Physics - Transverse Waves (AQA)
The ripples on the surface of water are transverse waves.

Physics - Transverse Waves (AQA)

Electromagnetic and mechanical waves are both studied in GCSE Science. This is one of six quizzes on that topic and it looks specifically at transverse waves.

When asked to draw a diagram of a wave in science, most people would probably draw a wiggly line as that resembles the waves that you see on water. That type of wave is called a transverse wave. Waves are formed by vibrations and create oscillations (posh word for vibrations) in the medium through which they pass. Transverse waves cause oscillations at right angles to the direction they are travelling. That is how they get their name - transverse means across.

Mechanical waves make the particles of the medium itself vibrate. Sound is a mechanical wave but not a transverse wave, so it is dealt with in a different quiz. Earthquake waves, other than the P waves, are transverse and they make the particles of the ground shake from side to side as they pass - with devastating consequences. Water waves and ripples are mechanical waves and they cause the water molecules to vibrate up and down as they pass.

Electromagnetic waves are also transverse waves, but they don't need a physical medium to travel - in fact they travel better where it is just empty space. They cause oscillations in the electric and magnetic fields that are everywhere in the universe, hence their name. For the exam, you are expected to know the order of electromagnetic waves within the spectrum in terms of energy, frequency and wavelength.

Which of the following statements about X-rays is correct?
X-rays cause electric and magnetic fields to vibrate at 90o to the direction they are travelling
X-rays are longitudinal waves
X-rays are transverse waves only after being reflected
X-rays become transverse waves when they are refracted by certain crystals
They are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are therefore transverse waves
The distance from any point on one wave to the same point on the next wave is called what?
The amplitude
The frequency
The modulation
The wavelength
It is usually shown as being from the top of one crest to the top of the next crest
What is the amplitude of a transverse wave?
The height of the wave from the centre line to the crest
The height of the wave from the centre line to the trough
The maximum displacement of a wave
What is measured using a voltmeter and ammeter
This question teaches you to read through all of the alternative options before choosing and to consider carefully what information the examiner really wants.


Some of you may have immediately chosen the first option as your answer. This would have been correct if the question asked 'how would you recognise the amplitude of a wave on a diagram?'. It does not actually say what the amplitude is. The same applies to the second answer. Also, since you cannot choose two options as being correct, either option 3 or option 4 must be the right one.


The displacement of a wave is the distance that a certain point on the wave has moved from its rest position. The amplitude is the maximum displacement, therefore option 3 must be the answer the examiner wants you to give.

Which of these statements about the frequency of a transverse wave is true?
The frequency of a transverse wave is related to wavelength by the wave equation
The frequency of a transverse wave is measured in Hertz (Hz)
The frequency of a transverse wave is the number of waves passing a given point in 1 second
All of the above
High frequency waves have short wavelengths and vice versa
As transverse seismic waves pass through the Earth, they must travel through several different layers. These layers have different densities. What happens to these waves when they reach a boundary between the layers?
They are blocked
They reflect and refract
They reflect only
They refract only
When any transverse wave passes from one medium into another that has a different density, some of the energy is reflected and some is refracted. How much of each depends on the angle. At the critical angle, all of the energy is reflected
When drawing a diagram to measure the angle of refraction, a student drew a broken (dashed) line at right angles to the boundary. What is the name of this line and which way would the wave refract?
Normal, towards the normal
Ordinary, away from the ordinary
Standard, towards the standard
Normal, you need more information
The missing information for this question is whether or not the wave was entering a more dense or less dense medium
Why do transverse waves refract when they enter a more dense medium?
They slow down
They speed up
They are deflected by the more dense particles
The normal attracts them
The opposite is true when they travel from more dense into less dense media
Under what conditions does refraction not take place?
When the wave has a long wavelength
If the wave is travelling at less than the speed of light
If the angle of incidence is 90o
When the wave has already been refracted somewhere else
If a wave is travelling along the normal it will cross from one medium into another without being refracted
When a transverse wave passes through a gap that is about the same width as its wavelength, which of the following is not true?
It slows down
It diffracts
Its wavelength is not affected
It can produce an interference pattern on a screen
Diffraction is when a wave spreads out as it passes through a gap that is about the same as its wavelength
Which of the following answers places these waves of the electromagnetic spectrum in the correct order of increasing frequency?

1. Visible light
2. Radio waves
3. Microwaves
4. Ultra violet
5. Infrared
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
2, 3, 5, 1, 4
5, 4, 2, 1, 3
3, 2, 4, 5, 1
You need to know the order of the electromagnetic spectrum. If you learn it thoroughly in one direction using one property (e.g. the order in increasing wavelength) you can work out any other orders that the questions might throw at you. For example, the order in increasing energy would be the reverse of the order of wavelength because the shorter wavelength electromagnetic radiation carries more energy
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - Transverse and longitudinal waves - AQA

Author:  Kev Woodward

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