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Teachers' Health Warning for ''A Cavendish quantum mechanics primer''

Chapter 1 of the Primer is physics and maths preparation for the Senior Physics Challenge (SPC) held in Cambridge to stretch seriously able students at the end of their AS year. This chapter is freely downloadable from the SPC website. Other chapters introduce quantum mechanics based on these largely AS level skills, but they require a fluency and willingness to apply these skills beyond the sphere they were introduced in. It is this fluency and willingness that is probed at admissions.

  1. If you are thinking of recommending a student for the SPC and are looking at chapter 1, it will seem tough. However, our experience is that nearly all students attending the SPC manage the material well on arrival just after AS, being in a high state of practice and having put effort into doing the examples. Some material, for instance, the derivatives of sine and cosine, is simply given without detailed derivation in the A-level syllabus, and we likewise just cite the results. The unfamiliar potential approach to dynamics is first solved as an example and then further problems are given. Students should be able to see the idea themselves from the worked example, and then practise further. Likewise it is likely students will not have consciously met differential equations before, except of course they will have thought about Newton's Second Law!

  2. If you are using chapter 1 as practice for Cambridge admissions, and using chapter 2 as self-study that will stretch a student with useful practice, be aware that it is demanding. The writing style is closer to that of a university text and requires active reading with readers performing multi-step calculations. It is pitched at a level that a student fluent with this material by the time of interview in December would feel that the playing field is at least level! In any event, such students should also consult past papers and other sample material, for instance that available on the Corpus Physics website and that at Trinity College. The section on differential equations is unlikely to come up in admissions but is useful practice in confronting more advanced material.

We urge you to register as a teacher on the SPC website. Teachers on this list are automatically informed as soon as we set a date for the next SPC, and then also informed when registrations are opened.