student any help?


If the student is doing something dangerous the teacher must intervene. If a student requests a
formula then this may be given without penalty. If apparatus is being used incorrectly and the
student is unlikely to obtain any measurements, help may be given in order to ensure that the
student will have some data to process. Any help given of this nature must be noted on the
Candidate Record Sheet.

Questions relating to marking work


Will I receive class sets of the marking sheets?
No, the templates provided by Edexcel should be copied for each student.

Will the marking grids be returned?


No. Please note that since they are removed during the moderation process it is essential that the
actual work of the student be clearly marked with the centre and student details.

How much annotation is needed?


Brief annotation only. It is highly recommended that you make use of the codes given on the
Edexcel marking grids.

Do I need to use the Edexcel marking grids?


Yes, this has been seen to lead to more accurate marking.

Can work for one skill be credited in another?


Yes, for sections B (Implementation and measurements) and C (Analysis).

Can I award a half mark if a criterion has not been fully met?
No. If the criterion has not been fully met then no mark should be awarded.

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Other questions
How do I know if an experiment is A2 standard rather than AS or GCSE?
As a guide, consider the answer to the following (or similar) questions: Does the experiment use
A2 physics theory? Does the experiment use ideas that are post AS? Does it lend itself to some
mathematical analysis of errors and particularly combination of errors?
Can students use ICT?
The report of the practical work must be hand-written and graphs must be hand-drawn.
Computers may have materials on them that is of use to candidates other than for word
processing or drawing graphs. ICT may be used for collecting data, eg the use of data loggers is
permitted. ICT must not be used for processing results. If a student uses a spreadsheet package
to produce a graph then it will be assumed that the student has used its facilities for
automatically selecting an appropriate scale, drawing the best line through the points, etc, and
hence the student will lose the relevant marks.

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Further advice

Plagiarism and collusion


Teachers must be able to declare that the work submitted by the student is solely the work of
that student. Any work submitted which does not have a record sheet signed to that effect will
be returned for such authentication.
Edexcel is likely to penalise any student that deliberately copies information and attempts to
pass it off as original work of their own. Since 2006, Edexcel has been using new software to
identify any potential cases of plagiarism.
Plagiarism is defined by the Joint Council for Qualifications as ‘The failure to acknowledge
sources properly and/or the submission of another person’s work as if it were the student’s
own.’ For example, this would apply if the student has included an extract copied from an
internet site without suitable identification of the material and acknowledgment of its source.
The Joint Council publish very useful leaflets for teachers and for students, which are available
on the JCQ website www.jcq.org.uk. This includes advice on how to detect plagiarism:
Keeping watch on content
• Varying quality of content is one of the most obvious pointers. Well-written passages
containing detailed analyses of relevant facts alternating with poorly constructed and
irrelevant linking passages ought to give rise to suspicion.
• Another practice is for candidates to write the introduction and conclusion to an assignment
to make if fit the question, and then fill in the middle with work which has been lifted from
elsewhere.
• If the work is not focused on the topic, but presents a well-argued account of a related
matter, this could be a sign that it has been used elsewhere. The same applies if parts of the
work do not fit well together in developing the response to the assignment.
• Dated expressions, and references to past events as being current can also be indications of
work which has been copied from out-of-date sources.
Keeping watch on vocabulary, spelling and punctuation
• The use of a mixture of English and American vocabulary or spellings can be a sign that the
work is not original.
• If the piece contains specialised terminology, jargon, obscure or advance words, the internal
assessors should ask if this is typical of this level of candidate and reasonable, or if it is
because the candidate did not write the passage.
• Is the style of punctuation regular and consistent?
Keeping watch on style and tone
• Look for differences in the style or tone of writing. If a candidate uses material from
textbooks alongside items from popular magazines the change of tone between the two
should be marked.
• Look at level of sophistication of the sentence structure. Is this the sort of language that can
be expected from a typical student? Is the use of language consistent, or does it vary? Does
a change in style reflect a change in authorship at these points?

