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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
Year 10 is a critical time for prospective HSC students. The reason is that the Preliminary subjects you choose in year 10 for year 11 will determine what subjects you ultimately do for the HSC. If you get your subject selection wrong, you may be stuck doing subjects you don’t particularly enjoy, or subjects that offer limited benefit in terms of scaling.
HSC scaling – a brief reintroduction
The subjects you choose in year 10 determine how much you will benefit from the process of scaling. Briefly, scaling refers to the process by which raw assessment marks (e.g. from your internal exams and external HSC exams) are converted into scaled marks, which are marks on a common scale that allows the degree of achievement in different subjects to be compared against one another in a statistically fair way. The scaling process is undertaken by the UAC and the result of this process – your aggregate scaled mark (out of 500) – is the sole determinant of your ATAR. Therefore we can safely say that HSC scaling is a big deal if you intend on scoring a high ATAR.
In order to maximise the positive effect of HSC scaling, one must choose courses that are ‘scaled high’ – or in technical terms, have a high scaled mean. The scaled mean for a subject is an important statistic, which tells us the average scaled mark obtained by the subject’s cohort. The higher this statistic for a subject, the higher the subject is scaled generally. Scaled means are publicly available in Table A3 published each year by the UAC.
For full technical details on how the scaling process works, see our article on the topic: http://www.duxcollege.com.au/hsc-scaling-i-49.html
So why is subject selection important
It’s important to get your subject selection right the first time, because there’s limited to no chance to change after you’re well into year 11. Also the beneficial effect of scaling could be huge, or could be non-existent, depending on which subjects you chose. If your goal is to maximise your ATAR, you should also consider the scaling of a subject on top of whether you think you’ll enjoy it. The general rule is to select subjects you’ll be good at, amongst the subjects that offer a scaled mean of 29/50 or above.
What are some good subjects?
Have you noticed a pattern with graduates that score an ATAR of 99+? A significant portion of them do a combination of the following subjects:
What these subjects all have in common is that their scaled mean is all above 28/50 (most are around 30, with the best scaling from Maths Ext1 and Ext2 which goes as high as 45/50).
These subjects have higher scaled means due to the way in which the scaling process works. Year after year, the candidature of these subjects does comparatively better than their peers who do other subjects, including compulsory 2 units of English, which is used as a common scale to compare. What this means is that a high scaled mean often indicates higher subject difficulty, due to the fact that those students who do high-scaling subjects tend to do comparatively better than their peers in other subjects.
However, when it comes to advising students on what subjects to choose for year 11, we always advise students to go for as many of the aforementioned subjects as possible – so long as they can handle them. For example, a student with aptitude and interest in maths should always choose Maths Ext 1 in year 11 – this opens the possibility to take up Extension 2 in year 12, which has a massively positive scaling effect (the majority of ATAR 99+ graduates have completed the Extension 2 course). If a student absolutely hates maths, that’s OK – choose some sciences and some humanities subjects (e.g. English Extension 1 and Modern History with History Extension, or Economics). Many graduates with a combination of humanities and social sciences have scored 99+ without having done any level of maths! What’s important is the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and choosing decently-scaled subjects based on this understanding.