The reason you chose to study Physics
From trying to understand how planes weighing thousands of tons manage to fly, to being ever more interested in how some stars miraculously turn into black holes. Stepping into year 11, many students are propelled by these awe-aspiring questions to select the HSC Physics course.
What was the reason that you chose to study Physics? Was it to understand how things work in the physical world? That’s GREAT, because that is the definition of the word Physics itself. Think about why really drove you to study physics. In the case that it was a hesitant choice, think about anything that you found interesting initially. Maybe it was learning about how planets orbit stars. Maybe it was being happily confused about the role of a zombie cat (Schrodinger’s cat, see picture!) in describing the motion of electrons about the nucleus!
The key is to find your inner motivation. With Physics and with anything else in life! With that motivation, your enthusiasm will drive up and you will love learning new concepts. Why is that crucial? Because once you start loving what you study, you study well. And when you consistently study well, well… it’s only a matter of time before you achieve what I like to call ‘HSC Victory’!
The course consists of 8 modules that span over Year 11 and 12. In year 11, you will be introduced to:
This is not a module by itself, however this section includes learning about how to graph, write reports, and analyze results in a scientific fashion. Consequently, doing well in the Physics course very well entails developing a strong expertise of Working Scientifically from early on. After all, no one wants to miss out on precious HSC marks for not knowing how to draw a ‘line of best fit’!
Module 1: Kinematics
You will learn about the difference between scalars and vector quantities such as the relationship between speed & velocity.
Module 2: Dynamics
All about understanding force, acceleration, energy, momentum and other concepts within simple systems like elastic collisions.
Module 3: Waves & Thermodynamics
Concepts including mechanical waves, electromagnetic waves, wave velocity, frequency, wavelength, sound and harmonics will form the ‘Waves’ part of this module. Thermal conductivity, heat capacity, and mediums of heat transfer will form the basis of the ‘Thermodynamics’ part of the module.
Module 4: Electricity & Magnetism
This module will give you an introduction to the basics of electricity: voltage, current, power etc. More interestingly, you will delve into how electricity can be used to produce magnetic fields. Knowledge of this will greatly help in learning things like Faraday’s Law of Induction later on in Module 6.
Now moving on to Year 12. Anecdotally speaking, more than 90% of the HSC exam content is exclusively taken from what you will learn in Modules 5 to 8! Year 11 content will form your base, but year 12 is where you take it up one notch. While it is imperative to work even more diligently in Year 12 to get good assessment marks and prepare for your final HSC exam, don’t forget why you chose Physics in the first place! Try to understand the concepts in-depth and apply all you’ve learnt to the real world around you; because that’s what Physics is all about.
Doing this rather than exclusively focusing on the assessments themselves will make life more enjoyable for you by several orders of magnitude! And once you start enthusiastically explaining the life cycle of Stars to your parents when they bring up anything remotely related to our Sun, you’ll have that epiphany, that realization, that yes Physics is indeed more than just an high-scaling HSC subject .
Year 12 consists of the following modules:
Module 5: Advanced Mechanics
This is a continuation from the very first module that you studied in Year 11; hence the term ‘advanced’ is used. Projectile motion, circular motion, motion in gravitational fields, and a whole range of new formulas will be introduced in this module. This course is relatively fun and straightforward and since around 25% of the HSC exam will be composed of these questions, that’s indeed brilliant news for you!
Module 6: Electromagnetism
Again, this module builds on the knowledge that you developed from module 4 in year 11. Remember how I said you’ll learn Faraday’s law of induction? Well, you will also likely learn that Faraday didn’t know mathematics, so it was up to Maxwell to develop mathematical equations describing Faraday’s laws – termed Maxwell’s equations. Also the difference between AC and DC motors will be cool to know since you will need that info to build a DIY motor as part of a practical investigation!
Module 7: Nature of Light
Why Newton was wrong, and why Huygens was right. Basically, the different models of light will be explored in this module along with some famous experiment’s of history including Young’s double-slit experiment, the Michelson-Morley experiment etc. You will also, quite literally, learn what it takes to time travel (as outlined by Einstein of course), and bend the laws of classical mechanics – again proving Newton wrong! Don’t worry, I don’t hate Newton; his laws are 99.9% accurate 99.9% of the time :).
Module 8: From the Universe to the Atom
And the final Physics module of your schooling life! From the title, you can likely infer that this module explores the fundamentals of what we know about the origins of the Universe, while also diving into the intricacies of the development of atomic models throughout history. The life cycle of stars, The Big Bang, the various experiments that led to the discovery of electrons, protons, and neutrons, and a lot more will be covered in this course. Learning to produce massive quantities of energy from little mass using arguably the most famous Physics formula, E = mc^2, is another thing to look forward to! Oh yes, see the featured image of the cat? It’s meant to signify Schrodinger’s cat, and how it is an analogy for an electron being in two places at the same time! Confusing? Only until you get the hang of it. Interesting? DEFINITELY YES!
Read more about these modules on NESA’s website: https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/11-12/stage-6-learning-areas/stage-6-science/physics-2017/content
Recall that these are the modules which you will be primarily assessed on in the HSC examination. Although, in order to understand the Year 12 content, a thorough understanding (not just memorization) of Year 11 modules is essential! More on that in the next section…
Assignments & How to ace each and every one!
