The extended response is perhaps the most gruelling part of the HSC Physics exam. They’re usually worth 6 marks, and it can be confusing just what you need to do, to make sure you get all 6 marks. This article will outline some handy hints, to help you write a killer band 6 response.

Decide on a Structure for your Extended Response

The first step to writing a great extended response, is deciding what structure to use.

What do you mean structure? Don’t I have to write paragraphs?

That’s an important question so let me be very clear. You absolutely do not have to write an essay all the time. In fact arguably, more often than not, you don’t want to write a wall of text! You should be thinking about a structure that best allows us you to convey the answer to the question you’ve been asked. Let’s discuss some of the approaches you can take for different styles of questions.

Case 1: The table (I want to compare specific things, or talk about specific topics)

The table is incredibly useful to compare two things in multiple categories. Canonical examples might be, comparing Geostationary and Low Earth satellites, Comparing AC and DC generators and their affect on society and the environment. You have to address specific sub topics, and make it clear how two things differ. This is the perfect place to use a table.

It saves you from having to link things together because they’ll be in the table! You also won’t have to keep restating what subtopic you’re talking about as it will be right there in the table header!

Case 2: Annotated Diagram (I know what something looks like, but I’m not sure how to write it)

The annotated diagram is best used when describing a specific apparatus, piece of equipment, or perhaps an entire experiment. It can be really hard to describe specific niches of an experiment, or an apparatus. It’s much easier to just draw and point! Especially with experiment configurations like the Michelson Morley experiment, you can just draw an arrow expressing the rotation, or perhaps how Hertz set up the different configurations of his experiment to test the properties of light. These are all rather difficult to explain and can get quite wordy, its far easier to just draw it!

Case 3: The essay (I just want to say stuff in a random order)

Lastly we have the essay. One of the few cases that a wall of text is perhaps ideal, is the discuss question. These questions just want you to spit out information about a topic. There’s no specific subsections or comparisons, it’s just regurgitating information. In these cases you can absolutely go for your traditional essay.

A sample question of this style from the HSC Physics Space topic would be: “Discuss issues associated with safe re-entry”

Failing to plan, is planning to fail

Once you’ve decided the best approach for expressing yourself, you need to decide just what you’re going to say. Don’t just get stuck into it though! Try and plan for everything, whether it be a 3 marker or a 6 marker.

Why plan your Extended Response?

Have you ever written a few sentences only to realise you’ve taken the wrong approach and have to start again? Or perhaps you end up trying to furiously patch up an answer that’s started off on the wrong foot. A good plan should be a mind map of your thought process and a rough scaffold of the final answer. It will give you direction when you’re writing your final answer, and expose any holes in your answer before you begin writing it.

It also has some other great advantages! If you’ve mismanaged your time and find your running short, even if you don’t have time to write a full answer a great plan can get you most if not all of the marks you need. If you do have time at the end of the test, when you’re checking your work instead of looking through a long essay answer you can go through your plan and see if you’ve missed anything, you wanted to mention. I could ramble on about why this is so important but let me just show you a few sample plans!

How do I do it?

The Physics exam is not an English exam, they are not testing whether you can write a poetic answer, but whether you understand the Physics. Clarity is more valuable than a meandering answer. In the event I didn’t have time to answer the question below in full, the plan alone is potentially clear enough to collect marks on its own, as brief as it is!

extended response plan

As you can see, I’ve highlighted key words, and tried to rationalise what the marker might be looking for. Once I know what I’ll have to write about, I list all the things I’ll need to explain it all. Notice the entire experiment is described in one sentence. Don’t waste time elaborating in your plan. This is just so I can remember what happened, so it will jog my memory and I can write efficiently when writing my complete answer.

I also draw diagrams to remember how Hertz verified the properties predicted by Maxwell. When writing my final answer I would probably redraw these diagrams. Don’t be afraid to draw a diagram. Just because there are lines on the page, it doesn’t mean you can’t draw a diagram. A picture tells a thousand words, if you can roughly draw the experiment in a quick sketch, do so! It doesn’t matter if you’re not Picasso, as you can see I’m clearly not an artist.

The Finished Product

So I’ve decided I’m going to use the annotated diagram style to explain my experiment. It will of course have text, but the discussion will be driven by the diagram. I also know exactly what I’m going to talk about since I have my plan written above, now I just have to write it. Let’s take a look at the marking criteria to see what my answer might have scored, based on our initial plan. As you can see, we were right on the money.

extended response marking guidelines

Practice Makes Perfect

Hopefully you now know how to tackle the different types of extended response questions you’ll face. The worst way to find out if you’re prepared or not is after you’ve already sat the trial! So try and get some practice in, we’ve compiled a master list of practice papers (with ANSWERS!!!) to help you get prepared

Good Luck!

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Vamsi Srinivasan is looking to uncover the next hidden truth of the universe. He was fascinated by the beauty of Physics and Mathematics during his HSC. Now, he’s in his third year of a dual degree in Physics/Computer Science. Vamsi wanted to share his passion for Maths and Physics and has been an Art of Smart coach for the past 3 years. He coaches 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 listening to his favourite podcast ‘Hello Internet’.