What is Physics?

The aims of the Physics syllabus are to provide students with:

A knowledge of basic physical principles, terminology, facts and methods; of how physics is fundamental to many technological developments; and of how it contributes to the social, historical, environmental and economic life of society.

An understanding of how the scientific method can be applied to solving physical problems, of its limitations and constraints and of how physics relates to everyday life.

Skills in measuring physical quantities by experiment, following instructions using laboratory
equipment and analysing and evaluating experimental results.

Competence in presenting information in a scientific manner, reporting on experimental work, solving numeric problems, reading and understanding scientific prose and relating scientific concepts to facts and observations of everyday life.

The Leaving Cert physics course follows directly from Junior Cert Science and covers more topics in greater depth. The course is heavily based around experiments; students are required to complete and write reports of 24 practical experiments throughout the two years, and be fully aware of how to accurately record and analyse results and how to minimise and accommodate for experimental errors. These laboratory experiments, along with many more non-compulsory experiments are examined in detail on a section of the written paper.

The course also involves a lot of theory which is tested on the written examination. Students are expected to be able to use various formulae with respect to SI units and significant figures, and have a good understanding of the role in physics in modern society and technology.

What type of student might Physics suit?
  • Students considering a career in any mathematical or scientific discipline, such as finance, statistics, engineering, physics, or computer science.
  • Students who were successful in their Junior Cert science examination, particularly in the Physics section of the course.


Physics and Careers

Physics contributes to a student’s future career in many ways. It helps, in conjunction with the other Leaving Certificate subjects, to provide a broad, balanced education for any student. Physics teaches students to think logically and enables them to express their thoughts in a concise manner. The skills and knowledge developed through their study of physics can be useful in a wide variety of situations.

Physics is a useful subject for many courses and careers and a good foundation for a broad range of scientific and technical careers. Many careers benefit from the logical and numeracy skills developed by the study of physics. Many technical courses involve components of physics.

In most engineering course, you will find a high physics content, while some paramedical careers will involve the study of it, e.g. Radiography, Physiotherapy etc. Anyone considering courses or careers in Electronics would be very much encouraged to do physics.

Subject Content

The physics studied is broken into eight topics;
(a) six compulsory - (b) two option sections (Higher paper only, one to be done)


Compulsory sections are:
  • Optics / Waves: the study of light and sound and real life applications of the theory.
  • Mechanics: time, space, distance, speed and acceleration.
  • Heat: changes of state, energy conversions and mathematical problems.
  • Electricity: develops on from simple circuits to more detailed concepts.
  • Electricity and Magnetism: gravity, relationship between electricity and magnetism, study of how a motor works, ac. and dc. circuits and phenomena with real world applications.
  • Atomic Physics: cathode rays, x-rays, radioactive decay, fission and fusion, nuclear reactors and real world applications.
Two option sections are:
  • Particle Physics: recent type of physics, delving into the new discoveries leading to a better understanding of the formation of the universe and where we came from.
  • Applied Electricity: detailed study of electricity and the working of a motor developing from electricity already studied.


At Higher Level, there is a deeper, more quantitative treatment of physics. The two option sections are omitted from the Ordinary Level course.

The course also consists of 24 core mandatory experiments complimenting each section in an aim to develop students’ technical skills and enhance understanding and reinforce key concepts.

Exam Structure

Leaving Certificate Physics is assessed by means of one terminal examination paper at each level. Students are required to keep a record of their practical work over the two years of the course. The Leaving Cert physics exam is three hours in duration.

Final Comments

While there is an element of maths in the physics course, honours maths is not a requirement to do honours physics.Pupils should become able to draw and read graphs and be competent in using a calculator throughout the course. The physics syllabus has strong links with the other science subjects especially chemistry. There are strands of physics which overlap with woodwork and construction especially the electricity and heat sections.

Pupils who will gain the most from studying physics are those who have an interest in science at Junior Cert level and those who enjoy learning about how things work. The science, technology and society section allows students the chance to see where the physics they are learning applies as in TVs, car motors and electricity.