At the time of writing this article, we’re in the middle of term 2. Most year 12 students have their HSC trial exams in early term 3, which means while there’s still (almost) an entire term left, it’s about time students begin to prepare specifically for their trial exams.
Learn to use the HSC Standards Packages
For almost all HSC subjects, the Board of Studies has standards packages publicly available for students to read http://arc.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/go/hsc/std-packs/. We recommend students look at the standards packages for their subjects – they will give you an idea of the quality required for a band 6 response. Standards packages are particularly useful for humanities subjects like HSC English where your expression and writing style also come into play. Get a feeling of what’s acceptable expression, and details like general paragraph length, the way literary techniques are referenced, how often a text is quoted and the length of quotes etc. Even if technically your knowledge is as good as anyone’s, a poorly structured essay (where you use poor expression, or reference the text in superficial ways or spend too much time on insignificant points etc) will mean the difference between a band 4/5 and a band 6.
Familiarity with the standards packages will also help with subjects like HSC Chemistry, Physics, Biology and the social sciences (Economics, Business Studies etc). In the case of the HSC Sciences, they give you fresh ideas of novel, acceptable ways of structuring your answer. Some questions can be fully answered in terms of a table or as a dot-point list (e.g. identify / outline questions). Also note the details featured in diagrams / graphs – full marks are given to students that remember details such as labelling the axes, or drawing a line / curve of best fit properly (ignoring outliers in appropriate situations) and being able to justify the choices made.
HSC sciences – always refer to the syllabus
HSC sciences like Chemistry, Physics and Biology, are prescriptive by nature. This means the syllabus tells you exactly what you need to know, content wise, and does a great job at that. While studying for these subjects, it’s always a good idea to have the syllabus in front of you, printed or on your computer screen. The dot-points give you a clear picture of what you need to know, and the scope to which you need to know each aspect of the course. For example, if a dot-point requires you to merely identify the qualitative aspects, this means you only need to be able to name the aspects it’s referring to, and qualitative means you won’t be required to do calculations on them.
Another reason is some syllabus dot-points are worded as if they are paraphrased exam questions. This is particularly true for dot-points requiring you to ‘Discuss the impacts on society of…” or “Assess the environmental impact of…”. You very well might get an exam question, worth around 7 marks, that basically asks you to demonstrate your entire understanding of one of those dot-points if they ask you in a general way.
Be careful for internal assessments however, as school teachers are known to set exam questions that are dubious in terms of whether they fit within the scope of the syllabus, so you must also cross reference your own materials with the notes given by your school teacher to make sure all gaps are covered.
HSC Maths – only do exam questions
When it comes to maths, exam questions and textbook questions aren’t the same. The former type are often are structured as a compound question with several subparts. Exam question are often designed with deeper consideration, and incorporates more unique aspects of mathematics (e.g. in Maths Extension 2 question 7 and 8). In contrast, textbook questions can get repetitive and give you a false sense of security. Because textbook questions lack variation in style, once you master the several types of questions it contains and are able to do its exercises, this does not mean you’ve experienced all types of questions an exam can throw at you, particularly if you go to a school that has a talented maths department.
There’s a limitation on the types of questions for each topic an exam can throw at you. If you do Maths Extension 1 and 2, it also takes great effort and skill to design a truly novel and unique maths question at that level. As an industry insider (yes I’m a teacher) I can tell you that many schools simply take exam questions from past papers of other schools. When I did my HSC Maths Extension 2, I actively sought out past trial papers from top private and selective schools for practice before my HSC trials. What I noticed was in one year, say 2002, there would be a question in school A’s paper, then in the next year, say 2003, there would be an identical question in school B’s paper. So it’s a good idea as a student to use past papers as practice – there’s definitely more exam papers worth doing than your time would permit, that’s why I recommend only do exam papers instead of textbook questions.
I spoke with a teacher who works at a top Sydney selective school about how their teachers set exam questions for their year 12 students – “We get exam questions from schools that are out of NSW – resources we know typical students don’t have access to”. So while exam questions are definitely recycled, they aren’t always from sources you’d expect. But it’s still worthwhile doing exam papers for practice, purely for the sake of familiarising yourself with the general style of exam questions which you can’t get from any old textbook.
Doing well in HSC Physics requires a good mix of different skills. You’ll mainly need to be great at understanding physical concepts, understanding their impacts on society / environmental issues, being able to form cohesive arguments to support your answers, and command some basic maths skill. There’s already a tonne of articles on the blog or forum posts dealing the more conventional study tips, so we thought we might cover some often missed points on the subject. So doing well in HSC physics involves:
Always refer back to the syllabus
All HSC physics exams, whether internal or external, will have to test students within the bounds of the syllabus. Syllabus dot-points are worded in a way that makes them look like exam questions (or the exam questions you get are simply paraphrasing certain syllabus dot-points). If you prepare brief notes covering every dot-point before each exam, you’ll guarantee yourself the knowledge needed to score a decent mark at the least. It is therefore a great idea to make yourself syllabus dot-point summary notes for this subject. Unlike English or Maths, the HSC sciences syllabi are extremely prescriptive, which means everything that can and will be examined are written in black and white on the syllabus for all to see. Know all your dot-points and you won’t go wrong.
One caveat to this approach however are sometimes school teachers may insert ‘creative questions’ that may exceed the bounds of the syllabus because it was covered specifically in class. Can’t blame your physics teacher if this happens (firstly because it’s hard to prove as the syllabus is open to interpretation and secondly the teacher has the last word anyway so even if you’re right, you still won’t get the marks). The best thing to do is to always pay attention in class in addition to knowing the syllabus back to front.
Don’t forget the prac exam
It’s easy to forget the practical / first-hand-investigation requirements of the syllabus. For most students, your internal assessment consists of: term 4 assessment, half yearlies, trials paper exam and prac exam (not necessarily in this order – the prac exam could be the first thing or the last thing you do in the year). The prac exam will be worth around 15-25% of your entire internal assessment mark, so it’s something worth studying for. The best way to prepare for this is to ask students in years above what their prac exam was. Because prac exams require equipment, (and unless you go to a private school with unlimited faculty budgets) chances are each year will be the same prac exam. So if you’ve got friends that graduated in recent years, ask them (if not, ask friends of friends – knowledge is power!) You can also deduce that some pracs won’t be the subject of your exam as they require dangerous activities (projectile motion – they don’t want 20 students in a class throwing projectiles around for 90 minutes) or costly breakable equipment (cathode ray tubes).
Once you know what experiment you’ll be doing for your prac exam (probably the pendulum experiment) you’ll need to familiarise yourself with every aspect of the experiment so that the day will go smoothly when it comes to actually doing the prac. You’ll also have written response questions as part of your prac exam, so prepare answers to the following questions:
Power of the thought experiment
One of the most important factors to any part of HSC Physics is your ability to conduct thought experiments. Thought experiments are when you play a scenario out in your imagination to test the validity or absurdity of a concept you want to test. This technique is useful in many parts of the course. For example, suppose you forgot details of the effects of re-entry (Space module). You could derive everything again on the spot just by thinking it through step by step:
Another useful application of this is where you forget how to use a formula because of some minor confusion. All you need to do is to apply a hypothetical situation to how you think the formula works – if it leads to an absurd result, you’ll know it’s incorrect and that you should apply the formula differently.