One small step for mankind…

Go with me on this, HSC Physics is like training to become an Astronaut.

You have to familiarise yourself with a lot of Physics, in a very short amount of time, and there is an immense amount of pressure on you to succeed. I’ve done the HSC, been there, done that, but it never ceases to amaze me, how much content is in the syllabus.

At the end of year 11, you told yourself Year 12 would be a fresh start, and the young Astronaut told himself his Astronaut application would get sorted! As the months have gone by, it seems someone has shuffled the paperwork behind his back, and Houston isn’t giving him any support.


Now, the HSC is getting closer; the final interview for our young Astronaut looms near. His training isn’t going to complete itself, it’s time to knuckle down.

So how many steps does it take to conquering HSC Physics? Only 6! 

Here is the definitive guide to get back on track, you just need to make the first step!

Step 1: The operating manual

We need to get a list of all the things you need to know for the exam. Surprise, surprise, we’ll need the syllabus. Once you grab the syllabus, you have to decipher it.

You’ll have to find all the things you need to know, and how they’re related to each other. If you need help breaking down the syllabus, don’t worry we’ve got you covered!

Just click here, and you’ll be on your way!

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • You will notice patterns.
  • There will be links between dot points.
  • This is not an accident.

If you master the links, you will be well on your way to mastering the extended response questions.

How, you ask?

Well, the extended response questions often require you to draw knowledge from multiple places, if you spend the time deconstructing the syllabus, the answers will be right before your eyes!

Step 2: Astronaut Training

Golden Rule 1: Spend the time breaking down the syllabus.

Seriously, do it! Here’s some help on how to do it!

Once you know the syllabus like the back of your hand it’s time to dive deeper and begin your study. The hard work has already been done, just follow the plan you have made!

Golden Rule 2: Try 50 minute bursts of study, and a 10 minute break!

Study in 50 minute bursts, maintaining your attention for much longer is really hard!

We often use the Pomodoro time technique. This means 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of break. Then it’s back to 25 minutes of work again.

The Pomodoro time technique works firstly because it gives you enough time to get stuff done, but is also short enough for you to maintain your concentration.

If you’re not fully attentive you’re not soaking in all the information. How often have you started reading a textbook, only to wonder what you just read!

If you’re really struggling to focus, coffee and Red Bull is not going to do the trick. It’s about resting your mind. Take a 10-minute break – go for a walk, get a drink, listen to some music, maybe a bathroom break, whatever! All that matters is that your mind gets a break!

As you’re learning new things, make sure you write a set of notes. When you finish each dot point just tick it off the list.

Golden Rule 3: Spend the time to write notes by hand!

Aim not to just copy what’s in the textbook. Come up with other ways to explain the concept succinctly, perhaps draw a diagram!

It’s worth the investment to write these notes by hand, besides if you’re drawing diagrams it’ll probably be easier too!

Protip: Try not to type notes as there are genuine benefits to doing things with some good old fashioned pen and paper.

Golden Rule 4: Share the wisdom!

Try and explain the physics you learn to your peers who are struggling, or perhaps to your family.

Paraphrasing the wise words of Richard Feynman (NOT Albert Einstein!): “If you can’t explain something simply you probably don’t understand it!”.

Perhaps the person you’re explaining it to, will ask a question you hadn’t considered, maybe they’ll ask for another explanation.

If there’s one thing that we know top performing students are doing all the time, it’s teaching. Why? It not only puts the pressure on them to get everything right the first time (because there’s nothing worse than teaching the wrong thing), but it also teaches you communication skills.

Teaching is very rewarding – it’s what we do at Art of Smart with a lot of passion. As you refine your explanation to its purest essence you will consolidate your own understanding, and be helping others as you do it!

Golden Rule 5: Audit consistently throughout the year. When you’ve finished a module, begin consolidating!

Once you’ve finished a module, and ticked off all the dot-points for that module, move on to step 3! Seriously, I cannot stress this enough, do one module at a time!

You can do this by breaking down the Syllabus as above.

Click here to find out how to use your syllabus to audit your own understanding!

It’s important to consolidate any information you’ve learnt, and evaluate your strengths and weaknesses as you go. If you leave this until later, you probably won’t remember which things you found difficult!

Step 3: Pre-flight Checklist

Now, you’ve read the textbook, but do you remember what you’ve read? It’s time to go through each dot point and rate your understanding on a scale of 0 to 5:


  • 0 = If I was asked this in an exam, I’d get 0.
  • 1 = I might scrape a pity mark for mentioning the right word.
  • 2 = I understand the gist of the dot-point, but am unsure of some parts.
  • 3 = I know the answer, but can’t explain it to you.
  • 4 = I can explain the answer, but I don’t know if I can write it down.
  • 5 = If I was asked this in an exam, I would DEFINITELY get full marks.

