Exam Techniques

In-exam hints

There are many sources of information on how best to approach exams, but this section examines hints that are specific to the HSC Physics exam.

Read the question first

This is easily the most important thing to remember. Often the question will not be exactly what is written in a syllabus dotpoint. This means that you will have to shift the emphasis of your answer, or even omit irrelevant information, in order to most efficiently get full marks.

Pick out key verbs

Tying in with reading the question first, make sure that when you read the question you look out for the key verbs. It probably isn’t necessary to highlight them, but it can help. This step is vital because it helps you decide the structure of your answer. If you familiarise yourself with all the verbs in the Verb Guide chapter, you will notice that each of them follows a particular structure that can be applied to any question using that verb. Using a memorised structure will help you comprehensively answer the question and help you avoid leaving important things out.

Analyse the question as a whole first, think about what it is asking

Although the syllabus dotpoints are themselves questions, exams will rarely ask questions identical to syllabus dotpoints. This means that any given exam question will be different from its corresponding syllabus dotpoint, and therefore the question you answer the same will almost certainly be different to the answer for the syllabus dotpoint. Therefore it’s important to read through the entire question as a whole, to get a feel for exactly what the question is asking. Often if you skim read the question, identify the relevant dotpoint and then write out the answer as if it was the dotpoint, you will miss key areas and lose marks.

Double check answers

It seems obvious, but it’s a key mistake that is often made. When you’re checking your work, don’t just skim through the question and then carefully go through your answer. You’re better off reading the question thoroughly and then skimming through your answer. This is because you are more likely to have misread the question or missed key information than you are to have made any serious errors in your written answer.

Label your graph

Putting a title on a graph is actually worth marks. All you have to do is think of a name, and write it down. However, many people forget to title graphs or label axes because it seems so trivial. This is another free mark you need to be careful to collect.

Triple check equations

Double check all your answers, but triple check anything with an equation in it. Mathematical errors are easy to make, even in the simplest questions. Extension 2 maths students make careless mistakes in projectile motion questions all the time, even though they know how to do them at a far more advanced level than required for HSC Physics. Common errors include things like forgetting to take into account elevations (eg. A projectile fired off a cliff has the cliff’s extra height). Make sure you literally go through the entire question a second time as if you hadn’t done it before. The maths in HSC Physics isn’t all that difficult and so it shouldn’t take too long to go through all the mathematical questions in this manner.

Write over the lines, but don’t write about too much

In general, there are never enough lines for you to write on if you want to completely answer a question. Think of the lines only as guides to answer length- feel free to exceed them by as much as you like. However, it’s vital to remember that you’re only going to get marks for relevant things. It’s a complete waste of time writing about irrelevant things, and in some cases it can cost you marks (for example, if you accidentally contradict yourself). So write as much as you want, but only about relevant things.

When using the right hand screw rule or palm rule, use your right hand

It seems simple enough, but if like most students you’re right-handed it’s easy to use the hand that isn’t holding a pen. Use your left hand for conventional current, and you’ll lose marks instantly. Don’t give away free marks- use the correct hand. Right hand for conventional current, left hand for electrons.

Choose your jargon carefully

Jargon, otherwise known as terminology, is important to use. But if you find yourself using words like “diamagnetic” you’ve probably gone too far. Using lengthy, complicated words can make it more confusing for you in an exam situation, so it’s often safer to stick to words that are mentioned in the syllabus. Long words don’t mean more marks. Clear, logical explanations with reasonable technical language do.

Draw diagrams in pencil

If you don’t already draw diagrams on your exam paper, you should seriously think about it. Drawing diagrams can be a very effective way of demonstrating your understanding of key concepts- firstly, it conveys a lot of information quickly, but secondly, it will probably help you keep your answer clear and easy to read. Diagrams are especially useful for questions concerning Einstein’s thought experiments, which involve abstract but complex ideas. Similarly, make sure you draw your diagram in pencil first, because it’ll just turn your paper into a mess if you keep making changes to it in pen.