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How NCEA works

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement, more commonly known as NCEA, is the achievement framework for senior secondary students. With Level 1 starting at Year 11, level 2 in year 12 and level 3 in year 13, depending on your ability there is the possibility of advancing earlier. If you would like to study physics, most schools require that you start at Level 1 and that you pass level 2 to continue to level 3. In addition, some schools may require you to study mathematics as well. Have a chat with your teacher about the different options your school provides. Physics is an exciting, demanding, interesting, and frustrating subject. You will come across a wide range of complex problems that will test your critical thinking, content knowledge, and a little bit of your patience. If this is something that sparks interest, having a good study guide will help you navigate the world of physics.

Revising for Level 1

In your first year of NCEA, schools usually teach science as a singular subject. This enables students to ‘try before they buy so to speak. Over the year you will study chemistry, biology, and physics within the same subject. For the external exams, there are three papers. You may choose to do less, but have a chat with your teacher before making any decisions. When thinking about where to start when you are studying, check out the assessments. For example, assessment 90937: Demonstrate understanding of aspects of electricity and magnetism. Just by reading the title, you can understand the physics concepts you will be asked to discuss. This will help you to utilise your time more effectively. Just remember that exams are not the same and the questions change each year. You will be given a list of formulas in the exam to help. Revise the key concepts, terms, and keywords that relate to this physics phenomena.

When studying, try to write down concepts and terms in your own words. This will help to remember them more and forces your brain to understand what it is reading rather than copying directly. It’s quality over quantity, so use your notes as efficiently as possible. Once you have written down the information you need, have a go at a past paper. If you need, keep your notes next to you so you can look at the different theories that could apply to this situation and help you if you get stuck. This will also help you aim for excellence as according to the marking schedule, excellence requires students to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of aspects of electricity and magnetism. ‘Comprehensive understanding’ means being able to explain how you got the results in detail, as well as proving the answer. Through looking at past papers it informs us that we will also need an understanding of aspects of wave behaviour (assessment 90938) and an understanding of heat behaviour (assessment 90939). All past papers can be found on the NZQA site for physics level 1. Just remember to keep your notes for the following year and check out our past papers physic guide.

transferring waves
NCEA builds upon skills from the previous year.

Working through Level 2

When you progress to level 2, you will complete the year in your chosen discipline in the sciences; chemistry, biology, physics. The level required to achieve or pass the standard has risen. Throughout the year you should be attending classes and focus on understanding. If you don’t understand something, speak up! Don’t wait till the end of the year before you say something to your teacher. It is easier to focus on understanding these concepts as you study them in class rather than trying to understand a range of different theories and trying to cram a few weeks before your exam. For level 1 you need to Demonstrate an understanding of the chosen physics phenomena. For level 2 you have to Demonstrate understanding of chosen phenomena. A keyword is missing between levels 1 and 2, the word an. With level 1 you can pass by understanding some parts of the chosen physical phenomena in relation to the question, however, for level 2 it is not enough. You need to show that you understand the chosen physics phenomena in a general term. Don’t panic though, this physics study guide will point you in the right direction.

One of the advantages of studying NCEA subjects is that you build upon knowledge rather than have to learn a completely new topic. If we look at the external exam assessment, you will notice they are the same topics you may have studied in level 1. For example, Understanding of waves (assessment 91170). You would have studied waves in level 1 so this is not a new physics phenomena for you. If you are feeling stressed go over your level 1 notes to remind you of what you already know. Create flashcards or revision tools of important theories, formulae, and definitions to help you remember them. For level 2 the questions become more complex and require you to think more conceptual. Just like an onion (or a cake, everybody likes cake), we need to pull back the layers to break down the question into manageable bites. A good place to start is to use past Level 2 exam papers with excellence exemplars. Attempt the hardest question by yourself. Break it into sections, rewrite the questions into more simple phrases. Once you have finished, or if you become stuck, have a look at the excellence exemplar. Notice what they did the same and what they did differently. This also helps to identify any theories or formulae that you may need to revise a bit more. Finding another student or a group of students to revise is a huge benefit. You can bounce ideas off each other and teaching others reinforces the information in your own brain.

Getting the most out of Level 3

The final year of NCEA is geared to set you up for university. If you want to continue studying physics at university, it is a good idea to concentrate on getting 14 credits. This will give one of your three university-approved subject requirements that you will need in order to gain the University Entrance certificate. When we look at the marking schedule for merit they require that you demonstrate indepth understanding of a specific physics phenomena. Luckily it isn't a guessing game on what physics phenomena it will be. This means we can focus on studying wave systems, mechanical systems, and electrical systems. When we break down the assessment titles there is an emphasis on the word systems. When studying, you will need to familiarise yourself with a range of theories that relate to these topics. The revision of different theories is key.

The important part is to actually know the theory as memorising them won’t be of much help, you have to understand the how and why of these theories in order to be able to use them in a range of different situations. The questions will be more complex and will require time to break down. Have a look at past Level 3 exam papers. The questions are there to test you, so be prepared to be able to use different theories within the same question. Just try not to go too far down the rabbit hole and focus your time on theories that have not been covered in class. When conceptualising the question, think of it as driving. You don’t just drive a car. You have to open the door, sit down, put your seatbelt on, put the key in the ignition and so forth. It is all a series of little steps necessary to be able to drive the car. As you study, attempt as many questions as you can. But don’t fixate on a confusing problem for too long. Continue on and come back to it later. Level 3 also has the option of sitting scholarship exams. For more information on scholarship physic exams, click here.

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Needing an extra hand with physics?

As you dive into the world of physics, make sure you take care of your hauora. Rest, sleep well, eat well, and give yourself time. Finding others to revise with will help you socialises with others and you won’t feel as overwhelmed if you are doing it all by yourself. If you would like to extend or support your learning, Superprof has a range of experienced and highly knowledgeable tutors that can work around your schedule. With weekly, fortnightly or for revision purposes classes, you can choose a frequency, time, and price that works for you.

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