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:
Were there any safety issues you needed to manage / be aware of?What about sources of error? How would you account for differences between actual and theoretical values?Identify the dependent and independent variables. Identify the control and test variablesThink about any graphs you may need to draw. If it involves a line of best fit over collected data, would it make sense to pass through the origin or any particular data point?
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:
The shuttle begins in space, and as it enters the atmosphere, friction with air particles slow it down. The friction heats up the air particles to a plasma (and we should know ionised gas blocks radio waves) so this leads to the loss of radio communications during re-entry (called ionisation blackout). The extreme heat of re-entry requires deflection (shuttle needs heat shields). Also the rate of deceleration depends on the angle of re-entry, so there must be an optimum angle.
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.
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