This post is a little strange because it will only apply to a proportion of the teachers who look at it – many will have finished the IA and will certainly not be thinking about it as we now move into the final stages of the Physics course and turn to the issue of revision.  The next few posts will consider revision in the new course but this is aimed at those that have not yet completed the IA or those that have marked it but are not quite sure if they have done it right.

By this stage, the IA should either be completed or very close to it.  If any students are still working on it, it should really be the final stages of the work. A common compliant from students is that they have too much work to do and can’t find the time.  If you are hearing this, remind them that the coursework is worth 20% of the whole course and that can make the difference of a grade or even two.  Producing poor IA will almost certainly lower the highest grade possible for the student.  On the assumption that the work has actually been completed, my advice would be the following:

Before writing the report, it is worth spending the time writing out ALL of the work that has been done on a whiteboard or A3 piece of paper:

  • Write down every piece of work/experimentation that has been done and draw a ring round each one.
  • Look at the work and on reflection, identify the best order for the work to have been carried out, so that it shows a logic process. Draw an arrow between each ring, showing the ‘correct’ order of the work again, so that there is a clear logic to what has been done.
  • The arrows drawn between the rings, might have a comment explaining the reason for moving from the one piece of work/experiment to the next.

The above then will give a good order for the report.

Before getting into the form of the report, suggest the following to the students:

  • Arial font size 12.
  • 15 or 1.5 spacing – do not use double-spacing – it looks awful and takes up too much space.
  • Numbered pages.
  • Portrait orientation (rather than landscape) – except for items such as a graph or illustration.
  • ALL Figure, Graphs and Tables should be numbered and have a caption.
  • Tables: Centre the data and make sure the decimal places and Sig Figs are correct.
  • Graphs should have error bars and a correct line. If the graph is curved, do NOT include a formula from excel unless there is a good reason to – curve fitting is not a good reason. Gridlines are needed – in excel, this can be achieved in the last few versions by using the Design menu, select Quick Layout number 10.

The Form of the Report should typically be:

  1. Title.
  2. Contents.
  3. Introduction

Why is this an interesting piece of work to do?  If you have a personal interest because it links to something you are engaged with, then briefly discuss this.

  1. Background Physics.

Consider all the Physics you have used in the work and detail it in this section.

  1. Research Question. This may well be a repeat of the Title of the Report.
  2. Preliminary Experiments.

Each mini experiment or investigation should be given its own space in the report and it should be fully analysed at the point in the report where it is described (more details below).

  1. Final Experiment.

This is the experiment or investigation that addresses the Research Question. Where possible and space allows, it should be clear in the method, where the preliminary experiments informed the design of this final piece of work.

  1. Conclusions & Evaluation.
  2. Extended Work.

This might discuss how the work could be extended, what problems are still to be overcome, where the work still has problems, etc.

Very often in practical work for physics, a bibliography is not needed. The Background Physics section however, will often have material which will be taken from a text book – all such material should be referenced here.

Finally, for the marking scheme, I would make the following comments:

  1. Personal Engagement. This is Not for including any contrived comments about why the student found the work fascinating – we all know this is rubbish. I would argue that this is for a student becoming engaged with the work – showing care and attention to the work such that they have tried hard to ensure that the data collected and analysed is of the best quality it can be. Preliminary experiments are a good way of showing this – the fact that these were planned out by the student (Initiative), having thought about the RQ in detail (independence) and carried out in order to control variables or assess their influence (creativity) shows a significant personal engagement.

The depth and clarity of the background info in the report, can also show that a student has put a lot of care and effort into the work.

  1. Exploration. The topic and RQ should be clear and focused. The background information should be well-laid out, and cover all the material needed to allow both the student and the reader to get a good level of understanding of the science behind the work carried out. The methods used to collect data, should be clear and able to produce good raw data, so a sensible and well-justified conclusions could be made.
  1. Analysis. The amount of raw data produced in the work should allow sensible and detailed conclusions to be made. The data processing should be appropriate and lead to valid conclusions with uncertainties correctly considered at all stages of the work. Finally, any conclusions should be sensible and based on a correct interpretation of the data.
  1. Evaluation. The conclusions should be well explained and supported by a correct interpretation or processing of the data. Limitations and possible weaknesses should be considered and shown to have been given due care and attention through the preliminary work that was carried out, with assumptions stated where appropriate. On reflection, extensions of the work should be sensible, realistic and add to the research and a positive way.
  1. Communication. The report should be very well presented. Descriptions should be clear with ALL Figures/Graphs/Tables numbered, with captions and appropriate referencing within the text. The structure of the report should be clear. The report should be easy to read and give a sense not only of the work carried out, but also the approach brought to this research. Scientific terms should be used correctly throughout the report.

The above should produce good marks. It will no doubt be noted that the marking scheme is really tailored around the IA being a practical investigation rather than one of the other types of IA that are allowed. I would strongly recommend a practical approach to IA since this type of work links really well to the marking scheme.

You can find a PDF file written for students which has guidance on writing the report and how it should be marked here.