Scottish Highers: Why should I study physics?

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Nov 08 2023

If you’re an S4 student, you’re probably thinking about which subjects you should take as part of your Highers. While we’re biased, choosing physics as one of your four or five subjects is a great way to gain transferable skills, be eligible for many STEM university courses and understand the physics that makes our modern world possible.


What does the physics Highers course involve?

The course is divided into the following three areas:

Our dynamic Universe

  • Motion — equations and graphs
  • Forces, energy and power
  • Collisions, explosions, and impulse 
  • Gravitation  
  • Special relativity 
  • The expanding universe 

Particles and waves

  • Forces on charged particles
  • The Standard Model 
  • Nuclear reactions  
  • Inverse square law 
  • Wave-particle duality 
  • Interference  
  • Spectra 
  • Refraction of light 


  • Monitoring and measuring AC  
  • Current, potential difference, power, and resistance 
  • Electrical sources and internal resistance 
  • Capacitors
  • Semiconductors and p-n junctions

How is Higher physics assessed?

The Higher physics assessment process is made up of three components. There’s a 45-minute multiple choice paper, a two-hours, 15 minute question paper, and an assignment where you’ll complete independent research and write a report of your findings.

What’s the difference between Higher physics and Advanced Higher physics?

Higher physics is a year-long course taken in S5, while Advanced Higher physics is taken during S6. The Advanced Higher course allows you to expand your knowledge of physics further and make your application stand out for especially competitive courses (e.g. medicine). Many STEM degrees even allow you to start in second year if you completed an advanced higher.

Thus, the advanced higher course assesses a different set of topics:

Rotational motion and astrophysics

  • Kinematic relationships
  • Angular motion
  • Rotational dynamics
  • Gravitation
  • General relativity
  • Stellar physics

Quanta and waves 

  • Introduction to quantum theory 
  • Particles from space 
  • Simple harmonic motion 
  • Waves
  • Interference
  • Polarisation


  • Fields
  • Circuits 
  • Electromagnetic radiation

Units, prefixes and uncertainties

  • Units, prefixes and scientific notation
  • Uncertainties 
  • Data analysis
  • Evaluation and significance of experimental uncertainties

The advanced higher physics course is assessed with a three-hour question paper and a research project, where you’ll complete an in-depth investigation and write a report. 

Why should I study Higher physics?

The most obvious reason is learning the skills you’ll need for physics and other advanced STEM degrees, which will prepare you for careers in sectors like robotics, engineering and astronomy. 

However, the skills you gain from Higher physics are applicable to a range of careers. Even if you’re not interested in pursuing physics further, you’ll gain transferable skills like data analysis and problem solving. These skills are highly sought after by a range of employers, including those in law and finance. 

Finally, studying higher physics allows you to truly appreciate our modern world. Televisions, skyscrapers, microwaves: none of these would be possible without us understanding and applying physics theories.