The H3 syllabus is meant to build on and further the concepts, skills and understandings in A Level H2 subjects. H3 may seem daunting to those who plan to take it but looking back on my H3 journey, I am grateful for it. Having taken H3 in physics at NUS, let me share with you the differences between H3 and H2 physics for those who are considering taking up H3.
To give some background to my course, my H3 physics classes were taught in NUS by their professors and we attended lectures and tutorials with the NUS students. We had two lectures a week, one tutorial once every two weeks and one lab session every two weeks. Similar to what was taught in H2 physics, we learned quantum physics and nuclear physics, but we had the addition of special relativity, quantum mechanics, atomic physics and particle physics too.
H3 physics involves a large amount of mathematics as compared to H2 physics. In H2 physics, the equations are simpler where there are one of two terms involved and simple algebraic manipulations would suffice to reach the answer. Though this may sound unrelated, but when I was studying H3 physics, A level math tuition really helped a lot. Thinking that differential equations in H2 math would not be of any use? Think again. in quantum mechanics, Schrödinger’s equation is a partial differential equation in the second order. The most memorable experience I had was to solve a collision question involving relativity. Though it involved applying the basics of conservation of momentum and energy, it took me one week to solve it and the working was two pages long. Looking back, maybe it was the ambience at New Dawn that helped me solve it.
The ideas discussed during the H3 sessions are also a lot more interesting than that in the H2 syllabus. Studying H2 physics felt more stressful to me as we were mainly preparing for the examinations and the concepts taught has been discovered a hundred over years before us. In contrast, the H3 course taught us more recent discoveries, albeit more abstract, but were more interesting due to the counter intuitive nature of modern physics. In H2 physics, the concepts were more intuitive and occurs in our everyday life. The answers more or less correspond to our experiences too. On the other hand, H3 physics analysed the physical world at extreme conditions at very small scales in my course. For example, you would not expect two plates in a vacuum to come closer to each other without anyone touching it, but it does, and it is called the Casimir effect. Moreover, the professors in my course were passionate about the things they taught and they themselves were working on projects that involved such concepts. Towards the end of the course, the professor even invited us to his lab to glance upon his work on quantum computing, albeit it being too complex for my understanding. Overall, I feel that the concepts taught in H3 physics are more exciting and the environment takes them to a new level.
As mentioned previously, the H3 physics classes also had lab sessions. In H2 physics, lab sessions are geared to equip you with the necessary skills to tackle the practical exam. In H3 physics, every lab session I attended, though always graded, was to teach us more about the content we were learning. Each session would allow us to explore a concept for approximately 2 to 3 hours before it was taught to us in lecture. We also had to write up lab reports where we analysed our data through excel. A level math tuition came in handy again, as statistics were involved to calculate the standard deviations and uncertainty. M=Moreover, we had to create the regression line by first finding the equation manually and plotting it. Though the sessions were graded, it was done in pairs and there would be a teaching assistant to help you without any penalty to your grade. I felt that the H3 physics lab sessions gave me good exposure to the concepts early so that I would not be so confused during lectures. I find that this is a major difference between my H2 and H3 physics classes.
H2 physics and mathematics lay the foundations for me to take up H3 physics, whereas H3 physics lay the foundations for me to read up on the more recent discoveries by the greatest minds of the last century. Both H2 and H3 are like small steps taken, one just slightly more advanced than the previous one, but it ultimately allowed me to widen my current view of the physical world. Of course, the journey was made easier through A level physics tuition too.