HE Exams Wiki

IGCSE Physics Practicals via Home Education

There is no practical exam for IGCSE Physics. Questions on how practical activities are carried out are included in the exams. CIE (Cambridge International Examinations) has a separate paper on practicals, whilst Pearson Edexcel mixes the questions throughout the regular exam papers. The 'alternative to practical' questions for both exam boards tend to be similar and can be used as extra exam practice regardless of which board you are using. Past papers from previous syllabuses are also useful practice as the practical questions tend not to change much.

You do not need to carry out any practical activities to pass the exam. However, it's a missed opportunity, as many activities are fun to do and really do aid understanding of the topics in a way that watching videos never can. Many activities can be carried out at home using cheap or improvised equipment. Please add your own suggestions to this page, either by editing the text or using the comment box at the bottom.

The ‘practical’ questions offer marks for knowing the ‘laboratory’ name for equipment, which may be different from the everyday name.  For instance, ‘balance’ rather than ‘scales’, and ‘rule’ rather than ‘ruler’.  Our electronic kitchen scales became a ‘top pan balance’ .  Marks are available for specifying what equipment should be used, even in the most obvious cases - eg in one past paper we found that you needed to specify ‘Measure distance using a rule’ rather than just ‘measure distance’.  

Some of the questions asked the student to work out a way of setting up the experiment and these could require lateral thinking.

Please see the Edexcel Scheme of Work for IGCSE Physics 2017 , even if you're using the CIE syllabus. This is an extremely helpful document which sets out the entire syllabus, with suggested practical activities and links to videos / further information on each.


Here are a few things which you may find useful. Although none of this is essential, the items listed below are ones which other home-educators have recommended as having been especially useful and/or being used for chemistry or biology practicals, too.

Retort stand with boss and clamp.

  • Burner, tripod, gauze. See Chemistry Practicals for links and discussion on burners.

  • Retort stand and clamp set (Rapidonline has a bargain model, and very useful for holding all sorts of equipment in place & for chemistry too, as well as looking very professional!)

  • Measuring cylinders - plastic ones are very cheap and useful for younger kids to practise accurate measuring too.

  • Force meters, springs, and mass hangers and slotted masses.Cheap, hard to substitute effectively, and comes up often in practicals questions.  

  • Electronics components - cheap to buy through eBay or Amazon. Book recommendations below for instructions.  

Suppliers for physics equipment

These suppliers will sell to the public in small quantities and with rapid delivery :

  • www.rapidonline.com,

  • www.betterequipped.co.uk

  • www.edulab.com

  • eBay

  • Amazon.

    The educational suppliers' on-site search functions tend not to work too well, so you may need to browse.

    Some chemistry sets (eg the Oxford 2000 one) and a Tesco Science kit (cost about £10) were raided for glass beakers and test tubes.  We noticed that the glass bit from our cafetiere was indistinguishable from a large laboratory-style beaker.

    When looking at forces, we found that a £7 basic electronic kitchen scale from Argos was accurate to a gram or two, which was perfectly adequate for our needs.  We compared this with spring balances/force meters, which we bought, and balance scales.  However, if you want a more accurate scale or are planning to study Chemistry, you can get a 'jeweller's balance' for around £10 online which works very well - see Chemistry Practicals for more on Balances.

How to get a go with expensive equipment!

Some items are too expensive for most people to justify purchasing, especially if they will only be used a few times. Examples include air tracks, ticker tape timers, Van der Graaf generators etc. To get hands-on experience with these, you could:

  • Look for home-ed workshops in your area - ask on local networks

  • Attend holiday workshops and courses

  • Visit science museums and ask the staff if they can help you with this topic. Consider emailing them in advance to find out if there will be an opportunity for you to use the equipment, or if they offer educational workshops on this topic. You could then get a group together from local home-ed networks to visit.

  • Visit school or college open days, as the physics departments tend to bring out their best equipment for these events. You may be able to have demonstrations or one-to-one explanations from teachers and A-level students, whilst exploring your options at 16-plus.

Practicals On The Syllabus

The Edexcel IGCSE Physics (2017) specification notes various practical activities throughout the specification content that students should be familiar with. Appendix 6 also gives a list of additional recommended activities to aid understanding. The notes in the section on 'Activities at home' are based on an older syllabus, but you will find a lot of overlap.

