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Course Breakdown


Assignments (x 4): 10%

Laboratories (x 5): 14%

Lab Prep and Oral Response 6%

Tests (x 2): 10%

Exam: 60% 

Course Information


Prescribed Textbook and Coursebook:

·    Physics (10 ed) - Cutnell & Johnson

·    Physics160 course book

UoA Course Website: link

Basic Information

If you’ve ever taken physics in high school, PHYSICS160 should be relatively straightforward. If you've never taken physics ever before, this paper may be quite challenging. Many of the topics consist of concepts you would have learnt before, no matter what curriculum you took during high school. However, you still need to put in the hard work to get the grade you really deserve. For those coming with little/no previous background in physics, the course is good in the sense that each topic is taught from the very basics. However, the pace of teaching is such that you’ll have to keep up with the content. All lectures are recorded with audio and slides. It still is an enjoyable course and a good break from the usual memorisation required from the biosci’s/medsci’s.


Throughout the course in 2023, we had four assignments worth 2.5% each to complete online. You’re given a generous length of time to complete these assignments, and they are in fact worth a significant chunk of your final grade. The assignments consist of mathematical questions (not MCQs), and you are given 5 attempts to answer each question. Completing assignment questions are a great way to practice concepts taught during lectures, and gives you a good indication of where you are at. It is also a good way to start preparing for the tests and exam.

However, be aware that questions from assignments are a little bit more difficult than in tests/exams, so don't feel discouraged if you struggle a bit with the assignments.

Laboratory Component

There are four group labs which each had an experiment to complete with your group, which was followed by a lab report that was graded. Some lab reports were to be completed with your group and some individually. Though the content itself was not difficult, the labs themselves required a fair bit of Excel knowledge and use of formulae. Compared to other courses in first year Biomed, these labs are relatively easy. The instructors are also very willing to help you if you required.

Make sure you listen carefully to your instructors during these lab sessions as they will provide you with valuable tips on how to go about writing these reports. They are also quite specific with calculations and significant figures, so make sure to get used to the concepts they teach in the first lab. Note: your instructors are the ones who mark the lab reports!

Tests and Exams

Test 1 consisted of the mechanics and optics & waves; test 2 consisted of electricity and thermal physics. The exam consisted of all lecture content including medical physics. Both tests were 1 hour long and consisted of 20 MCQs while the exam was 3 hours long. For preparation, I recommend going through past tests and exam papers, as questions were often repeated or very similar in nature. The best part of these assessments is that you were allowed to bring in a cheat sheet (1 x double sided A4 for each test, and thus 2 double sided A4 pieces of paper for the exam), which meant that you didn’t have to actually memorise any formulae/equations – you just had to understand them. Make sure that your test 2 cheat sheet has some space to add medical physics content for the exam!

Lecture Content

Section 1: Mechanics

This first block, consisting of 9 lectures, was taught by Mark Conway who used a high school like teaching style by mainly writing things up on a white board and using the course guide. This topic is also of similar difficulty to high school mechanics: from kinematic equations, to Newton’s laws and vectors. Mark would also perform various experiments during his lectures, which were always great fun to watch. Make sure you understand how to apply the various equations and you will be sweet for all the assessments.

Section 2: Optics and Waves

Stephane Coen takes this block of 9 lectures, and he used his PowerPoint slides and worked examples as the main learning resources. A few topics in this block were a bit tricky and would be glossed over during lectures, so make sure you understand them as they will appear in future assessments. If you’re having trouble, feel free to approach your tutorial/lab tutors, the lecturer himself, or drop into the weekly help sessions run by the Physics department. 

This was a relatively straightforward topic with similar concepts tested in high school; such as how mirrors and lens work, sound and light waves, and the Doppler effect. However, this topic was the most difficult according to the cohort, so keep practicing.


Section 3: Thermal Physics

This section of 9 lectures was taught by Mark Conway. Students coming from a CIE background have found this block quite manageable as it was merely an extension of concepts they had learnt before. Others coming from NCEA Physics backgrounds found this topic quite new and slightly more difficult than the rest because the equations were all relatively new.

For this section, it was crucial to spend time fully understanding the concepts and equations before starting practicing questions, because many equations from this section look very similar (absolute pressure vs gauge pressure etc.), so you need to be able to distinguish the different uses of them.


Section 4: Electricity

This block of 10 lectures was taught by Mark Conway, and once again he carried out many fun demonstrations. In general, this topic wasn’t very difficult and as long as you understood the concepts and how to use the equations, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Similar lecturing style as before and here, both NCEA and CIE physics students should be relatively familiar. And even if you don’t have a Physics background, Mark goes through this section quite well.


Section 5: Medical Physics

This last block is presented by Dr Samantha Holdsworth. This topic consisted of various topics that complimented well with content covered in MEDSCI142. This section definitely consisted of more difficult lectures, especially the hearing and radiation lectures as these lectures link up physical and biological concepts. Although these lectures were more content heavy and had a lot of biological concepts, do not fixate too much on the biological side of the lecture and rather focus on the calculations as these are usually the questions that come up in the exam.

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