How to Study and Ace HSC Physics | Physics Study Guide

Are you struggling with Physics at school? Read this comprehensive guide on how to study Physics the right way to maximise your results at school.


An Overview of ‘How To Study for HSC Physics’

‘How to study HSC Physics’ is a comprehensive guide that educates high school students the right way of studying HSC Physics. By implementing the right learning process for Physics, you are more likely to enjoy the course and feel more confident at school.

In this article, we’re going to discuss:

Why do so many Year 12 students find HSC Physics difficult?

Having taught thousands of students over the last 20 years, I have noticed the following common problems amongst students who struggle in Physics:

  1. Most students are unfamiliar with the NSW HSC Physics Syllabus and haven’t bothered to read it.
  2. Most students don’t have an effective process for studying Physics.
  3. Most students have poor conceptual knowledge and understanding of key Physics concepts and undertake a rote-learning approach.
  4. Most students struggle to apply their understanding to solve unseen problems. This is because they lack the essential exam skills.
  5. Most students do not practise HSC Exam style questions until the last minute.


The Process for Studying HSC Physics in Year 12

Why is it important to establish a process?

Can you imagine baking a cake for the first time without a recipe? The recipe (or process) describes what, when and how you have to do things to create a cake.

If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t really know what you’re doing.

As you are studying Year 12 Physics for the first time, it would be smart to have a process in place before you begin.

What is the process for studying HSC Physics?

The process that has helped most of our students get Band 6 in HSC Physics is outlined below:

0. Read the syllabusUnderstand the course requirements for Band 6 performance.
1. Learn TheoryGain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of key Physics concepts.
2. Practice Questions (Quizzes)Evaluate the clarity and depth of your understanding of key Physics concepts.
3. Simulate ExamGain exposure to exam style questions early and test your exam readiness


The process is illustrated in the flowchart below.

How to study for hsc physics flowchart

Step 1: Read the HSC Physics Syllabus first

By reading the HSC Physics syllabus, you become familiar with the requirements in the Physics course. As a result you develop actionable insights on what and where to allocate your time and efforts for maximum results.

Unfortunately, the syllabus is a huge document with many sections and students often find it difficult to navigate to the relevant parts of the document. However you must invest the time to read and become familiar with the Physics syllabus.

Being familiar with the above aspects of the physics syllabus gives you important insights on what and where you need to focus your efforts to maximise your results.

The must-read sections of the HSC Physics syllabus is listed below:

Students who attained Band 6 in Physics have been able to demonstrate an extensive knowledge and understanding of key Physics concepts.

You can find the entire NSW Physics Stage 6 Syllabus here.


Step 2: Learn Theory

What is the most effective way of learning key HSC Physics concepts?

The second step of the process is the most important part of the learning process. The objective is to gain a thorough knowledge and understanding  of all the key Physics concepts outlined in the NSW Stage 6 Physics Syllabus document.

To gain a thorough knowledge and understanding of key concepts, we suggest that you make notes of key concepts for each topic using tools such as tables, flowcharts and mind-maps.

Using tables, flowchart and mindmaps are recommended over conventional note making approach for two main reasons:

  1. Your understanding of key concepts are organised in logical and sequential manner.
  2. Your notes become effective tools for answering exam questions efficiently.


The Use of Tables

Tables are useful for comparing two or more things. A table comparing two different types of orbits are shown below:

TypeLow Earth OrbitGeostationary Earth Orbit
Altitude160-1000 km35800 km
Radius of orbit6531-7371 km42300 km
Orbital Speed7368 – 7828 m/s3076 m/s
Period87  – 105 minutes24 hours
Time in light of sight15 minutes24 hours
  • Remote sensing
  • Military activity
  • Telecomunications
  • Specialised satellites such as Hubble Space Telescope
  • Communications
  • Weather forecasting


The Use of Flowcharts

The effective use of flowcharts was utilised by a Matrix Education student. Below is an image of a wall in his room. He got a band 6 in Physics!

Source: Matrix Blog


Two examples of the use of flowcharts are shown below.

