Monthly Archives: August 2009

Things That Can Go Wrong During Exam Day

Are you scared that on the morning of your HSC trials or actual HSC exam, something might happen that would affect your ability to do the exam? It is not too bad if something’s serious enough to warrant an illness / misadventure claim. For example, if your train breaks down and it’s verifiable over the news, or you’re unable to attend due to some illness that can be documented by a medical certificate.
Wrong During Exam

But what about the little things that won’t quite warrant a misadventure claim?

For example, are you one of many students who are scared of getting a stomach ache at the start of your morning exam? How bad would that be, having a stomach ache in the first 5 minutes of your exam? Or getting some sort of cramp, chest pain, headache etc. These ‘small’ mishaps would be difficult to

Let’s face it, during the HSC year, some students are so dedicated to exam preparation that they don’t get much exercise for the whole year, and by the end of the year, they are not exactly in their healthiest shape. Also, the amount of nervousness experienced by HSC students doing an exam that is worth up to 50% of their total HSC assessment can play all sorts of tricks onto our bodies.

There’s a few things you can do to minimise the chance of experiencing some sort of mishap:

Tip ONE: sleep early

Sleeping early reduces the chance of getting a headache in the morning. You won’t feel drowsy on your way to your exam, and you won’t need to drink coffee / Red Bull etc to wake up a second time before you start your early morning exams.

Don’t study the night before your exam. Prepare for an early night’s rest. Watch some TV, do some recreational reading, drink some milk and go to bed early. If you know you can’t fall asleep early, you’ll need to prepare starting from a few days beforehand, where you sleep progressively earlier each night.

Tip TWO: don’t eat the wrong breakfast

Some foods will make you get stomach aches. For example, for people who are lactose-intolerant, drinking milk in the morning (e.g. with cereal) may cause stomach aches and the need to go to the toilet in the middle of your exam. That’s definitely something to be avoided.

It’s a good idea to find out early whether you have any issues with certain foods eaten in the morning, and whether they cause you any discomfort shortly afterward. Be sure to avoid those foods on critical days like exam days where you can’t afford to have any distractions.

Tip THREE: warm your hands before you start writing

This is a nice little trick. Have you noticed it is hard to write fast when your hands are cold? That is because like all muscles in the body, hand muscles contract slower when cold. The ideal temperature is body temperature, that’s when your hands are at the same temperature as your body (37°C) and you can write the fastest.

With Australia’s winters getting colder every year, this is becoming more of a problem, especially if you have an early morning exam that starts at 8:45am. So it is a good idea to warm your hands (e.g. rubbing them together, wear gloves, put your hands in your pockets, sit on them if you need to) before you start writing.

Mastering HSC Chemistry and Physics Exams

HSC Chemistry and Physics exams are structured as 3 hour exams, with 5 minutes reading time. As you may already know, they are structured as such:

  • Section I Part A, 15 multiple choice, 1 mark each, approximately 30 minutes;
  • Section I Part B, several short / long questions dealing with modules 1-3, approximately 105 minutes;
  • Section II, several short / long questions dealing with an option module, 45 minutes.

In this short article, we will outline some strategies to do HSC Physics and Chemistry exams.

Before you start

Before you sexamstart, you should use your reading time carefully. During the first minute or so, flick through the exam and get a feel of how long the exam is, where the long questions are, where does each section end, etc. This gives you a sense of how fast you’ll need to pace through the exam, at least at a subconscious level, and is a useful first action to take.

For the remainder of your reading time, start on the multiple choice (Section I, Part A). Obviously you will not be allowed to hold a pen / pencil during reading time, but that won’t stop you from reading through each multiple choice question and mentally deciding which choice is the correct one.
After reading time ends, you may already have completed up to the first 5 questions in your head, and all you need to do is grab your pencil and colour in the correct circles on your answer sheet.
You don’t actually need to read the entire exam during reading time. As mentioned, this time is better spent starting on the MCQ section. However you DO need to get a feel of how long the exam is, so you don’t get caught by surprise and find yourself working too slowly halfway through Section I Part B.

