GCSE Physics - Particle Model of Matter
GCSE·3 mins·02/11/21

GCSE Physics - Particle Model of Matter

What have you already covered at KS3 that you will build on at GCSE Level?

  • Think back to the work you did on solids, liquids and gases. This is the way that you will have worked with the particle model at KS3.
  • Solids, liquids and gases all have different arrangements and different boiling and melting points.
  • Any experiments with density are part of the particle model.
  • You may have done some maths for density and maybe for gas pressures.
  • There is a chance you have done some work on atomic structure, possibly in your Chemistry lessons as there is a big overlap here. ( Atomic Structure and The Periodic Table)


The topics at GCSE build on the basics you met at KS3 and a new element is added regarding nuclear physics and radioactive decay.

  • Changes of state and the particle model (including density)
  • Internal energy and energy transfers (change of state and latent heat)
  • Particle model and pressure
  • Atomic structure
  • Hazards and uses of radioactive emissions and of background radiation (physics only)
  • Atoms and nuclear radiation
  • Nuclear fission and fusion (physics only)

What you need to know for the exam

  • The atoms and radiation topics are almost complete subjects in themselves! You will learn three types of radiation, which you will have to discuss in terms of their properties, uses and hazards. Also, within these topics you will have to interpret half-life graphs, calculate half-lives and net ratios of isotopes after a certain time and write balanced decay equations.
  • One of the 6-mark questions may be focused on the history of the discovery of the atomic model. If you get this question you will need to know the previous scientific beliefs about what an atom was. This is known as the plum-pudding model. You will also need to be able to confidently discuss what experiments were done to work out where the nucleus is and you will also need to be able to discuss why people accepted this as a reliable model.
  • You will need to be confident using data presented in standard form as you will meet very big and very small numbers in this topic and you are required to answer in this way.
  • You will need to recall this equation:
  • density = mass ÷ volume
  • You will need to be able to use these equations:
  • change in thermal energy = mass × specific heat capacity × temperature change
  • energy for a change o f state = mass × specific latent heat
  • pressure × volume = constant

As always, you are allowed to use a calculator for all of the maths problems in the exam!

The practical element of the exam will be examined in the exam paper and it will require you to either plan an investigation or discuss the findings from an example of an investigation that will be given to you. Don’t worry, you will have met all of these practicals as you progress through the course. The practicals are:

  • Determine the densities of regular and irregular solid objects and liquids. Volume should be determined from the dimensions of regularly shaped objects, and by a displacement technique for irregularly shaped objects.

Hints and tips:

  • As always, write all of your numbers down, even if you get the wrong answer you can be awarded marks for your method in working it out!
  • Units! Units are another thing you will have to remember for the exam. They are often worth a mark, so they are easy ways to increase your score and push you into the next grade boundary!

On long answer questions: There is also an element of extended writing which will contribute to your SPG grade. These longer answer questions are usually awarded 6 marks and are evaluated on a basis of three tiers of content.

  • You are likely to be writing about the emergence of the new atomic theory or medical applications of radiation, depending on which exam paper you are taking.
  • Bullet points are absolutely allowed as long as each bullet point is a complete sentence and relevant to the answer.

Final words...

This is a very interesting topic with a rich history in research. Find the stories in the content if you can - for example the discovery of the new atomic model or Marie Curie's discoveries in radiation. There is a big range of ideas presented in this topic from tiny atoms to medical procedures. Find where it crosses over with Chemistry and use that to reduce the amount that you need to learn. There is no point learning the same thing twice! The maths element for this topic can be tricky, practice many exam questions to gain confidence here.

Resources for this topic:

I have a series of videos on the Scoodle site about this topic and others. Check them out!

Past papers can be found at the main exam board websites and also here: https://revisionscience.com/gcse-revision/physics/physics-gcse-past-papers

Jennifer Taylor BSc, MSc, PGCE, MInstPhysics.

I have been teaching Physics since 2006. In this time I have been twice nominated for the National Teaching Awards and my results have been among the best in the country.

I am an Expert Examiner for Pearson EDEXCEL and continue to send the message to students that Physics is fun and it doesn’t need to be complicated!

Next - Read my guide to Magnets in GCSE Psychics

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Jennifer Taylor

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