Now what about assessments? Well, New South Wales Education Standards Authority or NESA outlines that there must be 3 school-based assessments in year 11. Each of these assessments will have a weighting between 20-40%. What’s good for you is that only one of these three assessments can be a formal written examination. You know what’s better? More than half of your in-school grade for year 11, at least 60%, has to be done in some form of groupwork assignment!
In year 12, there can be a maximum of 4 assessment tasks, with the formal written assessment making up a maximum of 30% of your in-school year 12 grades.
You can read more about assessments from NESA’s official website: https://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/11-12/stage-6-learning-areas/stage-6-science/physics-2017/assessment-and-reporting
Notice how the emphasis on group work and assignments is greater in year 12 than year 11 – meaning that NESA expects students to level up their teamworking skills. More on that as you read on!
In year 11, typically the first assignment is based on either module 1 and 2, with the second assignment being based on module 3 or 4. In year 12, a similar structure is followed by most schools, with the first assignment based on either module 5 and 6, with the second assignment being based on module 7 or 8.
Anecdotally, my year 11 assignments were groupwork tasks based on finding the coefficient of friction between different materials (module 1), and the second one being cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdowns. However, the second assignment would likely be based on thermodynamics (module 3) and involve finding the thermal conductivity of different materials. Note, that these types of assignments are where your Working Scientifically skills are tested through graphs, tables, report writing etc.
In year 12, my first assignment was based on projectile motion (module 5) and also included groupwork. My second assignment was individual and involved giving a presentation on the origins of the universe (module 8) in front of the class.
To ace these assignments, ensure that you know how to use Excel Spreadsheets and do basic formatting in Microsoft Word. More importantly, set up weekly meetings with your other team members and an action-plan that everyone abides by. The action-plan should include the roles of what each team member is doing and by what date – so make sure to make your timeline specific and known to everyone! For the presentation-type assignments, do make sure to rehearse in advance! A lot of the marks in speeches are from how you interact with the audience, including eye-contact, body-language, tone, and pace of your delivery. Rehearse in front of a mirror, or even better record yourself! Pause every once in a while to capture the attention of your audience, and vary your tone. Be confident and also ask rhetorical questions regarding the content to your fellow classmates! And very importantly, maintain eye contact! And the only way to do that effectively is to know your content on your slides very, very well! And finally, enjoy the process!
As you can see, most of these assignments are group based. Now we all know sometimes we feel like we are doing all the work and basically carrying the team and other team members. Sometimes, this is indeed the case, but sometimes we fail to appreciate the effort / circumstances of other teammates. We have all been guilty of maybe not being empathetic enough.
Again, teamworking skills are crucial. Not just for your HSC Physics course, but for life. We NEED other people to help us and we need to help others to function well in society and achieve our potential. Do your best to consistently develop your communication and people management skills as it will make life that much simpler when doing your group Physics assignments.
All that being said, whether you get good team members or not so great ones, it’s your marks that will be influenced by how well you do! Try your best to facilitate each team member’s preferences and strengths, however, if things don’t go according to plan and if the deadline if fast approaching – you know what to do! Get to work, even if it means doing most of the work yourself. There’s a nice saying ‘Stop complaining, start doing’. Well, now you know what to do!
How to study for exams? And when?
While preparing for year 11 exams, year 12 trials, and the ultimately the HSC, time management is key! Well, what do I mean by time management? Make a routine / weekly schedule of what you plan to study for that week. And do these scheduling for months in advance if you have the time. Now, this is known advice. We all make that timetable being highly motivated and set high goals. But then before even the first week ends, we have all derailed much further from the routine that we imposed upon ourselves. What’s the solution? Set realistic goals. By that, I do not mean go easy on yourself. But hold yourself accountable for only what is under your direct control. Human lives don’t revolve around getting a State Rank for HSC physics, although provided that you plan and study well – that is very much on the cards. We all have to, and must balance our family life, social life, health, spirituality, and the various other sectors of life that there is. The key is to reflect the ideal balance that you want in your life within your timetable. And once you are consistently following 70 to 80 percent of your set routine, I assure you, you are set for something great!
Studying for exams should start as soon as possible! I mean studying for the HSC! Over the breaks that you get between Year 11 and Year 12, write notes! Yes, enjoy your holidays, but write notes. Why? Writing helps retain information in memory much longer than just reading off the computer. Now copying lines from the textbook mindlessly will not be optimal. Rather try to be proactive. Dedicate yourself to understanding each sentence that you write. Make your notes concise, covering the main points. After every page that you flip on your textbook, you should be confident that you know the concepts so well that you can effortlessly explain it to anyone who is a novice to that content!
Take good care of your sleep routine, health (gym / exercise), and spend your free time wisely in fruitful recreation. And enjoy the HSC life. It may surprise you, but once HSC life is over, you will tend to miss it. The hard work, the fun, the friends, and the teachers. The community that you have built over the 2+ years is one worth missing!
Find your inner motivation. Set your goals. Get to work. With Physics and with anything else that you want to achieve in life.
I wish that you love what you study. I wish that you study well. And when you study well, we all know that it’s only a matter of time before you achieve HSC Victory!
Best wishes for the future.
This blog was written by our tutor, Arik. You can find his profile here.