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How to Do Well in the HSC Sciences
Doing well in HSC science requires a slightly different approach than HSC maths or English subjects. HSC sciences, such as Chemistry, Physics and Biology, have a heavy emphasis on the syllabus. Detailed knowledge and familiarization with the syllabus is very important.
TIP 1: Know the syllabus
Knowing the syllabus is very important. Firstly, all HSC science exams can only test you on content within the syllabus. Often times, the HSC exam questions will be a syllabus item that has been renamed.
For example, the main bullet point of the HSC Chemistry syllabus is “Explain hydrogen bonding between molecules”. A related exam question might ask something as simple as “Explain hydrogen bonding between water molecules”. Alternatively, exam questions can be more difficult, for example: “Identify a compound that shows strong hydrogen bonding and explain how hydrogen bonding affects melting point and boiling point”. However in both cases, the question can be reduced to explain your knowledge about how hydrogen bonding works between molecules, and how this affects some of the chemical properties.
If you have a good understanding of the syllabus and cover each point in detail, you will be good enough to get Band 6. We emphasize that the exam can only test you on what is in the syllabus. If you ever don’t understand a concept because it wasn’t explained well in school, or the concept is too difficult, ask your teacher if it’s on the syllabus. If not, understand that it will not be tested, so don’t worry too much about not fully understanding the concept. However, if the concept is within the syllabus, or is required by one of the bullet points as background information, you should know it well.
TIP 2: Know what is important in practicals/experiments
The HSC Science syllabus contains many articles that require students to “conduct primary research”, or “collect data from primary research”. These dots are responsible for the regular experiments you run at school. It is very important not to ignore the information given to you during one of the test classes at school. Many students think of experiments as fun (and they are), but they ignore the fact that each experiment addresses at least one point in the syllabus, sometimes several at the same time.
Things you need to know in ALL experiments are:
- A scientific principle is tested/applied (for example, an experiment to demonstrate Newton’s second law requires you to first understand the formula F=ma and how to use it in calculations)
- Correct procedure. A very important example is titrations, where washing procedures will sometimes be tested in exam questions (Example, “Explain what is the main standard”, or “Explain the need to rinse the pipette with the solution that must be contained, before using it.”)
- Safety issues / relevant warnings. For example, when performing a flame test, never burn lead compounds. Or when burning magnesium, use cables and don’t look at the flame. (Some examples include: knowing which metals / chemicals are toxic, when gloves and mittens are needed, how to deal with fire / flames etc.)
- Sources of error: this last one is important because many HSC exam questions may ask you to talk about sources of error in tests you should have done at school. For example, “Identify three sources of error in this experiment, and suggest ways to reduce their impact on your results.”
The important thing to remember here is to pay attention to the school during the test classes, and not ignore these points during your study and revision.
TIP 3: Understand the words
We do not recommend trying to memorize too many things. HSC sciences cannot be taught by rote, and all the top students who scored HSC >95 genuinely understood the concepts in their subject.
Conceptual understanding is very important for success in HSC science. Before the exam, there is no way you can predict what specific questions will be asked of you. You will only know that everything tested will be on the syllabus, but some wording of your questions may catch you.
If you rely on memorizing course content, you’re not changing. A question that’s slightly odd in wording or wording will catch you off guard, and you’ll be at risk of losing easy points. However, if you truly understand the concepts involved, you can always find an answer on the spot, even if the question is written in an unusual way, or requires unusual thinking. This way, you are a flexible learner, and no matter how the exam is set up, you will get a high score that reflects your good ability.
There are certain situations where recall is appropriate. In general, these are:
- Remembering topics for long essay type questions. E.g. for HSC Physics, it is a good idea to come up with a list of points about the pros and cons of AC compared to DC. A typical exam question would be “Discuss” or “Compare and evaluate” or “Assess the impact on society of the development of AC electricity”. To answer these questions, it is a good idea to try to memorize a short list of words or phrases that remind you of the general topic that you can discuss, in favor of either side (AC vs DC).
- Some facts have no precedents, so it helps to remember them. HSC Chemistry is a good example of this. Good students memorize all the compound ions, their molecular formulas and their valencies through experience in the course. Another example would be memorizing certain associations of knowledge, such as Newton’s laws.
- Remember the simple equations. This is very important, and will save you a lot of time and grief during the exam. Even though a formula paper is given to you in HSC science, it is a good idea to memorize simple equations or formulas, as you are constantly looking back at your exam paper, wasting precious seconds every time. Also by memorizing simple equations, you are less likely to make calculation errors than blindly copying formulas from a data sheet all the time.
But always try to understand the basic concept, as it will help you in the long run.
TIP 4: Make good use of what you have
What do we mean by this, for example:
- Whenever you have a question, ask your teacher!
- Whenever you don’t fully and completely understand a concept, ask your teacher until you understand!
- Work with other bright students who are eager to do well in HSC. Share notes with them.
Most teachers will answer any question a student asks, as they will be happy to know that their students are very dedicated to doing well. After all, the satisfaction of seeing their students succeed is one of the main reasons teachers choose this profession! However not every student has access to teachers who are ready and happy to answer many questions or explain concepts at length. In this case, there may be other resources available to you. For example, find a good teaching and ask the teachers there!
Another thing to keep in mind is to create your bullet point summary of the syllabus. Gather and collect all your information, summarize it and write it down on paper. It’s a good idea to submit your notes to be checked by your class teacher (or after-school tutor) to ensure your knowledge of the course is comprehensive. Going this far may seem difficult, but remember that high scores can only come with hard work.
Our top 3 tips for succeeding in HSC science are:
- Know the syllabus like the back of your hand!
- Know what to study for when it comes to test scores
- Make sure you understand the concepts involved in your subject. Don’t rely on baldness, unless it’s the only way
Following this general advice will improve the way most students approach HSC science, as these are the main failings of many HSC science students today.
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