Structure and Aims of the Leaving Cert. Physics course

The aims of the syllabus, common to both levels, are:

● to give students an understanding of the fundamental principles of physics and their application to everyday life and technology.

● to develop an appreciation of physics as a human endeavour, thereby enriching the students’ experience of life.

● to provide a reasonably broad perspective of physics, thus developing an understanding of the physical environment and of how human beings interact with it.

● to provide a general education in physics for all students, whether or not they proceed to further studies in physics.

● to develop the ability to observe, to think logically, and to communicate effectively.

● to develop an understanding of the scientific method.

● to develop an appreciation of physics as a creative activity, using informed intuition and imagination to create an understanding of the beauty, simplicity and symmetry in nature.

Differentiation between Higher level and Ordinary level

Leaving Cert. Physics is offered to students at Ordinary and Higher levels. There are three main differences between Higher level and Ordinary level:

● structure and content

● depth of treatment

● mathematical treatment.

Structure and content

Ordinary level consists of a defined set of concepts. Higher level consists of the Ordinary level concepts, additional concepts, and either Option 1 (Particle Physics) or Option 2 (Applied Electricity).

Depth of treatment: Ordinary level provides an overview of physics and its applications to everyday life, while at Higher level there is a deeper, more quantitative treatment of physics.

Mathematical treatment: Equations must be known and used at Ordinary level. At Higher level certain equations must be derived; the other equations must be known and used.




1. Linear motion

2. Vectors and Scalars


1. Newton’s laws of motion

2. Conservation of momentum

3. Gravity

4. Density and pressure

5. Moments

6. Conditions force equilibrium


1. Work

2. Energy

3. Power

Heat & Temperature


1. Concept of temperature

2. Thermometric properties

3. Thermometers


1. Heat capacity, specific heat capacity

2. Latent heat, specific latent heat


1. Conduction

2. Convection

3. Radiation

Sound and Wave Motion


1. Properties of waves

2. Wave phenomena

3. Doppler effect


1. Wave nature of sound

2. Characteristics of notes

3. Resonance

4. Vibrations in strings and pipes

5. Sound intensity level

Optics & Light


1. Laws of reflection

2. Mirrors


1. Laws of refraction

2. Total internal reflection

3. Lenses


1. Diffraction and interference

2. Light as a transverse wave motion

3. Dispersion

4. Colours

5. Electromagnetic spectrum

6. The spectrometer



1. Electrification by contact

2. Electrification by induction

3. Distribution of charge on conductors

4. Electroscope


1. Force between charges

2. Electric fields

3. Potential difference


1. Capacitors and capacitance


1. Electric current

2. Sources of emf and electric current

3. Conduction in materials

4. Resistance

5. Potential

6. Effects of electric current

7. Domestic circuits


1. Magnetism

2. Magnetic fields

3. Currents in and magnetic fields

4. Electromagnetic induction

5. Alternating current

6. Concepts of mutual induction and self-induction

Modern Physics


1. The electron

2. Thermionic emission

3. Photoelectric emission

4. X-rays


1. Structure of the atom

2. Structure of the nucleus

3. Radioactivity

4. Nuclear energy

5. Ionising radiation and health hazards

Options (Higher Level only)


1. Conservation of energy and momentum in nuclear reactions

2. Acceleration of protons

3. Converting mass into other forms of energy

4. Converting other forms of energy into mass

5. Fundamental forces of nature

6. Families of particles

7. Anti-matter

8. Quark model


1. Current in a solenoid

2. Current in a magnetic field

3. Electromagnetic induction

4. Alternating current

5. Applications of diode

6. The transistor

7. Logic gates

Science Technology & Society

Science Technology & Society (STS) is an integral part of the Leaving Cert. Physics course at both Ordinary and Higher levels, so that students can place physics within the everyday world. The STS material needs to be known at the appropriate level; that is, where the basic principle is on the Ordinary level, examples must be known at Ordinary level, and similarly at Higher level.

Practical work

Students must follow a course of practical work. There are 22 mandatory experiments on the Leaving Cert. Physics course must be carried out by the students and an adequate record of such work must be retained for the period of the course. These experiments cover the most of the major topics on the course:


1. Measurement of the focal length of a concave mirror.

2. Verification of Snell’s law of refraction.

3. Measurement of the refractive index of a liquid or a solid.

4. Measurement of the focal length of a converging lens.

5. Measurement of the wavelength of monochromatic light.


1. Calibration curve of a thermometer using the laboratory mercury thermometer as a standard.

2. Measurement of specific heat capacity, e.g. of water or a metal by a mechanical or electrical method.

3. Measurement of the specific latent heat of fusion of ice.

4. Measurement of the specific latent heat of vaporisation of water.


1. Measurement of velocity and acceleration.

2. To show that a ? F.

3. Verification of the principle of conservation of momentum.

4. Measurement of g.

5. Verification of Boyle’s law.

6. Investigation of the laws of equilibrium for a set of co-planar forces

7. Investigation of relationship between period and length for a simple pendulum and hence calculation of g.


1. Measurement of the speed of sound in air.

2. Investigation of the variation of fundamental frequency of a stretched string with length.


1. Verification of Joule’s Law

2. Measurement of the resistivity of the material of a wire.

3. To investigate the variation of the resistance of a metallic conductor with temperature.

4. To investigate the variation of the resistance of a thermistor with temperature.

5. To investigate the variation of current (I ) with pd (V ) for

(a) metallic conductor

(b) filament bulb

(c) copper sulfate solution with copper electrodes

(d) semiconductor diode.


Leaving Certificate Physics is examined at both levels by means of terminal examination papers. The papers at both Ordinary and Higher level have two distinct sections dealing with different aspects of the course. Section A deals primarily with assessing the students knowledge of the practical work carried out over the two year period of study. However an element of practical assessment may be included as part of the overall assessment at a later stage. Section B assesses the mathematical skills, knowledge, understanding, skills, and competence in dealing with the course material . It should be noted that STS is examinable. Students will be expected to have a knowledge of general applications but will not be required to have a detailed knowledge of specific applications.