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How to Do Well in the HSC Sciences
Doing well in HSC science requires a slightly different approach than in HSC math or English subjects. HSC sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and biology, place great emphasis on the program. Detailed knowledge and familiarity with the program is very important.
TIP 1: Know the program
Knowing the program very important. First, all HSC science exams can only test you on the content of the syllabus. Most of the time, the HSC exam questions will just be a syllabus point that has been reworded.
For example, a real point in the HSC Chemistry syllabus is “Describe Hydrogen Bonding Between Molecules”. A corresponding exam question might ask something simple like “Describe the hydrogen bond between water molecules”. Alternatively, exam questions can be slightly more complicated, for example: “Identify a compound that exhibits strong hydrogen bonding and describe how hydrogen bonding affects its melting and boiling temperatures”. However, in either case, the question can be reduced to simply describing your knowledge of how hydrogen bonding works between molecules and how this phenomenon affects some of the physical properties of the chemical.
If you have an excellent understanding of the program and have covered each point in detail, you will know enough to get a Band 6. We emphasize that exams can only test you on what is in the program. If you ever don’t understand a concept because it was poorly explained to you at school, or the concept is very difficult, ask your teacher if it is in the syllabus. If not, understand that it will not be reviewed, so don’t worry too much about not understanding this concept well. However, if a concept is part of the program or is required by one of the points as background information, you must be familiar with it.
TIP 2: Know what is important for practical work/experiments
HSC Sciences syllabuses contain many points requiring students to “conduct first-hand investigation” or “gather data from first-hand investigation”. These points are responsible for the regular experiments you conduct in school. It is very important that you do not neglect the information that is presented to you during one of these experimentation classes at school. Many students think that experiments are fun (and they are), but they ignore the fact that each experiment deals with at least one point of the curriculum, sometimes several at once.
The things you need to know in ALL experiences are:
- The scientific principle being tested/used (e.g. an experiment to demonstrate Newton’s second law requires you to first understand the formula F=ma and how to use it in calculations)
- The right procedure. A very important example is titrations, where washing procedures will sometimes be tested in exam questions (e.g. “Explain what a primary standard is”, or “Explain the need to finally rinse a pipette with the solution it must contain, before using it”)
- Safety issues / appropriate precautions. For example, when performing a flame test, never burn lead compounds. Or when burning magnesium, use tongs and don’t stare at the flame. (Other examples include: knowing which metals/chemicals are toxic, when goggles and gloves are needed, how to deal with fires/flames, etc.)
- Sources of Error: This last one is important because many HSC exam questions may ask you to talk about sources of errors in experiments you should have done in school. For example, “Identify three sources of error in this experiment and suggest ways to minimize their effect on your results.”
The important thing to remember here is to pay attention to school during experimentation classes, and not to ignore these points during your study and review.
TIP 3: Understand the concepts
We don’t recommend trying to memorize too much. HSC science cannot be mastered by memorization, and all top students who score HSC >95 truly understand the concepts of their subject.
Understanding the concept is very important for success in HSC science. Before an exam, you cannot in any way predict what specific questions you will be asked. You will only know that whatever is tested will be in the program, but the specific wording of your questions may catch you off guard.
If you rely on memorizing course content, you are inflexible. A question whose approach is slightly unorthodox or worded in an unfamiliar way will surprise you and you run the risk of losing easy points. However, if you genuinely understand the concepts involved, you can still get the answer on the spot, even if the question is worded in an unfamiliar way or requires unorthodox thinking. This way you are a flexible student and no matter how the exam is set up, you will get a high mark reflecting your good abilities.
There are certain situations where memorization is appropriate. Generally, these are:
- Remember topics for long essay-type questions. For example, in HSC Physics, it’s a good idea to offer a checklist regarding the pros and cons of alternating current versus direct current. A common exam question might be “Discuss” or “Compare and Evaluate” or “Assess the impact on society of the development of AC electricity”. To tackle these questions, it’s a good idea to try to memorize a short list of words or phrases that remind you of a general topic to be debated, in favor of one side or the other (AC vs DC).
- Some facts don’t have a pattern, so it helps to memorize them. HSC Chemistry is a good example. Good students memorize all of the composite ions, their molecular formulas, and their valences as they gain experience in the course. Another example would be the memorization of certain definitional sets of knowledge, such as Newton’s laws.
- Memorize simple equations. This is very important and will save you a lot of time and trouble during an exam. Although you are provided with a formula sheet for the HSC sciences, it is a good idea to memorize the simple equations or formulas because always flicking towards the back of your exam paper wastes precious seconds every time. In addition, by memorizing the simple equations, you are less likely to make calculation errors than to blindly copy the formulas from the data sheet each time.
But always strive to understand the underlying concept, as it will benefit you in the long run.
TIP 4: Make good use of the resources available to you
What we mean by this is for example:
- Whenever you have a question, ask your teacher!
- Whenever you don’t fully understand a concept, ask your teacher until you do!
- Work with other bright students who want to succeed at HSC. Share notes with them.
Most teachers will answer any question a student asks, because they will be happy to know that their students are so dedicated to doing well. After all, the satisfaction of seeing their students succeed is one of the main reasons why teachers choose this profession! However, not all students have access to teachers who are willing and happy to answer many questions or explain concepts in detail. In this case, other resources may be available to you. For example, find a good tutor and ask the teachers there!
Another thing to keep in mind is to create your own program point summaries. Synthesize and collect all your knowledge, summarize it and write it down on paper. It’s a good idea to submit your grades for review by your class teacher (or after-school tutor) to ensure that your knowledge of the course is complete. Going that far can seem daunting, but remember that high marks can only be achieved with hard work.
Our top 3 tips for success in HSC science are:
- Know the program like the back of your hand!
- Know what to study with regards to experience points
- Make sure you fully understand the concepts involved in your topic. Don’t rely on memorization unless it’s the only way
Following these general tips will improve the approach of most HSC science students, as these are the main shortcomings of most HSC science students today.
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