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Unit 3 Guide Part I

Unit 3 (exam date: Thursday, May 9, 2013) is a paper which tests knowledge
on experimental technique and analysis mainly on Unit 1 and unit 2 topics.
Typically the paper consists of 5 multiple-choice questions and 3 or 4 long
questions. Below I will outline the different types of long questions that are
usually set:


The comparison questions: Such questions require one to

compare and contrast two different methods to conduct an experiment
or sometimes to compare two different experimental apparatus.
For example:
Two students are discussing an experiment to plot a cooling curve for
a liquid. One says that it is always better to use a suitable datalogging
device. The other says that using a liquid-in-glass thermometer and
stopwatch is better.
Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each method for an
experiment which involves taking the temperature of water in a beaker
over a period of 20 minutes and plotting a temperature against time
graph (From May 2010)
In such cases most of us would be inclined to prefer to use a
datalogging device for several reasons. But there are also
disadvantages that must be considered (We will discuss such questions
in Part II). You must make a list of such advantages and
disadvantages and learn them. Such a list must be part of your
own notes for Unit 3. Everyone must make their own notes!


The experiments questions: Sometimes you are required to give a

detailed description of an experiment on Unit 1 or Unit 2 theory. Usually
you will be guided on which points they specifically want you to
address. Sometimes such questions carry a lot of marks thus you
should be prepared! You should learn some typical experiments that
tend to come up.
Lets see which experiments have come up so far:

Resistivity of iron wire
To determine the %loss in KE of
bouncing ball
Resistivity of constantan wire
Hooke's Law
Resistivity of a metal
Young Modulus of a wire
To investigate the variation in R of NTC
Viscosity of oil
EMF and internal resistance of a cell
Acceleration of free fall
EMF and internal resistance of a solar







All these experiments are suggested in the syllabus. Some experiments which
are also suggested but have not come up are:
Estimate power output or efficiency of an
electric motor
Stress-strain experiment for rubber
Force-compression experiments
Measure the speed of sound in air using
standing waves
Measure the speed of sound in a solid
Measure the refractive index for a liquid
I-V graphs experiments



Book page

The middle questions: These are questions that usually describe

an experiment and require you to carry out calculations, averages,
work out uncertainties, % uncertainties, to comment on different things
etc. (some examples: Jan11-q8, Jun11-q8, Jun12-q6)
The graphical questions: Typically there is one question that
describes an experiment and provides you with some data. Often you
have to criticize the data and thereafter plot the data on graph paper
and either work out the gradient and/or y-intercept.. You must know
how we transform equations in the form y=mx +C for such questions.

This was just an introduction. In Part II we will see specific examples of

Unit 3 Guide Part II

In part II of our guide we will concentrate on comparison type
Perhaps the most troublesome measurement one is required to consider,
at A-level, is that of time. Human reaction time often introduces a
considerable uncertainty in our measurements when these are being
made with a stopwatch. Thus we often employ electronic devices such
light gates connected to data loggers to improve the accuracy of our
results. When the light gate beam (usually IR) is interrupted a signal is
sent to the data logger to start timing.

Say you have to measure the time for a ball to fall through a
distance. Below you can find an examiners summary of the pros and
cons of using light gates connected to a data logger vs the stopwatch

There are other cases where data loggers can be employed but sensors other
than light gates are used. For example if one wants to take temperature
measurements of a hot liquid as it cools down they will need a temperature
sensor connected to the data logger. Of course the other way to do it would be
to use a thermometer. Here are the pros and cons.

Also electric current measurements can be tricky to make especially when we

a have an experiment where the current decreases or decreases with time. In
such a case one would need a current sensor connected to data logger as this
can accurately take many measurements automatically over a small time
interval. Most importantly the data logger saves the data and can even plot a
graph as the experiment is taking place. Also the sensor can respond fast to a
fluctuation in current which happens in a very short time interval i.e the current
that flows in a lamp once it is switched one. Where a current sensor is

unavailable one has the choice of digital multimeters vs analogue meters. Below
you can see the pros and cons.