1. The flowchart below classifies circular motion (Topic from Module 5: Advanced Mechanics)

How to study physics flowchart circular motion
Source: Module 5 Theory Content from Learnable’s Year 12 Physics Course


2. The flowchart explains the relationship between change in magnetic flux and emf (Topic from Module 6 Electromagnetism).

How to study physics flowchart Faraday's law
Source: Module 6 Theory Content from Learnable’s Year 12 Physics Course


According to the Performance Band 6 Description, students must demonstrate extensive knowledge and understanding of key concepts. It’s not possible to gain extensive knowledge and understanding by simply making notes of your understanding. To elevate your depth of understanding, you’ll need to do practice questions to identify your knowledge gaps.


Step 3: Practice Questions (Quizzes)

The third step of the process involves doing practice questions. The objective is to evaluate the clarity and depth of your understanding by

  • Using your “tools” to solve as many practice questions as possible from a variety of sources
  • Identifying your knowledge gaps and addressing timely to gain a deeper understanding key concepts.
  • Tracking your performance in practice questions.


Using tools (e.g flowchart) to solve questions 

Here is an example of how to apply a flowchart to solve a question.


A circular coil of wire is squashed as shown in the diagram below. Explain why a current is induced in the circular coil of wire as it is squashed.

How to study physics faradays law question


To answer this question, we can use the flowchart shown below.

How to study physics flowchart Faraday's law

  • When the coil is squashed, the area of the coil is changed.
  • Therefore the coil experiences a change in magnetic flux and hence an emf is induced in the coil.
  • Since the coil is a closed loop, a current flows.

Can you see how the flowchart helps you write a logical, sequential and scientific? A lot of students lose marks for writing a scientific response that is illogical, irrelevant and ambiguous.

If I had 10 hours to cut down a tree, I would spend 8 hours sharpening my axe.

My students have always found that flowcharts helped them organise their thoughts and plan their responses more efficiently. To learn more about how to use flowcharts to ace your Physics, read James Drielsma’s blog article on the Matrix Education website.


Identifying and addressing your knowledge or skills gaps

When you do practice questions, you’ll come across questions you struggle with and realise knowledge or skills gap. These must be addressed by revising your theory again.

We recommend students to

  • Use post-it flags to bookmark the topics or concepts that you have found difficult for easy access and review again later.
  • Record your common mistakes in a book (“book of mistakes”) to revision before an exam

Students who topped the state for HSC Physics had a coding system where they highlighted all the questions they got wrong in the textbook or past papers.


Tracking your performance

For students who are doing practice questions regularly (once a week at least), it’s important to track your performance in these practice quizzes in the form of:

  • Time taken to complete the quiz: I would recommend that you sit 15 – 30 minute quizzes.
  • Average time taken per mark: The average time taken per mark should be 1.5 min/mark. For a 10 mark quiz, it shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes.
  • Overall score

You can use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets (spreadsheet) to plot your quiz results and track your performance. Once you have done 5 – 6 quizzes, you’ll see a pattern which can provide actionable insights and help you focus on what matters most.

On Learnable, Quiz Dashboard provides a breakdown of your quiz performance by chapter and questions and helps you assess your performance relative to peers. Below is a screenshot of one of our students’ quiz results:

Learnable’s Overall Quiz Performance Dashboard


Learnable’s Quiz Performance Dashboard


Step 4: Develop Physics practical skills

Physics practical investigations are an important part of your Year 11 & 12 Physics course. They are compulsory and weigh at least 60% of your overall school assessment mark.

Physics practical investigations involve:

  • undertaking laboratory experiments, including the use of appropriate digital technologies
  • fieldwork


What are the essential practical skills?

To ace your Physics practical investigations, you’ll need to acquire the essential practical skills outlined below:

  • Plan and conduct a scientific experiment
  • Record data using the equipment provided
  • Analyse the data
  • Use the data and relevant equations to address the aim of the experiment
  • Discuss the variables in the experiment
  • Assess the method and the result in terms of reliability, accuracy, and validity, and suggest improvements
  • Discuss the errors in the experiment and suggest improvements

For a more detailed explanation of the essential scientific skills, read the Matrix blog ‘The Beginner’s guide to Physics Practical Skills‘.


