The worst circuit in the world (part 2)

What is the worst circuit in the world? Many teachers think it is the one below.

This is the circuit that AQA (2018: 47) strongly suggest should be used to capture the data for plotting IV characteristics (aka current against potential difference graphs) for a fixed resistor, a filament lamp and a diode. The reasons why it is ‘the worst circuit in world’ were outlined in part one; and also some reasons why, nonetheless, schools teaching the 2016 AQA GCSE Physics / Combined Science specifications should (arguably) continue to use it.

The procedure outlined isn’t ‘perfect’ but works well using the equipment we have available and enables students to capture (and plot using a FREE Excel spreadsheet!) the data with only minor troubleshooting from the teacher.

Step the first: ‘These are the graphs you’re looking for.’

I find this required practical runs more smoothly if students have some awareness of what kind of graphs they are looking for. So, to borrow a phrase, I usually just tell ’em.

You can access an unannotated version of the slides on Google Jamboard and pdf below.

Step the second: capture the data for the fixed resistor

It is a continual source of amazement to me that students seem to find a photograph of a circuit easier to interpret than a nice, clean, minimalist circuit diagram, so for an easier life I present both.

You can, if you have access to ICT, get the students to plot their results ‘live’ on an Excel spreadsheet (link below). I think this is excellent for helping to manage the cognitive demand on our students (as I have argued before here). Please note that I have not used the automated ‘line of best fit’ tools available on Excel as I think it is important for students to practice drawing lines of best fit — including, especially, curved lines of best fit (sorry, Maths teachers, in science there are such things as curved lines!)

Results for a fixed resistor from a typical group of students. These results are clearly consistent with a straight line of best fit going through the origin. However, they can be criticised for not being evenly spaced across the range — but this is a limitation of using the ‘worst circuit in the world’ and, happily(!), gives the students something to write about in their evaluation.

Step the second: capture the data for the filament lamp

In this circuit, we replaced the previous 0-16 ohm variable resistor with a 0 – 1000 ohm variable resistor paired with 2.5 V, 0.2 A filament lamp because the bulb has a resistance of about 60 ohms when run at 2.5 V and so the 0-16 ohm variable resistor is often ineffective. We allowed a maximum potential difference of just over 3.0 V to ‘over run’ the bulb so as to be sure of obtaining the ‘flattening’ of the graph. The method calls for very small adjustments of the variable resistor to obtain noticeable changes of brightness of the bulb. Note that the cells used in the photograph had seen many years of service with our physics department(!) and so were fairly depleted such that three of them were needed to produce a measly three volts; you would likely only need two ‘fresher’, ‘newer’ cells to achieve the same.

These are the results obtained by a typical student group. The results are clearly consistent with the elongated ‘S’ shaped curve predicted from theory. The results can be criticised for clustering, but this can be addressed by students in their evaluation of the experiment.

Step the third (sub-parts a and b): capturing the data for a diode

Results for diode captured by a group of students following the procedure outlined above.


Click here to get a clean copy of the Google Jamboard.

You can download a clean pdf of the slides here:

You can download the Excel spreadsheet used to plot the graphs here:

And, by popular request, a copy of the PowerPoint below (although, trust me, I think Google Jamboard is superior when using ‘live’ in front of a class)


AQA (2018). Practical Handbook: GCSE Physics. Retrieved from on 7/5/23

2 thoughts on “The worst circuit in the world (part 2)

  1. anaturalphilosopher May 16, 2023 / 12:51 pm

    There is a danger of burning out the end of the track when taking 0.33A from the slider of a little 1K potentiometer.
    The increase of resistance with voltage is even more pronounced with a mains voltage lamp. The graph shows power almost directly proportional to voltage implying that the current is nearly constant.
    The diode characteristic is a travesty. Unfortunately it is what examiners expect and thus becomes what is taught. The knee at 0.7V is an artefact of the scales chosen; a log/lin graph is much more revealing. From a practical point of view, the effect of self-heating (about -2mV/K) adversely affects the high current end (the current can be seen to be increasing after the voltage has stopped rising). Also, 1A diodes act as fuses when abused – I use 10 A ones, they cannot destroy them and the temperature rise is smaller (for the same current) as well.

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