Category: Year 12: HSC Physics

4 ways to avoid common errors in HSC Physics

Getting those few extra marks can be tough. Not only does the HSC Physics exam test our knowledge of the subject but also our ability to convey that to the marker for any given question. Getting everything down onto the paper itself is a milestone, and that’s before you count the challenging questions that can leave you stumped! Then you get your paper back, aside from what you expected… There are all the careless mistakes and marks taken for seemingly frivolous things like the heading to a graph. HSC Physics sure is tough, but here are four ways to avoid those unexpected surprises that we can all do without!

1. Always check the units

Everyone knows about checking the units in your final answer, but have you ever considered the units the question comes with? It seems obvious, speed is in m/s and frequency is in Hertz. But the place where many students trip up is in the Space module, most of the measurements in the question are given in kilometres however all the equations in the data sheet are based on SI units so are in metres. Remember to times by 1000 in these cases and watch out for other prefixes like micro- and nano- when doing wavelength calculations. Always think about your answer, if the altitude your orbiting satellite is 100 metres you should probably try again!

2. Underline the key words of the question

You’ve probably heard this piece of advice time and time again. However, hardly any students end up following the advice. I remember wishing I had taken the effort to underline the keywords in the question when I lost that easy mark for not giving a final evaluation in a 7 marker. Teachers and physics tutors would have told you that the main reason for underlining the words in the question is to make sure you’ve covered everything. While this is true, we all know it’s all too easy to underline and forget! Make sure you tick of each piece of underlined information so that you truly haven’t missed anything and get the most out of your efforts!

3. Use a diagram or table

Tackling those large mark questions is tough! The very thought of having to write down all that information used to dishearten me! I’ve found that the easiest way to reduce both the time and effort taken for these questions is to use a table or a diagram. At school or at physics tutoring, they normally recommend you do this for questions that have the key words "compare and contrast" but you can use this method in many more cases. A table can be used for "discuss" questions and "evaluate" questions while a diagram can help with explaining the galvanometer, induction cooktop or even the nuclear reactor to name a few. Not only are these diagrams and tables more readable, they also help you remember all the things you want to write about as you remember it in a visual fashion. Dot-points can also be used when answering questions normally in order to save on writing which can really help out on the 3 hour papers. Remember your diagrams and tables and fight back against the wall of text!

4. Leave time to check

This rule is almost universal to every exam and in a perfect world we all wish we could do it. Leaving time to check is an approach that shapes how you tackle the whole exam. If you want to save time in the exam, it’s best to practice earlier, the most straightforward way is doing all the practice papers in about 75% of the actual time in order to develop speed. Additionally, with more practice questions will become easier to answer and you will spend less time trying to remember the points. While we can save some time for checking, it isn’t infinite and needs to be prioritised. The first thing to check is always the mistakes you make most commonly so as to pick up the easiest errors first, then checking the calculations by doing them again separately and lastly by adding anything at all that could be relevant to the answer that you can think of! Remember, as long is its right, it can’t hurt. This method for checking means that even if you run out of correction time you’ve been as efficient as possible with your time meaning better exam performance.

A student’s worst enemy is the marks they could have gotten but missed out on. The above methods stem the tide against losing ‘easy marks’. Hopefully they help you get those last few marks you’ve been yearning for in HSC Physics!

Differing Approaches to Maths and Sciences

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.maths

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!



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