The 10 Mandatory Year 12 Physics Practical Investigations

A list of Physics practical investigations from Year 12 Physics Syllabus is tabulated below. (Note: Module 1-4 is Year 11)

Year 12 Physics ModuleTopics and their Practical Investigations
5. Advanced MechanicsProjectile Motion

  • Conduct investigations to collect primary data in order to validate the relationships between the variables: initial velocity, launch angle, maximum height, time of flight, final velocity, launch height and horizontal range of the projectile.

Circular motion

  • Conduct investigations to explain and evaluate for objects executing uniform circular motion, the relationships that exist between: centripetal force, mass, speed and radius. Examples of popular experimental setup are centripetal mass balance and conical pendulum.
6. ElectromagnetismThe Motor Effect

  • Conduct investigations to demonstrate the interaction between two parallel current-carrying wires.

Electromagnetic Induction

  • Conduct investigations to analyse qualitatively and quantitatively examples of Faraday’s law and Lenz’s Law
  • Conduct investigations to analyse quantitatively the operation of Ideal transformer through the application of the \frac{V_p}{V_s}= \frac{N_p}{N_s}

Applications of the Motor Effect

  • Conduct investigations to Torque and back emf in a DC motor
7. The Nature of LightElectromagnetic Spectrum

  • Conduct investigations of historical and contemporary methods used to determine the speed of light and its current relationship to the measurement of time and distance.
  • Conduct investigations to examine a variety of spectra produced by discharge tubes, reflected sunlight or incandescent filaments.

Light: Wave Model

  • Conduct investigations to analyse quantitatively the interference of light using double slit apparatus and diffraction gratings
  • Conduct investigations quantitatively using the relationship of Malus’ Law I = I_{max} cos^2 \theta for plane polarisation of light.

Source: NSW Education Standards Authority Website

For help on planning and conducting Physics practical investigations, read this guide.


Step 5: Simulate Exam

The final step of the process involves simulating exam conditions. The objective here is to gain exposure to exam style questions early and test your exam readiness by

  • Attempting exam-style questions under strict exam conditions for each topic.
  • Recording and tracking your exam scores for each topic.

Attempting exam-style questions

It’s important that you get an early exposure to exam style question and thereby become familiar with the format and style of questions that you’ll be asked in the real exam.  You’ll find that these questions differ significantly from your school textbook questions.

Once you have completed making notes and have done practice questions for each topic, you should sit an exam using the following rules:

  1. Review past exam papers and identify relevant questions for the topic you are assessing yourself.
  2. Allocate 30 marks of questions for each topic and allow 45 minutes to complete the exam. This equates to 1.5 minute per mark.
  3. Mark the exam immediately and discover your areas for improvements.
  4. Revise any key concepts to increase your depth of knowledge and understanding

Most of our students attempt a mini exam once every week. Below is a sample schedule of a Band 6 student:

Learn Theory
Practice Questions
Simulate Exams
Learn Theory
Practice Questions
Practice Questions


Recording and tracking exam scores

Peter Drucker, a famous management thought leader, once said,

You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

What he means is that you cannot know whether you are achieving success until success is defined, measured and tracked. Most students don’t measure and track their progress mostly because they don’t know how to.

One way to measure and track your progress is to use a table like the one shown below:

Topic Exam ScoreTime taken
(Allowed Time: 45 minutes)
Projectile motion
  • Exam 1: 20/30
  • Exam 2: 24/30
  • Exam 3: 26/30
  • Exam 4: 29/30
  • 30 (-10 min)
  • 55 (+10 min)
  • 50 (+5 min)
  • 45 (0 min)


By recording and tracking your exam scores, you can gain actionable insights about your performance in terms of accuracy and speed.

  • In the first exam score, you can see that the student finished the exam too quickly and perhaps compromised on the accuracy.
  • In the second exam, you can see that the student’s accuracy is higher but did not finish the exam on time.

With these actionable insights, anyone can make the right adjustments daily to improve their results.

Remember that “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out” – Robert Collier.


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Written by DJ Kim

DJ is the founder of Learnable and has a passionate interest in education and technology. He is also the author of Physics resources on Learnable.

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