Unsure how you’re meant to structure your student experiment report for QCE Physics?
By following our 9 steps, you’ll be on your way to achieving an A-Grade for this IA! We’ll guide you through each of the different sections so you know exactly what information to include in each part.
Keen to write up your student experiment? Let’s get started!
What is a Student Experiment?
According to the QCE Physics syllabus, a student experiment “uses investigative practices to assess a range of cognitions in a particular context”, which is incredibly vague. Luckily however, that vagueness is by design and allows for a large amount of freedom of choice!
In middle school you have most likely completed some sort of experimental write-up or lab-report at some point. The good news is that a student experiment isn’t too different from that, a lot of the sections are exactly the same but just have a different name.
A student experiment can be broken down into 9 main sections with a few subsections in this order: the Topic, Rationale, Research Question, Original Experiment, Results, Analysis, Evaluation, Conclusion and References.
Let’s break down these sections as well as some other minor sub-sections that are important!
Step 1: Choose a Topic
Selecting your topic is quite possibly the most important part of a student experiment in Physics. Now, while your student experiment does have to be based on one of the mandatory practicals that you’ve already done in class, there is still tonnes of room to experiment (no pun intended).
We recommend looking back at your notes and trying to figure out which experiment you found the most interesting, fun and most importantly, one which you can think of many ways to refine, redirect and extend.
The easiest way to redirect an experiment is to change which independent variable is being investigated.
For example, if the original experiment was investigating the force on a current carrying wire due to a changing magnetic field, then the dependent variable was force and the independent variable was magnetic field strength. If we are going to change the independent variable, let’s examine the equation used to calculate force on a current carrying wire.
In a current carrying wire, F = BILsin(θ)
From this equation we can see that there are 3 other variables here we could choose to alter, I, L or θ. Any of these choices are valid for your student experiment!
Step 2: Write Your Rationale
This section should be roughly 300-400 words long.
On the ISMG, this section will constitute the majority of your marks towards the research and planning criteria. To achieve the maximum marks in this area, you need to make sure that your rationale very clearly explains the theory behind the original experiment and how you decided to change this experiment to form the new, modified experiment.
Your rationale should include
- A short summary of the initial experiment and how it was changed
- Any initial research conducted into the topic
- The results you expect to see from the theoretical relationship
- A short summary of the results you found in the initial experiment, including any errors/difficulties you encountered, and how you addressed these in your modified experiment
Step 3: Come Up With Your Research Question
This section should not be any longer than 50 words.
The research question should be a succinct, yet detailed summary of both the independent and dependent variables. You should also include which variables you kept constant.
On your task sheet, the QCAA gives an example of how to develop a research question from the variables that you will investigate — it is recommended you follow this guide as it falls in line with how you will be marked. To achieve the maximum marks for this, your research question must be both specific and relevant.
It also important to consider at this stage the actual methodology of the experiment and whether or not the scope of your experiment will allow you to collect enough data points. We recommend around 15-20 data points to do well in this category!
Step 4: Compare the Original Experiment to Your Modified Experiment
When comparing the original experiment to your modified experiment, you’ll need to explain in about 50 words.
This is not a summary of what the original experiment was investigating. But rather, this is a summary of the equipment and method used in the original experiment i.e. “the mass reading was obtained using an electronic scale”
Step 4.1: Identify the Modifications
You should be writing about 100 words in this section.
It should outline how you have refined, redirected or extended the experiment. If you already considered this back in Step 1, then this section is quite easy. We highly recommend doing this section in dot point form as it allows you to be succinct while still getting across lots of information.
In terms of the ISMG, to achieve the maximum marks, you need to make sure that all of your modifications are justified clearly and logically.
Step 4.2: Discuss the Risk Management Involved
When describing the risk management of the experiment, you’ll roughly write 100 words but this may vary depending on your experiment.
This section is rather self explanatory — you need to talk about the risks present in your experiment and how you dealt with them. We recommend presenting this information in a table, like the one below!
|Risk identified in modified experiment||Control measures implemented to ensure safety|
|Exposure to electricity mains, electrocution, small sparks||Electrical equipment used was tagged and tested, ensured secure connections before switching power on, ensured no liquids were present in the vicinity of experiment, avoided connecting wires where people may trip or pull cords out|
Step 5: Present Your Results
This section will take up quite a lot of page-space but won’t necessarily take up a lot of words due to an abundance of graphs, tables and equations.
In the first part of your results section you should include your raw results in table form! Don’t include any uncertainties, just the measurements of your independent and dependant variables for each trial.
After this, you should include a table of sample calculations which should follow a logical process of the steps you took to transform your raw data into the final results. This table should include everything from uncertainty to calculations to mean calculations. An example of the type of table recommended is shown below:
|Process of Calculation||Example Calculation|
|Average mass =||Average mass = = 2.14|
After this, you should then present your processed data, both in full table form as well as in a graphical form so that the relationship you found can be easily visualised.
We highly recommend plotting the theoretical relationship on the same graph so that the difference between the experimental data and theoretical data can be easily recognised — this is especially useful for spotting systematic errors.
This section and the next correspond to the Analysis of Evidence criteria on the ISMG. To do well in this section you need to make sure that: you use the correct types of graphs with appropriate trends and you need to make sure you have sufficient data points!
Step 6: Analyse the Results
Analysing your results should should take up about 300-400 words.
You can think of the analysis section as an explanation of the results section — you should identify any patterns and trends in your data. You can also discuss how your results differed from the theoretical data, giving a percentage error to quantify this.
Ensure that you make reference to your graph’s trendline fits, it is very helpful to reference error in the gradient also.
To do well on this section, the ISMG states that you need to provide a thorough identification of trends, patterns and relationships!
Step 7: Evaluate the Experiment
Your evaluation of the experiment should be around 500-600 words.
During your evaluation section you should discuss possible sources of error that you noticed during your experiment and in the final results. It is important to qualify the errors as either systematic or random.
After this, the next subsection of the evaluation is the suggested improvements and extensions.
In the suggested improvements section you should suggest ways in which the same experiment could be made more reliable and precise — this could be by changing the method or using different tools.
The suggested extensions section should be thought of as if you were able to go back to the beginning of the student experiment process knowing what you now know. This could involve things like better understanding theory through initial research or even changing the dependent variable entirely.
Both of these sections should be accompanied with ways that error is mitigated due to your suggested improvements and extensions.
To do well in this section, you should make sure that you thoroughly explain how any of your limitations and uncertainties could arise due to the methodology of the experiment!
Step 8: Write Your Conclusion
Your conclusion should be roughly 100-200 words in length.
This section should be a summary of your entire report, making reference to your research question and how the results you found answer that question, i.e. did your data match up with what theory predicts or is more experimentation required?
Step 9: List Your References
In this final section of your Physics student experiment, cite any sources that you used to develop your ideas, this includes any initial research done, anything used to determine an experimental setup and even any specific tools used in the experiment.
The referencing style you will need to use will depend on your school and isn’t particularly important, as long as its consistent. Below is an example of APA referencing:
Note that you can include any appendices you wish in your report however they cannot be marked so it is not recommended.
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William Bye is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and is currently studying a Bachelor of Advanced Science with Honours (majoring in Physics) at the University of Queensland. He was part of the very first cohort in Queensland to go through the ATAR system and wishes to help other students to make this journey as easy as possible. Will enjoys his time playing guitar in a band with his friends and hopes to continue balancing his science and music for many years to come.