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HSC Sciences – improving performance in extended responses

Like it or hate it, the way HSC science subjects (e.g. Physics, Chemistry, Biology) are implemented in our HSC requires students not only to have quantitative skills for calculation-type questions, but also be skilled in forming cohesive arguments to support a conclusion – much like essays in English, but about scientific issues. Many students don’t have as much trouble with the quantitative aspects of HSC sciences, but have issues consolidating the qualitative aspects of their courses for essay-type responses.

Summarise essay dot-points that have extended response requirements

It is a good idea to know which parts of the syllabus correspond to essay-type exam responses. As you learn the course, always cross reference the content you cover with the syllabus. Become strongly familiar with the syllabus dot-points for each module. You will notice that most subsections in each module (i.e. the numbered sub-parts in each module) will have one or two dot-points that require ‘discuss’ or ‘assess’ or ‘evaluate’ – words which require students to be able to synthesise content and form coherent arguments.

Familiarise yourself with these dot-points. Revise related content, or ask your teacher / tutor about the relevant issues for each, then make a short summary sheet (probably half a page for each) in dot-point form to lay out everything that’s relevant.

Here’s a couple of examples of how you might roughly summarise the essay requirements for a sample module.

HSC Chemistry

The Acidic Environment

1. Summarise the industrial sources of SO2 and NOx and evaluate the reasons for concern about their release into the environment. For example: SO2 is from coal burning and car exhaust, and causes acid rain. NOx is from automobile exhaust mainly, (older cars, or malfunctioning catalytic converters) and causes photochemical smog, acid rain etc.

2. Trace the developments in understanding of acid / base reactions. E.g. understand the main developments in our definitions of acids / bases, outline the concept of conjugates, discuss the validity of current definition of acids / bases compared to past definitions.

3. Assess the use of neutralisation as a safety measure / to fix acid spills. E.g. outline what buffers are and how weak bases can be useful in neutralising acids. Understand why a weak base instead of a strong base is used. Explain neutralisation and buffer systems in terms of Le Chatelier’s principle.
HSC Physics

Space

1. Contribution of Tsiolkovsky, Obert, Goddard, Esnault-Pelterie, O’Neill, or von Braun to the development of space exploration (i.e. modern rocketry). E.g. Robert H. Goddard, considered as ‘father of modern rocketry’ developed the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket, pioneered research into multi-stage rockets (allowed astronauts to reach the moon), research into gyroscopic stabilisation, and steerable thrusters, allowing greater, safer control of rockets.

2. Discuss issues with safe reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. E.g. backward-facing astronauts (eyeball-in effect is less stressful than eyeball-out), radio blackout prevents communication to ground base during most of re-entry. Optimum angle of re-entry ensures probe does not skip off atmosphere, or undergo excessive deceleration and heating. Heat shields carry away heat. Parachutes are required for final deceleration, or in the case of a shuttle, gliding like a plane.

3. Describe, evaluate and interpret the MM experiment’s results. E.g. the MM experiment produced a null result for the existence of the aether. This result alone does not disprove the aether’s existence, but it does not contradict Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. The latter was developed further and was successful in predicting real-world phenomena, such as time dilation / length contraction observed between inertial frames with relative motion.

4. Discuss the relationship between theory and evidence supporting it, using Einstein’s predictions. E.g. Einstein’s thought experiments were merely conjectures supported by logical deduction – at the time, there was no experimental way to verify Einstein’s predictions. In modern times, with the advent of atomic clocks and space flight, we are able to experimentally verify Einstein’s predictions as correct. The relationship is theory of the unknown comes from deduction of what is known, and experimental verification follows. If real-world results differ, the theory must be modified or superseded. This is the scientific method.

Do this for the entire syllabus, by first identifying which syllabus dot-points require an extended response in order to be tested in an exam. These dot-points are guaranteed to come up in your exams, either in your first assessment, half yearly, HSC trials, or the external HSC exams. Don’t leave this till last minute – familiarise yourself as you go through the course, then revise and re-familiarise. Be sure to include all of the relevant issues, some of which are latent and require deeper analysis. E.g. is Ethanol truly greenhouse neutral? You can argue yes or no, depending on what evidence you include in your response.

Finally, don’t be afraid of those 6 mark or 7 mark discuss / evaluate / assess exam questions. As long as you’re familiar with most of the relevant issues that particular question entails, you will be fine. Good luck!

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.

 
 

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