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Keeping watch on presentation
• Look at the presentation of the piece. If it is typed, are the size and style of font uniform?
What about use of headers and sub-headers? Are the margins consistent throughout? Does
the text employ references and if so is the style of referencing consistent? Are there any
references, for example, to figures, tables or footnotes, which don’t make sense (because
they have not been copied)?
• Lack of references in a long, well-written section could indicate that it had been copied
from an encyclopaedia or similar general knowledge source.
• Look out for quotations that run on beyond the part which has been acknowledged.
Other techniques
• Type in phrases or paragraphs into ‘Google’ (use the ‘advanced search’ option) and see if
this comes up with a website that matches closely, if not entirely.
• Search parts of the bibliography for suspicious websites that are too closely matched to the
title.
• Use free software as described on www.plagiarismdetect.com, www.turnitin.com,
www.plagiarism.com, www.wordchecksystems.com or www.canexus.com/eve/index.shtml.
Remember that the centre, as well as the student, is liable for any plagiarism because the teacher
will have signed a declaration stating that the student’s work is their own.
Collusion
Collusion includes excessive help from teachers or parents or collaboration with other students.
A student must not work with another student to carry out an assessed experiment.

Annotation of student work


The QCA Code of Practice requires that internal assessors show clearly how credit has been
assigned in relation to the criteria defined in the specification. The codes in the marking grids
provided by Edexcel are designed to facilitate this. Some teachers also send commentaries,
which are useful but are not required. The annotation codes should be placed in the margin of
the work at the point where it was decided to award that criteria.

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Glossary

Accuracy The degree to which a measurement matches the true value of the quantity that
is being measured. This is a qualitative term only.
Dependent A variable physical quantity, the values of which are not chosen by the person
variable doing the experiment, but change with another variable ie the independent
variable.
Error An offset or deviation (either positive or negative) from the true value.

Independent A variable physical quantity, the values of which are chosen by the person
variable doing the experiment.

Percentage
uncertainty
Percentage uncertainty = Uncertainty of measurement
x 100%
Measurement taken

Precision of an This is a term meaning 'fineness of discrimination'. In practice, it is the


instrument smallest scale division on an instrument that can be read.

Random error An unpredictable error that has no pattern or bias. To reduce the effects of
random errors when measuring a quantity it is necessary to take the mean of
several values.
Range The difference between the smallest value and the largest value of a set of
readings.

Reliability The extent to which a reading or measurement gives the same value when a
quantity is measured several times under the same conditions.

Sensitivity The change in response of an instrument divided by the corresponding change


in stimulus. For example, the sensitivity of a thermometer is expressed in
mm/oC
Systematic An error that has a pattern or bias, for example, errors caused by background
error lighting. This type of error adds or subtracts the same value to each
measurement that is taken.
True value The value that would be obtained if there were no errors in the measurement
of that value.

Uncertainty A range of values which are likely to contain the true value.

Validity The level of confidence that is associated with a measurement or conclusion.

Zero error An error that is caused when an instrument does not read true zero, eg a spring
balance may not read zero when there is nothing hanging from it. This type of
error is a form of systematic error.

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Appendix 1: Exemplar centre devised plans for
candidates

It should be remembered that the plan must not give anything away for later sections and should
allow access to all the marks. They should allow candidates to improve upon them fairly easily.

Plan for experiment for interacting magnetic fields

Apparatus

Flat coil of wire


Small bar magnet
Ammeter
Dc psu
Thread
Stopclock
Two retort stands

Method

1 Suspend the magnet using thread so that it lies in the centre of the coil. Rotate the magnet,
release it and take measurements to find the period T of the resulting oscillation of the
magnet about its centre. It will oscillate due to the Earth’s magnetic field.
2 Turn on the power supply unit and increase the current to 0.50 A and repeat 1 above.
3 Repeat 2 up to 5.0 A to enable you to plot a meaningful graph.

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Plan for experiment for guitar strings

Apparatus

Bench mounted pulley


Moveable bridge - support for the wire
1.2 m length of 32swg constantan wire
Low voltage ac power supply unit
2 blocks of soft wood
G clamp
2 magnadur magnets and yoke – to produce magnetic field
Slotted masses and hanger
Metre rule
Crocodile clips and connecting leads
Ammeter.

Method

1 The wire is to be stretched across the bench so that it hangs over the bench mounted pulley.
The other end is held between two blocks of wood by a G clamp. Hang 100 g on the end of
the wire to tension it.
2 Place the moveable bridge under the wire near the blocks of wood. The distance l between
the bridge and pulley should be about 1 m.
3 Use crocodile clips at each end of the wire to connect the power supply unit to the wire and
pass an alternating current of less than 1 A through it.
4 Place the yoke and magnets around the wire so that the wire passes through the magnetic
field.
5 Turn on the power supply unit and increase the voltage until the wire clearly vibrates.
6 Adjust the position of the moveable bridge until resonance is found. Measure the length l.
7 Vary T by increasing the hanging mass and measure the new resonant length. Do this until
you have enough data for a graph and record your data in a table.