The Multiple Choice section (Section I Part A)

The first part of the Chemistry or Physics exam usually features the easiest questions. This section should be done as fast as you can because you can always use your remaining time to come back and revise your answers. In contrast, the later sections (Section I Part B and Section II) with the short / long answers are harder to change once you’ve written your answer (you definitely don’t want to be wasting time liquid papering the entire answer section of a 7 mark question because you decided you want to change your answer).
Ideally you should aim to be able to finish the MCQ section in 10 minutes or less.
An alternative strategy is actually to leave the multiple choice section absolutely last. This is because if you happen to be short on time at the very end of your exam, you could always quickly guess the rest of your unanswered multiple choice questions. There’s no ‘negative marking’ in the HSC (meaning if you give an incorrect MCQ answer, you don’t lose marks) so this strategy works. However we don’t recommend this strategy because leaving the multiple choice section last encourages students to spend too much time on Section I Part B and Section II, potentially forcing them to unnecessarily lose the easy marks that could have been gained in the MCQ (Multiple Choices Question) section.

Section I Part B

This is the core section of the exam, the one where you’ll be spending the most time and effort doing. This section is designed to take you 105 minutes (that’s 1 hour, 45 minutes) to do. You should aim to do this section slightly faster than the allocated time, but not significantly faster (unlike the MCQ section).

This is because HSC Physics and HSC Chemistry exams are not like HSC Mathematics exams where you could always come back and change your answers easily. The short / long answer questions require students to verbally answer the questions with full sentences. Basically, it would be impractical to cross out an ‘incorrect’ answer or liquid-paper the whole answer (this takes MUCH too long, not to mention the fumes).

Instead, students should work slowly and carefully through the short / long sections from Section I Part B to Section II, and aim to get their answers confidently correct the first time through. If you do find your answers need modification, if your answers were written carefully, you won’t need to liquid-paper the whole thing, only certain words.

Section II

This is the last section of the exam which deals with your option module. You will have a writing booklet to do this question. A writing booklet can be advantageous but for some students, this may be the first time they will be using an external writing booklet for a HSC Chemistry or HSC Physics exam (mainly because school trials may include the writing space of the option module within the exam itself).
Therefore, the first step is to check how long the provided writing booklet is. Scope out how much pages of writing space is available to you, so you have a feel of how much space you have left.
A writing booklet effectively gives you much more writing space. So for the ‘assess’ or ‘evaluate’ essay-type questions that require an extended response, the writing booklet can allow you to say more, reducing the risk that you may have missed something that would have been given marks.
General tips for short / long answer sections
Here’s a few more tips to help you with short / long questions applicable to Section I Part B and Section II

1. Write neatly and write small

The HSC exam gives you the writing space along with the question paper (except section II). This means the writing space is limited and ‘non-renewable’ – meaning you can’t simply cross out your old answer and opt to write your new answer somewhere else.
Therefore it is a good idea to write small and neatly, maximising the amount of words you can fit into your allocated writing space. Obviously don’t go overboard (e.g. do NOT write into the margin space – this is not intended by the HSC examiners and will be looked upon unfavourably).

2. Know your keywords

For our students, we would have taught you about what each keyword requires throughout your entire year(s) with us, and you would have had plenty of practice in the homework we give you.
For example, you should know exactly what ‘describe’, ‘explain’, ‘outline’, ‘justify’ etc means and what each requires you to write. You should also be very familiar with the harder, more complex keywords like ‘assess’, ‘discuss’, ‘evaluate’ and know exactly how to answer those, including a concluding assessment where appropriate.

3. Know alternative ways to answer questions

Just because there are writing lines drawn, indicating you should write prose to answer questions, doesn’t mean you can’t use an alternative format to structure your answer, for example by using a simple table.
A table is ideal for questions asking you to ‘compare’, or ‘contrast’ or ‘distinguish’ and there are multiple points / issues that can be compared / contrasted.
For example, if a question asks you to “Account for the differences of diamond and graphite in terms of their chemical structure”, you could draw a vertical line down the first half of your writing space to efficiently write up the actual differences between these two substances, then use the rest of your writing space to traditionally answer the second part of the question (i.e. explain in terms of their chemical structures).



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