Ever since a young age, I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the world around me and much to the dismay of my parents, was constantly asking questions. Why is the sky blue? Why do we see different colours? Why do tigers have stripes?…and so on. Unbeknownst to me, by seeking answers to these questions, going on insect expeditions in the local park and performing basic experiments at home, I was actively employing the principles that are intrinsic to the process that is known as science.
So naturally, during my junior years of high school, science was my favourite subject. When it came to the HSC, my main priority was to pick subjects that I was passionate about. Although at the time I was concerned about the workload that would come with doing all three sciences, I realised that it would be better to pick things that genuinely interested me than subjects that I thought would be easier. Studying all three sciences not only gave me a thorough understanding of the principles that govern natural processes in our world but also allowed me to truly appreciate the inherent role that science plays in the human experience. The HSC has a major focus on understanding the applications and implications of such principles on society, technology and the environment, allowing students to develop a balanced appreciation of how science manifests in the modern world.
With regard to studying, all three subjects follow a similar layout: they have modules which each focus on a different discipline, have a strong focus on experimental and research skills and have a layered approach to learning. Due to the layered approach, it is imperative to gain a thorough understanding of concepts rather than trying to simply memorise everything. Furthermore, although the syllabus contains all the outcomes, it is not uncommon for examiners to extrapolate from the syllabus and test students’ understanding of principles in specific examples or situations. Many students underestimate the emphasis placed on practical skills especially within theory exams; it is important that students are familiar with the framework of good scientific practice and are able to assess the appropriateness of investigations. The HSC also encourages students to think critically by including open ended assessment and evaluation questions. In these questions it is vital that students plan their responses according to the verb and include as much detail as possible with a concluding judgement that not only sums up their ideas, but puts forward their personal stance with respect to the question.
Physics is the scientific discipline that concerns the nature and relationships of energy and matter. The HSC course provides a great overview on a wide range of fields including mechanics, electricity, quantum theory and relativity. A lot of theories in physics aim to represent relationships mathematically, so it is important that students are confident with maths. Surprisingly, most students are confident with understanding and applying equations but struggle with basic calculations. Silly mistakes are extremely common in physics where students completely forget or write non-SI units, do not take units into account in the formula, substitution and calculator errors etc. An easy way to minimise these errors is to show ALL working out, this not only makes it easier for you to check your answer at the end but will allow you to pinpoint exactly where you made a mistake. This also forces you to concentrate harder at each step, ensuring you are on the right track. Making a plan before attempting calculations is also helpful: listing necessary equations, converting any units in the question, calculating rough ballpark figure and identifying units of the expected answer.
Biology aims to explore the science behind life and living organisms. The HSC course delves into many branches including genetics, biotechnology, immunology, and epidemiology. Biology is a very theoretical science that does not involve many calculations or skills based questions, so many students assume it’s fine to simply memorise what is taught. However, like the other sciences, it’s important to understand what you are learning, as examiners are increasingly targeting students’ understanding of underlying principles, rather than their ability to simply recall them. Nonetheless, biology does involve a lot of memorisation, especially when it comes to examples and case studies.
Throughout your course, you will be expected to consult a wide range of sources to research examples of concepts. It is often a good idea to pick well-documented examples (e.g. ones that are in your textbook) so that teachers are familiar with your examples and can easily verify your claims when marking. In biology, students often lose marks because they lack detail in their responses. It is important to try and include examples whenever possible, including as much relevant detail. For example, in the Infectious Disease module you may be required to assess the effectiveness of quarantine measures using specific examples; in your research, you should aim to identify the name of the pathogen, disease and organisms involved, outline quarantine measures and provide a judgement of its effectiveness.
Chemistry specifically concerns the properties and structure of matter. The Preliminary course introduces students to basic chemical principles whilst the HSC course builds on these principles whilst having a stronger focus on applications and the role that chemistry plays in society and the environment. Unlike physics and biology, chemistry involves both theory and calculation questions so students should be comfortable with answering both types of questions.
When it comes to calculations, it is important that students can differentiate between different quantities and how to calculate them. Students often struggle with multi-step calculations, such as back titrations, which require them to implement concepts learnt from both their HSC and Preliminary course. In these questions it is important to understand what the question is asking; a good way to do this is to translate the information from written text to a diagram. This not only allows you to visualise the experiment, but will allow you to appreciate its progression.
Next, it is wise to analyse the presented information and make a plan of how to approach it. Once you are confident that this plan will get you the right answer, then only should you write a response. Marks are often awarded for working out and calculating intermediate figures so make sure you include ALL working out and clearly specify what you are finding (you can refer to your diagram). Make sure you do not round off intermediate figures as marks will be deducted if the answer is not correct with the specified number of significant figures; it would be a good idea to write exact figures in your working out instead of relying on your calculator.