Now it’s time to patch up any weaknesses. Highlight any dot points which received a score less than or equal to 3. We will attend to the dot-point which scored 4 and 5 later, through past papers, for now let’s have a look at the more urgent ones! Your syllabus might look something like this:


You have to ask yourself some questions. Is the reason you found a particular dot point unclear, due to tiredness when studying that part? Did you get confused in class? Is the textbook you used unclear? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, perhaps you need to consider using another source!

Step 4: Houston we have a problem!

If you find yourself with a lot of 1’s, 2’s and 3’s before your eyes, its time to do some research!

During my HSC, I actually used different textbooks for different modules.

What I found was that some texts appealed to me more, and worked with the way my brain saw things. Use what works for you! I’ll include a list of my favourite sources below:

Physics in Focus is a great all around textbook. Every single dot point has a section devoted to it by the author where he discusses all the physics you’ll need to grasp the concept. You’ll know exactly what you need to know for each dot-point. I used this book a lot for the Ideas to Implementations module, as well as Quanta to Quarks.

Jacaranda Physics is one of the classics, it has long been used by many schools. What it lacks in dot-point focus, it makes up for in detail and diagrams. I suggest reading Physics in Focus, and using this text as a supplement, for any parts you don’t understand. I used this book a lot for the Space and Motor’s module.

The Student’s Guide to HSC Physics, is an incredibly useful set of notes. It’s basically a filled in syllabus, it contains every single dot-point with a summary of the key things to mention. This is NOT the source to learn from, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so. During my HSC I used these notes during audits to make sure I had remembered most of the key talking points for each dot point, they were incredibly useful for this purpose and I would advise you, dear reader to give it a try.

Success One HSC Physics is a convenient collection of BOSTES past papers. You may be wondering, aren’t these free from the BOSTES website? Indeed, they are, the real value of this book, is actually the answers it contains – they’re more detailed than the ones you’re likely to find from the BOSTES marking guidelines. Another useful feature of this book, is the classification of questions by module. If you would like some practice with questions from the space module, the front cover will tell you exactly which questions to do! No need to have to search through the BOSTES archives finding relevant questions.

Have another look at each dot-point you found confusing, and repeat Step 2.

Be sure to use multiple sources to make sure you get a look at the problem from multiple perspectives. Don’t forget your good friend Google, and Wikipedia. We live in an age where all the worlds information is just a few clicks away. Unfortunately, that can also mean misinformation is a click away, so you can’t be lazy!

Here are some helpful tips to make sure you’ve got the right information:

  • Try and use websites with credible domain endings like .gov, .edu etc.
  • When using Wikipedia check the citations, each paragraph usually has a little inline citation that you can click on to see where the information comes from!
  • If you’re unsure about some information, check if different sources agree. Ask your teachers!


Once you think you’ve patched up all your doubts, repeat step 3, if you don’t have any doubts you’re ready to move to step 5!

If you still have some uncertainties, don’t fret.

Don’t forget the number one resource you have: your teachers at school! Most teachers are happy to help outside of class time, don’t be afraid to approach them and raise any doubts you might have.

If your teacher doesn’t have enough time (which does happen sometimes), don’t be afraid to ask another teacher – some teachers have much more on their plate than others!

Step 5: Ready for Launch

I emphasised earlier to assess a single module at a time! Don’t wait until you have covered the whole syllabus to begin past papers, you probably won’t have mastered the entire syllabus until much closer to your trials if not after!

By studying one module at a time, your study will have focus, it also means you don’t need the full three hours every time you want to study a paper! You can just do all the questions relating to a particular module.

When you’re at the stage of doing past papers, try and stick to doing HSC papers. Past HSC papers for Physics, almost always contain marking guidelines and sample answers. They’re an easy way to check if you’re answers are on the right track! Use trial papers only as a last resort, you MUST show your answers to teachers to get the final tick off since you probably won’t have marking guidelines, it’s important you don’t accidentally reinforce errors.

Step 6: Launch!

Once you’ve mastered a particular module just go back to step 2 and follow the steps again for your new module! If you follow the steps in this article you will be able to effectively use the HSC papers to their full potential to help you prepare for earlier assessments in the year. There is absolutely no reason to wait until after the trials to open a HSC paper.

We’ve compiled a master list of HSC Physics papers to keep you busy, all in one location! You can find it here!

By auditing and consolidating throughout the year you’ll have a taste of what to to expect nice and early. Plus, once you’ve finished all the modules and you’re ready to tackle a whole paper in one hit, you would’ve had exposure to all the questions already, so it can make the experience a lot less overwhelming!

Good Luck!

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Vamsi Srinivasan is looking to uncover the next hidden truth of the universe. He was so fascinated by the beauty of Physics and Mathematics during his HSC that he went on to study Physics at University. He is now in his second year of a dual degree in Physics/Computer Science. He loves physics and maths so much, he wanted to share his passion and has been an Art of Smart coach for the past 2 years. He’s helped coach students in physics as well as all ranges of HSC Maths from General to Extension 2. In his spare time you can find him watching Tennis or Formula 1 or perhaps listening to his favourite podcast ‘Hello Internet’.