Course Breakdown


Assignments (x 4): 10%
Laboratories (x 5): 10%
Tests (x 2): 15%
Exam: 60% 

Course Information


Prescribed Textbook:

  • Physics (9th ed) - Cutnell & Johnson

UoA Course Website: link

Basic Information

If you’ve ever taken physics in high school, PHYS160 should be very straightforward. If you've never taken physics ever before, this paper will be quite challenging. Many of the topics taught 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, as many concepts interlink between each other. All lectures are recorded with audio and slides. 


Throughout the course, we had four assignments worth 2.5% each to complete on a website called WileyPlus. 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 a number of MCQs, and you are given 5 attempts to answer each question. Completing assignment questions is a great way to practice concepts taught during lectures, and gives you a good indication of where you are at. Often at times, questions from assignments were repeated in tests/exams, so that was another added bonus.

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

Labs were scheduled once every 2 weeks and to be honest, this was the section of this course that I enjoyed the least. Labs were 3 hours long, and some calculations could get quite frustrating (e.g. uncertainties… lots and lots of uncertainties!) However, in comparison to labs from other courses you’ve had this year, these physics labs are super chill. The instructors are all friendly and if you really aren’t sure, they’ll provide you with the answer if you ask nicely. Three of the labs also included a lab report component, which you submit online via These lab reports were very time consuming and only contributed to <2% of your final grade, so the effort to worth ratio was quite low. 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. Note: your instructors are the ones who mark the lab reports!

Tests and Exams

Test 1 consisted of the mechanics and thermal topics whereas; test 2 consisted of the electricity and optics topics. The exam, however, consisted of all lecture content. Both tests were 1 hour long and consisted of 20 MCQs while the 3 hour exam had an additional SAQ section. 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

Lecture Content

Section 1: Classical Mechanics

This first block 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: Thermal Physics

This section was also taught by Mark Conway, and once again he carried out many fun demonstrations. 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 3: Electricity

This block of 8 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 4: Optics and Waves

Tristan O'Hanlon takes this block of 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. I would suggest printing out the lecture slides and annotating them in class as the course guide on his section was quite vague. One of the two lab reports was based on the image formation lectures that he gave so pay particular attention to them if you’re stuck on the lab write-up.

Section 5: Medical Physics

This last block is presented by two lecturers, Dr Beau Pontré and Dr Samantha Holdsworth. This topic consisted of various topics that complimented well with content covered in MEDSCI142. Most of the content is straightforward and very interesting, and worked examples are covered during lectures to help explain concepts. Again, make sure you understand these concepts and how to use the various equations.