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GLOSSARY OF TERMS USED IN PHYSICS PAPERS
It is hoped that the glossary will prove helpful to students as a guide, although it is not exhaustive. The glossary has been deliberately kept brief not only with respect to the number of terms included but also to the descriptions of their meanings. Students should appreciate that the meaning of a term must depend in part on its context. They should also note that the number of marks allocated for any part of a question is a guide to the depth of treatment required for the answer.

Define (the term(s) …) is intended literally. Only a formal statement or equivalent paraphrase, such as the defining equation with symbols identified, being required.

What is meant by … normally implies that a definition should be given, together with some relevant comment on the significance or context of the term(s) concerned, especially where two or more terms are included in the question. The amount of supplementary comment intended should be interpreted in the light of the indicated mark value.

Explain may imply reasoning or some reference to theory, depending on the context.

State implies a concise answer with little or no supporting argument, e.g. a numerical answer that can be obtained ‘by inspection’.

List requires a number of points with no elaboration. Where a given number of points is specified, this should not be exceeded.

Describe requires candidates to state in words (using diagrams where appropriate) the main points of the topic. It is often used with reference either to particular phenomena or to particular experiments. In the former instance, the term usually implies that the answer should include reference to (visual) observations associated with the phenomena. The amount of description intended should be interpreted in the light of the indicated mark value.

Discuss requires candidates to give a critical account of the points involved in the topic.

Deduce/Predict implies that candidates are not expected to produce the required answer by recall but by making a logical connection between other pieces of information. Such information may be wholly given in the question or may depend on answers extracted in an earlier part of the question.

Suggest is used in two main contexts. It may either imply that there is no unique answer or that candidates are expected to apply their general knowledge to a ‘novel’ situation, one that formally may not be ‘in the syllabus’.

Calculate is used when a numerical answer is required. In general, working should be shown.

Measure implies that the quantity concerned can be directly obtained from a suitable measuring instrument, e.g. length, using a rule, or angle, using a protractor.

Determine often implies that the quantity concerned cannot be measured directly but is obtained by calculation, substituting measured or known values of other quantities into a standard formula, e.g. the Young modulus, relative molecular mass.

Show is used when an algebraic deduction has to be made to prove a given equation. It is important that the terms being used by candidates are stated explicitly.

Estimate implies a reasoned order of magnitude statement or calculation of the quantity concerned. Candidates should make such simplifying assumptions as may be necessary about points of principle and about the values of quantities not otherwise included in the question.

Sketch, when applied to graph work, implies that the shape and/or position of the curve need only be qualitatively correct. However, candidates should be aware that, depending on the context, some quantitative aspects may be looked for, e.g. passing through the origin, having an intercept, asymptote or discontinuity at a particular value. On a sketch graph it is essential that candidates clearly indicate what is being plotted on each axis.

Sketch, when applied to diagrams, implies that a simple, freehand drawing is acceptable: nevertheless, care should be taken over proportions and the clear exposition of important details.

Compare requires candidates to provide both similarities and differences between things or concepts.
MATHMATICAL REQUIREMENTS
Arithmetic

recognise and use expressions in decimal and scientific notation

use electronic calculator for mathematical operations

take account of accuracy in numerical work and handle calculations so that significant figures are neither lost unnecessarily nor carried beyond what is justified, rounding answers correctly when necessary

make approximates and estimates to obtain reasonable answers
Algebra

change the subject of an equation

solve algebraic equations, including simultaneous equations

use direct and inverse proportion

substitute physical quantities using consistent units

formulate simple algebraic equations as mathematical models of physical situations and to represent information given in words
Geometry and trigonometry

understand geometrical terms

calculate areas of geometrical shapes

calculate volumes of geometrical objects

use sines, cosines and tangents

use angle sum of triangle and adjacent angles on a straight line

compute sides and angles of triangle using trigonometry rules

use mathematical instruments
Graphs

translate information between graphical, numerical, algebraic and verbal forms

select appropriate variables and scales for graph plotting

for linear graphs, determine the slope and state the intercept and intersection

choose by inspection a best fit straight line through a set of data points presented graphically

recall standard form y = mx + c and rearrange relationships into linear form where appropriate

understand, draw and use the slope of a tangent to a curve as a means to obtain the gradient
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