Analysing Uncertainties

The article attached below highlights three of the main difficulties experienced by students when first taking their undergraduate lab sessions. One is general difficulties with manipulating equipment, using meters, setting up circuits etc. This will only be resolved by students doing more practical work. The second difficulty is knowing how to use a log book. (See Using Log Books).

The third and most problematic is the treatment of uncertainties in practical work. Students are given little opportunity to consider the nature of experimental uncertainties at GCSE but it should not be left until the 
university lab or apprentice workshop, before this vital part of practical work is taught.

Awarding Organisations publish their own guides to working with uncertainties and these should be looked at carefully as there
can be subtle differences between boards.

What teachers need to be mindful of is that students do not find the concept straightforward - they are used to getting an answer that is either right or wrong, and they believe fervently in every digit their calculators tell them. It is the job of A level teachers and specifications to guide students carefully, in a planned and progressive manner through this minefield that is at the heart of all practical work.