Unit 3 Guide Part III

Perhaps the most interesting type of question is experiments question.
Its worth learning the details of some experiments that are considered to
be important. Nearly all the experiments that can potentially be in a paper
are described in your black textbook Edexcel Physics for AS.
Below we will outline some of these experiments.
Resistivity of a wire

Youngs modulus


Brief description

Viscosity of a liquid

Acceleration of free
fall (g)

EMF and r of cell


Brief description

Speed of sound with

standing waves



Brief description



Brief description



Brief description




Brief description


Unit 3 Guide Part IV

In most cases where we want to carry out an experiment we process our results
by plotting a suitable graph. In this course we want to arrange our equations in

the form y=mx +C so that we obtain a straight line from which we can get
something from the gradient and/or the y-intercept.

Why do we want graphs?

In June 2012 paper there was a 3-mark question where students had to discuss
the advantages of using a graph. Below you can see the Examiners marks
scheme for this question.

All these points are really good. Id like to discuss some of them.
Say you are carrying out an experiment to discuss how extension (x) varies with
force applied (F) on a piece of wire. If you carry out the experiment and you
obtain a straight line through the origin this means that the two variables, x
and F, are directly proportional. So,

F x
We can now write an equation of the form y=mx as,

F=k x
So the gradient of a graph of F against x is equal to k (the stiffness of the wire
or if it was a spring the spring constant).
On the other hand if we plot x against F the gradient will be equal to


Another important point is that if we have many measurements its hard to pick
out the anomalous readings which could have arisen due to a mistake while
carrying out the experiment. With a graph these can easily be identified.
Systematic errors are errors in the experiment that affect all our results
equally. These usually arise due to careless usage of measuring instruments or
zero errors in the instruments themselves or wrong calibration of the instrument.
Let me give you examples.
Say that you want to measure the height of a bench using a ruler which doesnt
have the zero mark right at the edge of the ruler. Say that theres a 0.5 cm
interval before the zero mark. If you take your measurements forgetting about
this then all your measurements will be bigger than what they should be by 0.5

cm. This is what we call a zero error and its a systematic error. Such errors can
even arise when we use electronic equipment as well! For example ammeters,
electronic balances, electronic force sensors etc often have zero errors. One has
to calibrate an instrument or correct zero errors before using the instrument. If
this is not done then systematic errors might give rise to unexpected yintercepts. For example you may carry out a current- voltage experiment for an
ohmic conductor and obtain a straight line that does not pass through the origin
as expected!

Random errors are errors which occur due to unpredictable changes which
might occur in the environment of the experimental setup or in the instruments
Say you are carrying out an experiment at room temperature and theres a
sudden change in T due to change in weather. You cant do much about this and
your results might be affected. Minimising random errors involves taking a
large number of measurements and calculating an average or drawing a
line of best fit in the case where you plot a graph.

Criticise the data

One typical question that arises in this type of exam question is to criticise the
data given to you. For example.

The points accepted in such questions are very typical so learn them as most
probably you will face such a question. The marks scheme for thi one:


I found another one. In their tension values they used g as 10 N/kg!

Thanks for your attention! More Unit 3 stuff very soon!

Unit 3 Guide Part V

Calculating uncertainties, percentage uncertainties and

percentage differences
Theres always an uncertainty in every measurement we make. In Physics
experiments we always strive to minimise the effect of such uncertainties
in order to improve accuracy.
Say you have to measure the length of this piece of paper you are
reading. If you measure it with a ruler you will find it to be 29.7 cm. Using
a ruler, in this case, seems to be a reasonable choice as the smallest
division on the ruler is 1 mm which is small compared to the 297 mm we
Instruments such as the micrometer

Or the vernier caliper

have better resolutions (or smaller divisions). The micrometers resolution

is 0.01 mm whereas the resolution of the vernier is 0.05 mm (and 0.01
mm for the electronic vernier)
Can these instruments be used to obtain a more accurate
measurement for the papers length?


Instruments such as the electronic balance we use at school have

resolutions up to a 1/100th of a gram although more expensive models
have better resolutions. For the objects that we measure the balances we
have are very good as the % uncertainties in the measurements are
What follows is a compact guide on how to calculate %

An exception is time measurements where we follow the following guide:


So far there have been few marks per paper dedicated to calculating uncertainties and %
uncertainties.( June 2009, q6(b) (2marks), Jan 2010, q7(e) (1mark), June 2010, q5 (c)
(2marks), q6 (b) (1), June 2011 q8 (bii) (2marks), June 2012 q8 (b) (4marks).

Thank you so much for your time!

For calculating % uncertainties see the more detailed guide

on this subject.