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Physics Leaving Certificate: Using theories to explore real-world problems

Physics Leaving Certificate is helping Jolie to better understand the world around her and the technology she uses every day. Combined with her other subject choices, she hopes it will be a pathway to a career as an actuary.

You don’t have to be amazing at maths to do it – and it does become easier with practice.”

First name: Jolie | Age: 17 | Leaving Cert: Accounting, Applied Maths, Chemistry, English, Irish, Maths, Physics, Spanish

What led you to the subjects you’ve chosen for Leaving Certificate?
With physics, applied maths and chemistry, they're the numerical sciences and I’ve always enjoyed working with numbers, that’s always interested me. Then, with accounting, that’s the more practical side to it, and it's quite black and white, which I also like. It’s less rote learning and more just practising and practising.

And what about physics specifically?
Physics opens your eyes to the world around you. There are so many things that we see and take for granted on a day-to-day basis where we don’t really know about the science behind them. That’s what’s taught in physics, from understanding natural phenomena to the technology we use. And I like the problem-solving nature of it.

What have you enjoyed about the physics course so far?
The most interesting thing for me is that you’re learning all these theories, laws and concepts in the textbook, but you then bring them to life by seeing how they can solve real-world problems and how they are applied in our daily lives. In addition, the experiments you do in the lab really enhance the subject for me.

I’ve enjoyed challenging myself and developing skills like problem-solving, analytical skills and critical thinking. It can be tricky, but I find that motivates me. It certainly keeps you on your toes! You learn to be more patient and determined to get to the bottom of a problem. The satisfaction of finding the solution is so rewarding.

I also love how everything interlinks. You’re learning things in one chapter and then in the next chapter you get to apply them. That’s when everything comes together.

What have you found most interesting?
One thing for me was optics. Lenses and mirrors are things that we see every day but we don’t always think about the maths behind them. So it’s great to see how numbers can explain to you how a camera works.

Electricity is another big one. With a Leaving Certificate course it’s quite simplified, but it still gives you an understanding of how the electronics we use every day work. The course is so broad and covers so many aspects of physics, from mechanics to electricity to radioactivity, that you’re bound to find something that interests you.

Jolie Leaving Certificate physics

How was the step up to physics at this level?
My year was the first to do the Junior Cycle for the Junior Certificate for science. There wasn’t a whole lot of physics but there was a lot of biology. As a result, it’s such a popular subject to pick for Senior Cycle here. In my school there are three classes of biology with 20-30 people and then only six pupils in the physics class. I feel like physics in the Junior Cycle is quite boring and there’s not a of content involved.

However, it gets so much more interesting at Senior Cycle – the experiments we do and the material you learn go into much more depth and that’s where it becomes fascinating. It really is a subject that combines practical work, understanding and calculations, and it’s all these aspects that allow you to fully appreciate the subject. Furthermore, I have also found that it helps cement your understanding, making it a lot easier to learn and study.

A lot of people think “Physics involves lots of maths, I’m no good at maths, I can’t do physics and it’s really hard.” But that’s not the case all. The maths calculations are a small aspect of it. You don’t have to be amazing at maths to do it – and it does become easier with practice.

What are the next steps from here for you?
I’m thinking of studying financial mathematics or actuarial science at university, and hopefully to become an actuary after that. That’s the main goal. It’s a challenging job but I feel like it will be rewarding and it’s something that interests me. I think the skills I’m acquiring in my subject choices now will help me to achieve this.

What advice would you give to a young person considering studying physics for Leaving Cert?
I would definitely encourage them to take on physics, if they feel they are someone who is naturally curious about the physical world around them. Ignore all the notions of it being difficult, because the course covers a wide range of material. So you’re bound to find something that you like. Not all of the material is going to interest you but it’s the skills that you learn that are the most valuable thing.

It’s going to be a challenging subject at first and you have to be patient with yourself – you’re not just going to get it in the first go and sometimes the concepts may be hard to grasp. But don’t let that put you off, because it’s a subject where practice makes perfect. It’s not just about getting the answer, it’s the process of getting it. You’re picking up on little details, you’re picking up on different skills and you’re getting better and better each time, building up your knowledge. The next time you encounter a similar problem you’ll remember – and suddenly you’ll find you can do it!

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