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!
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.