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Plan for experiment for linked oscillator

Apparatus

Retort stands, bosses and clamps


String
Scissors
Two identical masses
Rubber band
2 Metre rules
Stopclock

Method

1 Use the retort stands to support one of the metre rules horizontally.
2 Measure the unstretched length of the rubber band.
3 Use the string and masses to make two pendulums that hang apart a distance about 1.5 times
the unstretched length of the rubber band. Both pendulums should be about 80 cm long. Use
the stopclock to help ensure that the pendulums have the same period.
4 Place the rubber band horizontally around both strings and measure the distance x of the
band below the support bar.
5 Hold one pendulum vertical, displace the other about 10 cm and release it. Record the time
T between one pendulum stopping and stopping again.
6 Vary x and measure T until you have enough data to plot a graph.

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Plan for experiment for temperature control

Apparatus

Thermistor
Ohmmeter
100 ml Beaker
Tripod, gauze and heatproof mat
Bunsen burner
Ice
Retort stand
Thermometer

Method

1 Use the retort stand to hold the thermistor in the beaker. Place the thermometer close to the
thermistor and pack ice around them.
2 Connect the thermistor to the ohmmeter and read the resistance when the thermometer reads
273 K.
3 Replace most of the ice with water and record the temperature and resistance.
4 Heat the water and record the temperature and resistance as suitable intervals as the water
heats up to boiling point. Record your results in a table.
5 Process your results to plot an appropriate straight line graph and use this graph to find a
value for b.

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Plan for experiment for safety in hospital

Apparatus

Sealed source of Gamma radiation


GM tube and counter
Pieces of lead of varying thickness from 5 mm to 5 cm
Metre rule
Means of safely supporting the above so that they are in line
Stopclock
Micrometer screw gauge

Method

1 Support the detector at a suitable distance from the source and use the stopclock and counter
to determine a value for the count rate, C.
2 Use the screw gauge to measure the thickness of the thinnest piece of lead.
3 Using a suitable handling tool place this piece of lead between the source and detector and
take measurements to determine a new value for C.
4 Increase the number of pieces of lead until you have enough data to plot a graph – record
your results in a suitable table.
The plan should not include tables as this gives too much away on sections B and C.

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Appendix 2: Precision, accuracy and sensitivity

Precision is a term meaning 'fineness of discrimination' but is often used erroneously to mean
'accuracy' or 'uncertainty'. It relates to the smallest division that can be read from an instrument.
A thermometer that is marked in 1oC steps is less precise than one that is marked in 0.1oC steps
because the latter has a more finely divided scale.
Accuracy relates to the difference between the measured value of a quantity and its ‘true’ value.
Suppose that the temperature of a boiling liquid is actually 60oC and it is measured with two
mercury-in-glass thermometers, one of which reads 59oC and the other reads 57oC; the first
thermometer is the most accurate of the two because its reading is the closest to the actual value
of the boiling liquid. Accuracy is a qualitative term only.
Accuracy can be improved by removing or compensating for the cause of a systematic error eg
checking an instrument for a zero reading error and either adjusting the instrument to eliminate
the error or noting the error and deducting its value from readings.
Sensitivity is defined as the change in response of an instrument divided by the corresponding
change in stimulus. So for example, the sensitivity of a thermometer is expressed in mm/oC.

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A note on precision and accuracy
Precision and accuracy are often confused with each other. One instrument may be more precise
than another, but it may not be as accurate.
The diagrams show two thermometers that are being used to measure room temperature. The
first thermometer is marked in 1oC steps and reads 22oC. The second thermometer is marked in
0.1oC steps and reads 20.2oC. If the room temperature is actually 23oC then the first
thermometer gives the more accurate reading because it is closest to the true temperature. The
second thermometer is more precise because the scale has finer divisions.

25

20
22°C

More accurate

21

20.2°C
20

More precise

2054ma020309S:\LT\PD\Support\GCE Physics gdc for the A2 pract assesm TSM.doc.1-87/3

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February 2009

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