An O-level Physics Examination Paper, Vintage 1979

My recent post about the O-level Mathematics examination I took way back in 1979 seems to have generated quite a lot of comment, both here and elsewhere, so I thought I’d follow it up with a Physics examination paper to see what people think about that.

One complication with this is that I didn’t actually take Physics O-level; the School I went to preferred to offer Combined Science instead. This examination covered a general syllabus including Physics, Chemistry and Biology but was worth two O-levels rather than three. More or less, therefore, I did 2/3 of a Physics O-level.

I think the reason for choosing Combined Science rather than three separate subjects was to allow us kids the chance to take as broad a range of subjects as possible. In fact I did ten O-levels: Combined Science (2); Mathematics; Additional Mathematics; History; Geography; English Literature; English Language; French; and Latin. My best mark at O-level was in neither mathematics nor science subjects, actually, but in Latin…

Anyway, the examination for Combined Science consisted of four papers. Paper 1 was a general paper with a range of short questions in a booklet into which candidates had to write their answers in the space provided. Obviously I don’t have this paper because I handed it in. The three other papers were each on one of the main subjects and Paper 2, shown below, was the Physics paper.

This also gives me the opportunity to try out slideshare as a better way of displaying the paper than the clumsy method of photographing it on my desk I used for the Mathematics paper.  Unfortunately our temperamental scanner – which is rapidly becoming my arch enemy – seems to have missed some of the question numbers, so I put them in by hand.

The first thing that struck me about Question 5 is “During an experiment a boy obtained…”. Girls don’t do physics, obviously.

Any other comments or comparison with GCSE Physics papers should be written in the space provided.  Write clearly and legibly, and show clearly the reasoning by which you arrive at your conclusions. You may begin.

11 Responses to “An O-level Physics Examination Paper, Vintage 1979”

  1. Were you meant to be familiar with the term “aneroid barometer” already, or were you supposed to infer what it was from that description? If it’s the latter, that question seems to me awfully like a “what-have-I-got-in-my-pocket?” question.

    • telescoper Says:

      I think “aneroid barometer” was a familiar household phrase in those days.

      A more pertinent question is why you would want your box partially-evacuated and corrugated….

  2. It doesn’t seem much different from the GCSE paper i had to sit for doing separate sciences, except we had ours in colour with a more PC approach to questions.

  3. Jade Powell Says:

    I had an E for my physics GCSE all we ever did was copy out paragraphs from a text book

  4. Susan Cartwright Says:

    It’s quite difficult to figure out how hard this paper is without knowing the course you took. For example, 1(a) and (c) are both very challenging if you come at them “cold”, but a simple memory test if you’d covered the relevant material in class. Quite a lot of this paper does seem to be just a memory test (4b, 6a), so the latter wouldn’t surprise me.

  5. […] of the Great Bores of the Day on the subject of past examinations I thought I’d followup  my old O-level Physics paper  with a Physics A-level examination paper to see what people think about it. It might add to the […]

  6. […] me the excuse to show you  the O-level physics paper I took way back in 1979. I’ve actually posted this before, but it seems topical to put it up […]

  7. hi i teach science including gcse physics and as physics . a lot of what i teach now at as level i thought int the old gcse physics – pre 2008 – and a lot i teach at a2 i taught at o level in the 90s

  8. Where can one see sample or similar questions for such tests as well perhaps for A-level ones?



  9. I’m almost positive that this is the exam paper that I took in 1979, although my memories of it are dim – I failed miserably, mainly due to a teacher who thought girls shouldn’t be doing physics and refused to mark my work. he wouldn’t get away with that now. if only I’d had a teacher like Brian Cox, I’d probably have a PhD by now. If only………

  10. Fascinating. I took o level physics in 1979 and got a b. I’m not that clever. When I reached 50 I suddenly returned to a schoolboyish fascination with maths and physics. I did an a level in pure maths last year and scraped a grade. I’m reading Penrose’s Road to Reality, franky understanding almost nothing, but ……. It’s the business isn’t it! Onwards on the shoulders of giants!

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