In the assessment of experimental skills, students may be tested on their ability to:

  • solve problems set in a practical context
  • apply scientific knowledge and understanding in questions with a practical context
  • devise and plan investigations, using scientific knowledge and understanding when selecting appropriate techniques
  • demonstrate or describe appropriate experimental and investigative methods, including safe and skilful practical techniques
  • make observations and measurements with appropriate precision, record these methodically and present them in appropriate ways
  • identify independent, dependent and control variables
  • use scientific knowledge and understanding to analyse and interpret data to draw conclusions from experimental activities that are consistent with the evidence
  • communicate the findings from experimental activities, using appropriate technical language, relevant calculations and graphs
  • assess the reliability of an experimental activity
  • evaluate data and methods taking into account factors that affect accuracy and validity.

(from p30),.

Activities At Home

A wonderful resource is the Institute of Physics's 'Teaching Physics In Remote Places' , which is a guide to doing physics practicals using improvised and cheap equipment. The page has temporarily disappeared from the IoP, but you can download the set of 5 PDFs containing many experiments from Google Drive. Much of this is useful for home educators.

Here are a list of topic areas from the IGCSE syllabus and key practical activities, with note for how you might do it at home, or alternatively, links to videos so you can see how it's done.

1 Force and motion

Nuffield Practical Physics list of suggested activities for Forces and Motion.

Example activities to illustrate this topic, mostly using common household items, can be found in Teaching Physics in Remote Places, Section 1.

Suggested activities from IGCSE Teacher's Guide:

Ticker Tape Timers - you need to know how to use these as they crop up often in practicals questoins. Rather than buy one just for a few activities, you can watch videos and look out for workshops where you can have hands-on experience.

Ticker-tape timers: nice explanation and link to DIY instructions, if you feel very keen!

• Measurement of speed using a ticker tape timer and tape

• Measurement of acceleration using a ticker tape timer and tape

Ticker timer - measuring constant velocity - video demonstration and explanation.

Introduction to using a ticker timer from Practical Physics.org

Selection of Ticker-timer activities from Nuffield Practical Physics

• Investigation of the momentum of bodies before and after collisions


Using spring balance / force meter

• Measuring various forces, for example that required to open a door, using a spring balance. Spring balances are cheap - see www.rapidonline.com - this one’s easy to do at home.

• Determination of the force-extension graphs for a metal spring and a rubber band by suspension of masses. We found this easy to do at home; we bought some mass hangers and weights to make it easier to add very low weights.

Falling through a high-viscosity liquid. Easy to do at home - improvise or use measuring cylinder if available.

• Observation and measurement of terminal speed for a ball bearing falling through a measuring cylinder containing oil

Falling through water - http://www.practicalphysics.org/go/Experiment_234.html

requires unexpanded polystyrene beads, but could find subs.

• Investigation of the principle of moments using a metre rule, pivot and two known masses

This could be improvised at home easily:


• Determination of the position of the centre of gravity of an irregularly-shaped lamina using a plumb line

Easy home experiment; see http://greennotes.com.sg/physics/forces/288/

Or, with more notes and tasks: http://www.scribd.com/doc/56236165/Expt-No5-Center-of-Gravity

We did this and checked by attempting to balance the lamina (bit of card) on a fingertip.  If it balanced first time, we reckoned that had worked.

Conservation of Momentum

Gliders on low-friction air track - good explanation.

Most of us don't have access to a low-friction air track as used in the lab, but you can improvise. Alternatives you can do at home: Teaching Physics in Remote Places Section 1, Experiment 2 - using a balloon and an old CD. Air-hockey tabletop or arcade games use the same principle.

Friction- comparing friction between different substances. Could do at home.

Newton’s first law/ law of inertia: home experiment knocking pen lid into bottle


A string carrying two weights is hung over a low friction bearing mounted pulley. The weights have slightly different masses, causing a uniform acceleration. When the time it takes the weights to move 1 meter is timed, we can calculate the acceleration of the system due to gravity. Because of the low amount of friction in the system, this value is very close to the theoretical value.


2 Electricity

Much of this is covered in the Electronic Wizard’s Apprentice course, a postal electronics course aimed at home-ed kids: www.kidstuff.co.uk

A cheaper alternative is Electronic Circuits for the Evil Genius - a kit containing components is available, or buy components cheaply on eBay or Amazon.

Make Electronics: Learning By Discovery has also been recommended as a good value resource for IGCSE Physics.

We have not checked how closely any of these resources match the syllabus, but they are a good start.


These are easy to investigate at home!

blog post from a group of home educators investigating electrostatics.

