HSC maths and sciences are structured and assessed in a fundamentally different way. These differences require different approaches in studying both types of subjects, in order to secure a top band in each. In this short article, we will look at the main differences between HSC maths and sciences, and give you some insight as to how each type of subject ought to be approached.
Study year 11 and 12 maths topics together
The syllabi of HSC mathematics is integrally linked with the preliminary (year 11) syllabus. This applies to all levels of HSC maths, from General to Extension 2. There is no sudden identifiable transition between preliminary topics and HSC topics. In contrast to HSC sciences (such as Chemistry and Physics), their syllabi are clearly split into preliminary topics and HSC topics.
In mathematics, topics you learn in your preliminary year, or even going back to year 10 (e.g. the sine and cosine rule are sometimes used in year 12, even in Extension 2) are unavoidable when you need to study for HSC topics. For example, we all need to know how coordinate geometry works, and how to find the equation of normals and tangents, before we can understand the Conics topic in Extension 2, or parametrics in Extension 1. The key point here is that there is no clear distinction between year 11 and year 12, for mathematics.
One approach to maths tutoring or teaching at schools is to teach topics according to their relationship with each other, instead of whether the actual syllabus categorises them as preliminary or HSC topics. For example, we can teach year 11 Extension 1 probability, up to the harder permutations and combinations normally studied in year 12. This approach in studying is also advantageous, as it helps you consolidate and group relevant topics together.
An extreme example that may work for some is the anecdote of a private maths tutor that is reputed to teach year 7 geometry, then for the entire year, progress to harder and harder geometry topics, finishing off with Extension 2 style circle geometry. While we can see this approach may work for some students, the extreme case is not recommended for most students. Instead, we recommend students to study the relatable preliminary and HSC topics together. For example, the reason why the Fitzpatrick series of books (the yellow book for 2 unit, the green book for 3 unit, and the pink book for 4 unit) is split according to 2, 3 and 4 unit reflects this fact about HSC mathematics. The writer did not choose to split his books according to preliminary and HSC as he correctly identifies that it is more convenient and advantageous to student learning by making them learn year 11 and 12 topics together, where they are very related.
Recommended approach for HSC sciences
HSC sciences, unlike mathematics, have topics that are clearly divided as preliminary and HSC topics. For example, in Preliminary Physics, you learn about waves and communications devices in The World Communicates, resistors and using Ohm’s law in Electrical Energy in the Home, vector addition and movement in Moving About, and some basic astrophysics in The Cosmic Engine. Now, if we look closely at the topics taught in the Preliminary year, and compare them to the HSC topics, there is very little direct overlap. The main value in Preliminary Physics is for students to gain a solid grasp on the physical principles that are relevant to the HSC.
For example, in The World Communicates, knowledge of waves and how they propagate is important to many topics in the HSC. However, knowledge of mobile phones, fax machines, GPS and CD/DVD technology is irrelevant to the HSC. So the point here is: understand the physical principles (waves, electrical resistance, Ohm’s law, vector addition, forces, momentum etc) but don’t pay too much attention to the specifics (e.g. you’ll never be asked to calculate the resistance of a circuit in a HSC question, and you don’t need to know about Red Giants / White Dwarves if your school does not do the Astrophysics option module).
Ideal approach to studying HSC Physics and Chemistry
The ideal approach here is to learn the preliminary course as usual, paying close attention to the physical principles that are involved with the content. However, remember that you will not be tested in your HSC year on the specifics of the preliminary course. For example, you will not be required to know how to calculate resistance in series and parallel circuits in the HSC Physics course. In fact, the HSC assessments and exams will only test what is in the year 12 HSC syllabus. Therefore, you will definitely need to know the specifics of each dot-point in the HSC syllabus, but not the specifics of the preliminary syllabus.
A good approach is to start your learning early. Cover the preliminary topics as quickly as you can, (with the help of Chemistry tutoring or Physics tutoring, or from your school teachers) and move onto the HSC topics as quickly as you can. This leaves you with the maximum amount of time to study the content that is directly relevant to your HSC. Remember, only the content of the year 12 syllabi will be examined, so use this fact to your advantage when studying HSC sciences!
The way the HSC is structured is in terms of syllabus dot-points that are easy to read and understand. This helps HSC students because as their HSC trials and final HSC exams approach, the syllabus itself can be a useful study tool.
Structure of the HSC syllabus
For HSC sciences like Chemistry and Physics, the syllabus is a very useful study tool that students should use in preparing for their exams. Exams for these subjects MUST only contain questions that test knowledge within the bounds of the syllabus – that’s how our NSW HSC works.
Each ‘dot-point’ is a requirement for HSC students to understand a certain point, concept or issue. Together, these dot-points form the content of the entire subject. However the beauty of the syllabus is the way it is broken down into separate points, allowing students to study them individually, making sure each dot-point is understood.
Cover ALL the dot-points
Because HSC exams (and school internal exams) must only test knowledge contained within the syllabus, studying all the dot-points is a pretty safe and comprehensive study strategy if done correctly.
It is a good idea for all students to make their own syllabus dot-point summary notes nearing the end of the year in preparation for their exams. This reinforces their knowledge of the dot-points, and highlights areas of weakness in their knowledge. Sometimes, only when you need to write about a certain concept do you realise you don’t quite fully understand the concept.
Understand the connections between dot-points
It is important to note that syllabus dot-points should not be looked at in isolation. Most dot-points are in some way connected to other dot-points. For example, they may be dealing with aspects of a larger concept, topic or issue, or they may describe a larger concept or issue together, therefore they should not be looked at in isolation.
A good example is shown here:
Chemical processes in industry require monitoring and management to maximise production
Students learn to:
* Identify and describe the industrial uses of ammonia
* Identify that ammonia can be synthesised from its component gases, nitrogen and hydrogen
* Described that synthesis of ammonia occurs as a reversible reaction that will reach equilibrium
* Identify the reaction of hydrogen with nitrogen as exothermic
* Explain why the rate of reaction is increased by higher temperature
The first 5 dot-points of this second section found in Chemical Monitoring and Management all deal with describing ammonia, its basic structure and the chemical reactions that are associated with it. When studying, students need to check that they understand each dot-point individually, as well as the bigger picture these dot-points highlight, in terms of fully understanding the general properties of ammonia.
The syllabus also requires students to conduct “first-hand investigations”, or “gather secondary information” to find out more about a particular topic. Where these dot-points relate to experiments / practicals conducted in your school lab during class, HSC exams can and often do ask questions concerning the major aspects of these experiments / practicals.
Therefore it is highly important to pay attention to what is going on during one of these experiments / practicals.
Of particular relevance to HSC exams, students should always note the following three things:
For experiments / practicals that are a syllabus requirement, HSC exam questions often ask students to discuss one or more of the points listed above. For example, a common one may be ‘Outline the procedure you followed to demonstrate the production of an ester” or “Account for the use of a fractional distillation column in your procedure to produce an ester.”
Therefore in your study of the syllabus, it is important to not neglect the “first hand investigation” dot-points, as they may very likely come up as a question in your exams!