Teaching Physics in Remote Places Section 5, experiments 83-87. Nice electrostatics activities, some involving cats!

Edulab's Electrostatics Investigation Set is around £30 and has lots of useful bits and pieces, but you can easily collect samples of fabric and different materials around the home to test static charge. A transparent balloon and some small polystyrene beads sets you up for lots of investigations.

Gold-leaf electroscopes

Cheap and simple electroscope

These can be simple pieces of equipment, despite the fancy name. Gold leaf is rarely involved nowadays - a strip of cooking foil does the same job! You can make one yourself, or buy one cheaply. They often come up in practicals questions so you need to thoroughly understand how they work, and nothing beats playing with one to really make it stick.

• Using a gold leaf electroscope to show the opposite charges on charged polythene and cellulose acetate rods rubbed with the same cloth

Lovely home-ed project: DIY electroscope using simple household things (jam jar, copper wire and tin foil!) http://rimstar.org/equip/electroscope.htm

Simple conical flask gold leaf electroscopes can be bought for around £10 from www.betterequipped.co.ukor www.edulab.com

DIY electroscope - see instructions for making, and for using (which would also apply to the bought ones…) at http://mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/phys/elechome.htm#Elec

More on electroscopes: http://www.techknow.org.uk/wiki/index.php?title=Gold_Leaf_Electroscope

Lesson plan for using electroscope to demonstrate photoelectric effect: https://www.cta-observatory.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Photoelectric-Effect-teachers-guide.pdf

Van de Graaf generator ===== Most of us won't be buying one of these, but they're often seen at school open day demos and science museums. In the meantime, watch some videos!

• Using a Van de Graaf generator to show that an electric current consists of a stream of charges

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvPI_0r8uU4&feature=related - good intro.  The generator itself tells us about movement of electrons!

How a Van de Graaff generator works: look inside at the mechanics.


Fun demo of generator, with explanation of movement of electrons:


World’s largest VdG generator, and you can’t see electricity (Science Bob) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy05B32XTYY&feature=related

3 Waves

• Using a slinky spring to demonstrate the wavelength and amplitude of transverse and longitudinal waves





• Using a ripple tank to demonstrate diffraction of water waves - Could probably improvise this at home.

Wave machine using duct tape, kebab sticks and jelly babies: We had lots of fun with this - the whole family loved it!

Light, Rayboxes, lenses and prisms

You can improvise a raybox using eg a shoebox and torch, and hunt around for lenses and prisms to use with it. Maybe ask an optician if they have any lenses you can scavenge or borrow?

Teaching Physics in Remote Places Section 3 - nice collection of experiments on light and waves, many using simple household objects.

Diffraction of laser light - demonstration that light has wave nature:. Can be done with only a laser pointer and a human hair. This was easy, once we’d found a way to sticky tape a long hair vertically!  

Investigate refraction: We recreated an exam question. Provide a perspex cuboid container with some oil in it, a laser pointer, paper and pen, and ask the student to think about ways of recording the angles that light moved through and was refracted.  Clamp and stand were also available, and a jug of water.

Investigating the law of reflection of light using a plane mirror and a raybox (or pins).

We made a light raybox from a shoebox with a slit cut in the side, and a bright torch inside.  Cut a slit in one end about 1mm wide using a craft knife - needs to have nice clean edges.  In a dark room, you should see a single beam of light.  You may need to vary the position of the torch in the box to improve the ray.  Here is one set of instructions for a DIY raybox:

Then play around with mirrors, magnifying glass lenses, your spectacles, and any nice crystals or prisms you happen to have.  We bought a small set of perspex prisms as I couldn’t improvise a semi-circular prism, but to be honest this was a luxury and not an essential purchase at all.  We made a ‘light laboratory’ from a large cardboard box, placed on its side, so we could use that as a substitute for a darkened room.  

We also used a laser pointer inside our cardboard box, and puffed talc around (and also tried spraying water from a misting bottle) so that we could see the rays clearly.  We tried out some of the experiments which had appeared in past exam papers, eg shining a laser pointer through transparent containers of water and of oil and measuring the refraction, and demonstrating total internal reflection.  We got two experiments for the price of one - weighed equal volumes of different liquids, eg oil, water and syrup, to demonstrate different densities, then poured them into a transparent container where they obligingly arranged themselves in order of density, and played around with the laser pointer to see how light moved differently through different substances.

Nice, clear demo vid of raybox: http://www.cosmolearning.com/videos/light-reflection-and-refraction-demo/

• Investigating the refraction of light using a raybox (or pins) and rectangular glass prism

• Measuring critical angle using a circular glass block and a raybox (or pins)

• Measurement of the range of human hearing using a signal generator and loudspeaker

• Measurement of the speed of sound by a simple clapping method using a stopwatch

Try this home experiment - measuring the speed of sound using echoes, from practicalphysics.org:


4 Energy resources and energy transfer

Nuffield Practical Physics collection on energy.

• Measurement of efficiency using an electric motor lifting a weight attached to a string over a pulley

• Using a falling mass connected to a dynamics trolley, via a thread passing over a pulley,


• Determination of power generated by climbing a flight of stairs and timing the ascent of a known vertical height

• Using a dynamo and lamp to demonstrate the generation of electrical energy

A bicycle dynamo would be ideal for this - see:http://www.practicalphysics.org/go/Experiment_345.html

5 Solids, liquids and gases

• Determination of the density of regularly and irregularly-shaped objects

(We determined volume by water displacement - this was easy and fun.)

• Determination of solid and liquid pressure

Brownian motion of smoke particles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apUl_baT_Kc&feature=related

Brownian motion in a smoke cell, with video clip:


Home experiment - ink disperses  more rapidly in warm water:


This worked really well!  Suggest stir both first to avoid currents dispersing.  Take temp beforehand?

Microscope: detailed photo instructions for slide preparation to  observe Brownian Motion:




• Investigating Boyle’s Law and the Pressure Law


Demonstration of Boyle's Law using plastic water bottle and medicine dropper


Nice quick vid of balloon in bell jar as air is pumped out:


6 Magnetism and electromagnetism

• Plotting magnetic fields using bar magnets and plotting compasses (and/or iron filings)

Easy to do at home.  Note crumbled steel wool a good alternative to filings.

• Investigating the magnetic fields associated with a straight wire, coil and solenoid carrying an electric current

• Investigating the factors affecting the strength of an electromagnet

• Building a model motor

• Investigating the factors affecting the size and direction of an induced voltage using a bar magnet, long solenoid and centre-zero meter

• Investigating a transformer using C-cores, wiring, a low voltage a.c. supply, voltmeter and lamp

7 Radioactivity and particles

• Detection of background radiation using a Geiger-Muller tube Most of us probably won't be doing this at home, but if you go to school open days, sometimes they have this sort of activity and visitors may be allowed a try.

Geiger counter clear explanation:


• Investigating the penetrating power of alpha, beta and gamma radiation using

radioactive sources, absorbers and a Geiger-Muller tube

Suggested titles for investigations

The experimental and investigative tasks below could be performed using the resources

recommended in the course planner along with other available resources.

1 Compare the insulating properties of different materials such as bubble wrap, cotton wool

and plastic foam.

2 Investigate the effect of length on the resistance of a wire.

3 Investigate the effect of the height fallen by an object on the depth of the crater produced.

4 When light travels through a glass block, investigate how the length of the glass block

affects the lateral displacement of the light ray.

5 Investigate the factors affecting the time period of a simple pendulum.

6 Investigate how the temperature of a squash ball affects the height it bounces off the floor.

7 Investigate the percentage energy losses of different bouncing balls.

8 Investigate how the weight of a body affects the size of the frictional force opposing its


9 Investigate how the area of a model parachute affects its rate of descent.

10 Investigate how the depth of water affects the speed of water waves.

Edexcel’s recommended links

General links

Practical Physics - http://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/practical-physics#1 Nuffield Foundation and Institute of Physics partnership, with clear instruction sheets on how to do various practical activities, designed for the UK curriculum.

Edexcel and Pearson, its publisher, have provided an Editable Scheme of Work with suggested practical activities and links to videos and further resources, updated for the 2017 specification. This is an extremely useful document.

Edexcel list of recommended links on IGCSE Physics here -ignore the photo of a chemistry book at the top! :

Khan Academy

Eureka TV series on YouTube







Cornell physics video demonstration database


Video clips of physics demonstrations used by the uni physics dept to make classroom demonstration available to students for review and additional study.


physics-animations.com  Animations of physical processes

Mass v Weight - Conceptual Physics lecture


Mass v weight



Physics of Space battles - laws of interia and momentum


Lab Equipment and Procedures

How to use a Bunsen burner:


Good photo instructions:




Articles on lab equipment and techniques etc;


Real World Physics Problems


Explains sports, amusement parks, battles and weapons etc. in terms of classical physics.

Microscopy UK